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I remember as a kid watching the movie Home Alone and seeing the parents all relax in first class on their American Airlines flight from Chicago to Paris (before they realized Kevin was missing), while the kids all hung together in economy. That looked like the epitome of how ‘rich people’ traveled to me when I first saw it as a nine year old. While of course the premise of the movie was that Kevin was somehow left at home without anyone noticing until they were flying over the ocean, otherwise I don’t remember anyone being particularly critical at the time of the children ages 8-ish to in their 20’s sitting in economy while the parents were on the same flight in first class.
I know the ‘unwritten rules’ of parenting have changed in many ways since 1990, and perhaps parents sitting in first while the children sit in economy is one of those things that was more or less okay a generation ago, but is no longer as copacetic.
Parents in First Class While the Children are in Economy
I read an interesting post and the many impassioned comments on this very topic on One Mile at a Time yesterday, and I found myself having an interesting and almost surprising opinion given that I am “Mommy” Points.
To give a little background on the situation that brought this conversation to light, Ben from One Mile at a Time was recently on an Alaska Airlines flight where the parents sat together in first class and “knocked back a handful of drinks each” while their 8 – 10 year old daughter sat alone in economy. He became aware of this seating situation because as the flight attendant took meal orders they told the flight attendant that their daughter was in Seat X, and asked that if she could have any extra meals.
Then towards the end of the flight the daughter came up briefly to first class and Ben saw that she was likely in the 8-10 year old range. His take was that this seating arrangement was completely unfair to both the daughter and to her seatmates in economy who he worries may have to at least watch after her somewhat during the flight.
Now, I am normally Team Sit With Your Children, but I wasn’t nearly as shocked or appalled by this arrangement as Ben and some other commenters were…though the parents should not have asked for free food to be sent back to economy. Honestly, depending on some very important variables, I think the seating arrangement itself might be fine. It was certainly fine circa the 1990 Home Alone era. At the very least, I don’t want to be so quick to judge the situation.
First, let’s acknowledge that there are some dud parents who by some miracle just manage to keep their children fed and alive. Then there are the rest of us who aren’t perfect, but generally do a pretty good job at meeting our kids needs and assessing their capabilities in a given situation. I like to think that most parents know when there kiddo is ready to sit by themselves on an airplane. Generally speaking, if a parent thinks they need to be seated right next to their child, then they probably do. If they think their child can safely sit a few rows away, then they probably can.
My own oldest daughter flew by herself at 6.5 years old, and she was indeed ready for that responsibility at that age. Of course she was booked as an official unaccompanied minor, but in practice she was 95% on her own for that flight and by all reports she did great.
To be 100% honest, I briefly contemplated booking her in economy while I sat in first with my youngest daughter on a short flight later this year. By the time that flight rolls around, she will be a second grader who is almost 8 years old, and I considered this because there weren’t enough award seats for all three of us in either cabin. I think she could handle it for the short flight from Dallas to Kansas, but the added dynamic of her younger sister sitting with mom while she wasn’t is the variable that could be problematic depending on her mood that day, so I passed on that seating arrangement this time around.
However, since my oldest daughter has 100+ flights under her belt, knows how to work her iPad, knows the flight procedures, know how to use the lav, and could certainly come alert me if she had an unusual need, outside of the sister rivalry potential, I very well would have pulled the trigger on this arrangement. When she is 9 or 10 years old the likelihood I would be okay with her sitting a few rows back in economy on a relatively short daytime flight while I sit in first will only increase. That doesn’t mean I would seek out that seating arrangement, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out if the situation presented itself in a logical way. I think that gradually easing kids into more autonomy and responsibility is vastly preferable to coddling them until they turn 16, 17, or 18 and then expecting them to miraculously be somewhat self-sufficient overnight.
When is Okay for Parents to Sit in First Class While the Children are in Economy
Along those lines, the question to me isn’t really is it okay for parents to sit in first while the kids sit in economy, it is at what point is it okay. Even in 2017, it has to be okay at some point for the children to “fend for themselves” in economy while the parents sit on the same flight towards the front of the plane. Of course it also isn’t okay until a certain point, so when is that dividing line?
I think there are four things to consider when deciding if it is okay to book your children in economy while you sit in first class…
- Will your child be okay with the normal procedures in economy without you within eye shot? This means do they know routine airline procedures, and can they meet their own needs for entertainment, food, using the lav, etc. without asking for assistance from others around them?
- Will they be okay knowing you are close, but not actually sitting with them? More than just knowing how to go through the motions of a flight on their own, will they emotionally be okay with knowing you are on the flight but not sitting with them? This may sound silly, but it sort of falls under how children can act one way when mom and dad are around, but act another when they know that mom and dad aren’t there to “save them”.
- How long is the flight and at what time of day? While a child may be okay with sitting a few rows away on a two hour flight in the afternoon, a ten hour flight through the night may be another issue entirely.
- Can they come to you if needed? Parents in seats 4A and 4B with the child in seat 8C on a 737 is an entirely different scenario than parents on the upper deck of a 747 with the child on the bottom deck in seat 39B. It is easy enough to come a few rows up and go around a curtain to get the parents in first class if needed on a standard domestic aircraft, but it can be trickier on some larger airplanes.
For some mature and experienced traveling kids, I think somewhere between 8 – 10 years old may actually be the right age to potentially sit a few rows away in economy while the parents are in first class on some flights. Certainly by the time the kid is in the 10 – 12 year old range this could be a potential consideration, especially for those flights during the day that aren’t too terribly long.
As always, I could be completely off-base with my assessment of when it is okay for children to sit in economy while the parents are in first class, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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