Parents in First, Kids in Coach

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Last week I read a post on Michael W Travels about whether parents should sit in the same cabin on the plane as their children.  As a parent, the gut reaction answer is of course “yes”, parents should sit in the same cabin as their kids.  Only self-absorbed, snooty celebrities and royalty would sit in a premium cabin while leaving their children to suffer all alone in economy, right? 

Well, I actually think the issue and “right answer” are a little more complicated.


His post was inspired by an article about parents who flew in business class on miles while their 11 and 16 year old kids flew in premium economy on the same transatlantic flight.  There are over 1,000 comments on that article, so as you can guess, there are lots of various opinions shared.  Many of the comments I read point to the author of the article as being selfish, talk about the “what ifs” in case of an emergency, or say that it teaches children that fancy seats are more important than time with them.

I obviously am all for parents and young children sitting together on their flight, but I think that at a certain point you are actually doing your children a favor by giving them some space on the plane, and during travel in general.   Since my daughter is still relatively young at 5 years old, perhaps this is one of those “easier said than done” things, but I like to think that as she gets older we will make choice that allow her to gain experience and confidence traveling “on her own” without actually being on her own.  I don’t know that we will absolutely sit in business or first while leaving her in coach as a teenager, but I can’t say we wouldn’t either, especially if she felt ready for it and was flying with a friend, cousin, or sibling.

The kids in the article mentioned are reportedly well-traveled, so I think it is 100% reasonable that the parents aren’t seated right next to a well-traveled 16-year-old, and if the 11-year-old is well behaved and confident, I can potentially see that working too – especially when together with the older sibling.

I sometimes get questions related to whether I am teaching my daughter the wrong message by sometimes flying with her in a premium cabin.  I don’t at all think so, I think the real lesson to teach is how lucky we are to travel at all, rather than emphasizing which seat you sit in on the way there.  However, if there is something to sending the wrong message to your kids by having them sit in the fancy seats from time to time, then perhaps a solution is to have them fly in economy on their own at times once they are teenagers.

Really though, I just think that kids need a chance to grow up some little by little before they are 18 years old and are magically all on their own (or worse yet, they become adults and yet still live at home, mooch of their parents, and act like kids for an indefinite period of time).  Sure you could simply sit a few rows away from them in economy and still have them feel like they are on their own on the plane, but if it ends up that the parents are in business class while the kids are in premium economy, then I think that’s not totally a bad thing if the kids are well prepared for their flight “on their own”.

In fact, I bet many teenagers would rather that scenario than being seated right next to their parents the entire time.  Parents of teenagers, what are your thoughts on sitting away from your kids on the plane…even in (gasp!) another cabin.


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  1. “Kids need a chance to grow up little by little”.
    I totally agree.
    It seems I see lots of parents hover, hover, and control their kids up until college and then wonder why the kids fail to launch and adjust to being independent, well-adjusted young adults.
    As for kids flying in a separate cabin, I think it depends on the kids and the situation. I honestly think under the right circumstances there’s nothing wrong with it.

  2. Totally fine with kids of this age. They can travel as unaccompanied minors at the same age so there is really no difference. I flew all the way to Europe by myself at 16 (to meet up with a student travel tour group) and I’m grateful for the life lessons and independence I learned on that trip!

  3. I don’t have a teenager (yet) but I am going to comment anyway. 🙂

    At this point in time, I don’t think I could do it. Only because I wouldn’t think it was fair. I think we either all get to experience decent sleep and ice cream sundaes, or none of us do.

    But ask me again in 9 or 10 years and I will probably have a different answer.

  4. Oh and for the record, my first airplane ride EVER was from the US to Paris. At age 17. By myself. So yeah…teenagers are perfectly capable of sitting in coach alone.

  5. Totally, teenagers are perfectly able to travel alone and indeed mine have travelled on bus/train and airline by themself.

    Mollycoddling is for the parents benefit, not the childs.

  6. I have 4 kids, ages 22-6. I view flights and road trips as time to talk and connect with the kids, while I got them where I want them 🙂 I can’t imagine sitting apart from my kids and missing out on those valuable hours of ‘togetherness’ while they can’t text or play video games.’

  7. My parents did this to us growing up. we used to fly fist class with them and probably around age 13 they put my sister and in the back with them up front. I had no problem with it.

  8. When my three year old said she wanted the CRJ seats to lay flat, I told my wife I can’t wait until my two kids are old enough to travel in coach to make sure they don’t get spoiled and expect all the luxuries points/miles have afforded them so far.

  9. I have no problem with it either and I agree it gives them space and an opportunity to be more independent.
    With wifi and livestreaming videos available in economy, kids aged 10-17 will be entertained not bored.
    Doesnt anyone remember the movie Home Alone when all the adults flew AA business class while all the kids were in coach?

  10. We are flying to Ireland this summer with our kids, aged 23 (I know, not technically a kid anymore), 18, and 13. We debated on flying business, with them in coach, and my husband really felt guilty about it. It’s an overnight flight, and I thought they would be much more resilient than we would be. We talked to them about it, and they all agreed that they were just glad to be going and didn’t care if they flew coach. In the end, I was not able to get us all on the same flight with the 2/3 setup, so we are all going coach. I would not hesitate to split up.

  11. I love this discussion. Lori’s comment on her kids just appreciating going on the trip is one of the more balanced comments. Our goal should be to help our children realize the world is small and accessible. Spoiling is not in the equation; if you are on a flight that has lie-flat, you are probably going on a vacation that is nice in an of itself. If you get to the Park Hyatt Vendome and stick them in coach, I’m not sure they have ‘learned that hard work is the only way to the get there.’ And spoil them in what way? I signed up for some credits cards with no AMF and booked these tickets…back in Texas, we don’t consider that hard work. This discussion is more alike to when you decide to leave your children home alone. It builds independence and maturity, but everyone involved needs to be comfortable with it.

  12. I wouldn’t deliberately book any members of my family in a lower class of service than I myself was using — that’s not the way our family rolls. We generally fly economy but when we fly business we’re all in the same cabin.

    But if it were a matter, for instance, of only having access to two business and two coach seats I might go for that, with one parent and one child in business outbound and other pair in business for the return.

    As for sending your kids to the back of the plane as a kindness to them intended to promote self-reliance, let’s not kid ourselves (oops, pun). You can sit separately from your children in the same cabin if you want. And having kids sit 40 feet away from you in a sealed metal tube while sleeping and watching videos is hardly promoting self-reliance. There are plenty of opportunities while traveling to encourage your children to stretch their limits — plopping them in economy while you vacation in business is not one of them.

    • Larry, I think it can be a baby step in independence. I don’t know that it is a sole reason to do it, but the reality is they would be flying without mama hawk watching every movement, but mama would still be easily accessible if a real need occurred.

      • We teach our 8-yr old son math, rhetoric, and maturity by sending him to the Target customer service desk with two Redbird cards, making sure he knows the $2500/day, $1K/transaction limits. Sometimes he comes crying about fraud declines, poorly trained employees, or maybe someone forgot to activate the new credit card. We say, “Boy. those lie flat seats don’t come through everyday spending. Get back up there.”

  13. Wow, can’t believe this is controversial. We travel often with my 3 kids. The three of them sit in one row and my husband and I in another so not much opportunity for interaction. I was upgraded once with one companion on a domestic flight and I let the 2 oldest have it so they could see what it was like. We would definitely do this on an overnight flight. My husband and I are not nearly as able to sleep upright as my kids. They fall asleep in the car like that all the time. It isn’t about us being better than them , just what makes sense.

  14. When I was a kid, I slept better in coach seats than I do as an adult. I wouldn’t have any problems if my parents decided to fly business with me flying in coach, especially if they worked hard to get into business. I see this situation being similar to the parents driving a brand new luxury car while their teenage kids drive a beater.

  15. I “might” do this one day, but probably not. I can see us splitting up if it was absolutely all we could get, but I’m having a hard time envisioning it being something I did by choice. That’s just not how we roll, but I totally understand why some others do. 🙂

  16. My 12 year old actually begged us to let her fly in coach with her younger brother. She saw it as an opportunity to spread her wings in a safe way. We refused not because she want mature enough, or because we felt it was wrong to separate, but because we have seen airline passengers sometimes be quite mean to kids for no apparent reason – eye-rolling, loud sighs, glares, etc. Our kids are well behaved, so it usually doesn’t go beyond that, and some passengers have been friendly and kind, but that is less common. Our daughter still looks like a kid and we aren’t ready for want her to have to deal with that kind of aggression on her own.

  17. Like with everything else in life it boils down to what you are comfortable with. My husband and I would never travel in a separate cabin from our son. My son is only 2 and will be 3 in a few months. He’s flown over 300k miles with us all in business and first. I’m glad that we have the means to show him the world and with neither of us having to work we are able to make good use of miles and take advantage of great biz class deals. I am curious though, is the cost be it money or miles the reason for the separate cabins or is it the lesson of independence?

  18. “I sometimes get questions related to whether I am teaching my daughter the wrong message by sometimes flying with her in a premium cabin.”

    What would that wrong message be?

    • Diamond Vargas, well I don’t agree with the sentiment personally, but some think that flying a 5 year old around the world, occasionally in a premium cabin, spoils them or somehow teaches them to expect that level of comfort. I think that travel itself is something to be appreciated, and the seat is just a seat to a kid, up to a point.

  19. @MP — I agree with you wholeheartedly: my gut reaction, as a father, is “no way!,” but upon reflection I think that there are situations when it’s a good idea. Not only is it good for growth, but I think that there are times when the children themselves (especially if there are more than one together “back there”) will have even more fun on their own and appreciate time away from their parents. The bottom line is that parents really do know best (generally!) and it’s incumbent on outsiders not to judge.

  20. My first thought was what if there is an emergency? We have flown crowded flights home before where Daughter is separated from us by a row or two. I think it was good because she had to be polite to strangers and in a way we all got a little break from each other.

    However, I would not willing put her in coach and myself in first. She needs to be in sight or reachable distance in case of emergency.

  21. Our boys are fine on their own, but the ‘teach them independence by flying in a different class’ argument doesn’t hold water. We can easily sit far away from them in the same class of service on nearly any flight if they or we need some space. At the same time, I would much rather split up into different classes of service than different flights.

  22. I would not put my daughter in the back alone by herself. Although would love to put her there with a friend when she gets older. Her friend would love a free trip and hopefully I can “unspoil” my daughter. She is always asking us if we are in business class. I hope she doesn’t stop traveling once I stop redeeming miles for business tickets for her

  23. I guess we all come from different view points, but since my daughters started flying regularly as UMs at age 11, I guess I don’t see the difference in them flying alone whether I was on the plane or not. We’ve never deliberately booked in different cabins on the same plane, but we have definitely accepted upgrades that separate the kids from us. (Of course, my husband and I have never understood declining an upgrade when only on of us gets upgraded…why should both be uncomfortable!) (And most of my comment refers to domestic travel–the kids did not fly internationally that much with us.) And, it’s easier for me to say all this as they’re now ages 22 and 27.

  24. You get what you get….. Children have no choice on the situation they are born into. Parents have duties to rear their children regardless of their economic state. If a child ends up a spoiled brat due to giving them a 1st class airplane seat too many times there is more going wrong there than just that. The only problem I can see is possibly making them inflexible in life and that can be a disability. As for splitting up for seats in a plane, as long as the children are old enough to behave then it would be in the realms of NOT my business as it is just some other plane occupant.

  25. There are separate cabins, and then there are separate cabins. Mine are now 8 and 11, and on domestic I’ve flown in the last row of first while they were in the first row of economy. No biggie.

    A-380 and I’m in 1A while they’re in 44 E-F? Not so much.

  26. Absolutely…. I grew up traveling often, and many many times my parents flew first while my sister and I flew coach. We laugh about it because, well they deserve that extra…and us children….we were just lucky to be going. I will do the same with my children. We over parent in the states… my mother was European and I was taught to fit into their lives. I just don’t see the big deal….

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