7 Tips for Traveling in First or Business Class with an Infant

May 14, 2017

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For many, the thought of being trapped in a metal tube at 35,000 feet with a baby is the stuff nightmares are made of. However, traveling with the newest addition to your family is sometimes necessary to visit family, and it can also be a great way to expose your baby to the world at an early age. Today, I want to go through my top tips for traveling with an infant-in-arms in first or business class.

Before getting into those tips, however, let me address the conversation that is sure to come up: that premium class (especially on long-haul flights) is no place for children. To put it bluntly, I fundamentally disagree with that assertion. TPG shared his own thoughts on infants traveling in first class back in 2015 in response to the vitriol directed at Senior Points and Miles Contributor Jason Steele and his comprehensive guide to flying with an infant. I am squarely on Team TPG/Jason when it comes to this topic, as I have encountered far more disruptive adults than children in my hundreds of thousands of miles flown.

That being said, it’s important to note that parents have a huge responsibility when flying with their children. The few times I’ve experienced unruly kids on planes, the parents were pointedly doing nothing to keep them under control. When a stranger needs to turn around and tell your child to stop kicking the seat in front of them, you have officially dropped the ball.

And that’s the true point of this post. If you do choose to travel with your infant-in-arms in first or business class, what are some ways to ensure your happiness, as well as that of your child and the other travelers around you? Here are my suggestions:

1. Be Prepared to Pay up When Booking

Before you even get to the flight, you should be prepared to pay for the privilege of traveling in first or business class. While domestic flights in the US allow you to bring an infant-in-arms at no additional charge, flying internationally is often a different story. Most carriers require you to pay 10% of the adult fare on the majority of their long-haul routes, though this is applied in a variety of ways with little consistency from one airline to the other:

  • Some charge 10% of the full-fare ticket price, which can easily reach several hundreds of dollars, depending on the route.
  • Some charge 10% of a discounted ticket price, as I found on our flight to Spain last year on Iberia (booked using AAdvantage miles before the massive devaluation).
  • Some charge 10% of the miles required for an adult ticket, plus a portion of the taxes and fees. This is true on both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Let me stress the importance of dealing with this when you book the award. On our very first international trip with Evy, we used Delta SkyMiles to fly to Reykjavik and then had an open jaw flight back from London in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. Despite having multiple agents from the Platinum Medallion desk tell me that Evy’s infant-in-arms tickets were taken care of, we wound up forking over ~$330 at JFK before the flight to Iceland and a whopping £572 (~$870 at the time) at the gate in London-Heathrow (LHR). That was an expensive lesson to learn!

Image courtesy of Dan Kitwood via Getty Images.
Image courtesy of Dan Kitwood via Getty Images.

2. Seat Selection is Critical

Choosing a seat can make or break a flight for any traveler, but I’ve found this to be essential when traveling with Evy before she turned two. This really hit home on our Iberia flight from Miami to Madrid last November. We were flying on one of the carrier’s Airbus A330 planes with staggered fully-flat seats in business class. We selected seats 3E and 3G, typically called “honeymoon” seats since they’re right next to one another. I now think of these as “family” seats, as we were able to, with the help of some strategically placed blankets and pillows, create a double bed of sorts. Evy slept between us for almost the entire flight and we arrived feeling well-rested and ready to hit the ground running.

We’re also a big fan of the bulkhead seats (despite the lack of storage at our feet), which typically put both the bathroom and flight attendants in close proximity and provides some additional space for your baby to roam. When we flew British Airways Club Europe from London to Basel ahead of our incredible Christmas market trip to Colmar, France, Evy had her own little apartment in Row 1.

Unfortunately, some carriers restrict infants-in-arms from sitting in the bulkhead, which we found to be the case when flying Alaska Airlines to Seattle last year. Fortunately, that didn’t stop Evy from taking a quick snooze on a makeshift bed.

Evy napping on Alaska flight

(Side note: Alaska doesn’t provide blankets in first class, so be sure to bring one of your own.)

Speaking of sleeping…

3. Call the Operating Carrier to Request a Bassinet, But Be Prepared to Not Have One

Another option to help ensure comfort for all is to request a bassinet before your flight. This can usually be requested ahead of time by calling the operating carrier (rather than the carrier through which you booked your ticket) but can also be requested at check-in. These typically are provided on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you can put the request on your reservation, the better.

We had some great success with using the bassinet on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. We chose either seats 20A/20D or 20G/20K, since the bassinet attachments are located above the middle bulkhead and allowed us to keep a close eye on Evy. On her first Virgin Atlantic flight as a six-month old, she took a solid three-hour nap en route from London-Heathrow to Miami thanks to the little cocoon the bassinet created, and she conked right out when we flew the red-eye in the opposite direction just before her first birthday.

That being said, it’s important to note that many carriers and/or planes are not equipped for bassinets in the first- or business- class cabin, and most have weight and length limits that often exclude babies much older than one. You’ll also need to hold your infant during takeoff and landing along with stretches of turbulence when the seat belt sign is turned on. As a result, be prepared to have your kiddo in your lap for the duration of the flight.

Evy in bassinet on Virgin Atlantic

4. Utilize the Lounge Access Included with Your Ticket

Regardless of how you booked the ticket, a first- or business- class flight typically includes lounge access beforehand (domestic flights are the exception, so having a credit card that grants lounge access like The Platinum Card from American Express or the Citi Prestige Card can be worth its weight in gold). There are a couple of key reasons this is so important. First, it gives both you and your child a relaxing place to wait for the flight, which should help ensure that nerves aren’t frayed before you even step on the plane. More importantly, many lounges have a designated kids area for young travelers to blow off some steam before being trapped in a small seat for so many hours.

A great example of this is the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in London-Heathrow, a lounge that I believe is among the best business-class lounges in the world. We’ve been there a couple of times, and in both instances, there was plenty of space for us to enjoy our own little area, and there was also a separate kids playroom to occupy Evy. Of course, she enjoyed every second of it. Nevertheless, we were very thankful to have access to the lounge before the flight.

Evy VS clubhouse

5. Bring Plenty of Entertainment

It’s no secret that kids need plenty of entertainment, and Evy was no exception. Once she gained mobility, keeping her occupied on flights became much more challenging. As an infant-in-arms in first or business class, she didn’t have her own personal TV, so we needed to ensure that we had plenty of entertainment. Here were some items that quickly became (and have continued to be) must-haves in our carry-on bag.

  • iPad: We do everything we can to limit screen time at home, but an iPad or other tablet is great to have on a plane. It’s essentially a library/game console/coloring pad/TV-in-one, taking up minimal space but providing hours of entertainment.
  • Stickers: Another great activity that doesn’t weigh a lot or take up a lot of space is a page of stickers. We simply picked up a pack of stickers for whatever holiday was closest and added a piece of paper or two. Transferring stickers to paper = loads of excitement for a toddler.
  • Headphone splitter: When your son or daughter is old enough to enjoy a movie on the in-flight entertainment system (but not yet old enough for their own seat), be sure you have a headphone splitter so you both can enjoy the show. This was how Evy and I watched Finding Dory on her last flight as an infant-in-arms, from Madrid to Miami on the day before she turned two.

6. Load Up on Food and Drinks

No, I’m not talking about alcohol to make traveling with a baby more tolerable. Instead, be sure you’re armed with an array of snacks and drinks to keep your little one full and hydrated throughout. If you’re breast-feeding, pack extra. If you’re doing formula, pack extra. If you’ve transitioned to purees or solids, pack extra (you get the point). Sure, you’ll enjoy greater access to food and drinks in first or business class, but having a baby cafeteria at the ready goes a long way toward keeping your little one content on a long flight.

That being said, be sure to pay close attention to traveling internationally with food from home. Many countries explicitly ban nuts, seeds, fruit or other items from being carried in by arriving passengers. As a result, if your kiddo decides that the banana you brought isn’t magically delicious, ditch it on-board before deplaning.

7. Always Do Something

The final bit of advice really applies to anyone traveling with an infant-in-arms but is especially applicable when you’re in first or business class. If your child starts to melt down, do something. Anything. Being trapped in a metal tube with more than 200 strangers at 38,000 feet is not the time to take a stand and let him or her “cry it out” or “express himself or herself” while you throw back another glass of Champagne. While your family’s comfort should be of utmost priority, you still have to be considerate of others in your vicinity. If your three-month-old starts crying, walk him or her around a bit. Try giving a bit of breast milk or formula. If your toddler isn’t happy with stickers, switch to the iPad or offer a snack instead. Kids can be very finicky, but if you simply give up and stop trying, you’re guaranteed to have some less-than-happy fellow passengers.

I must say, however, that both my wife and I were amazed by the kindness of strangers in the many miles we flew with Evy before she turned two. While she has always been a great traveler — fingers crossed that attitude sticks! — we’ve found that the average person sitting in first or business class with us was truly excited to see us exposing our daughter to the world and genuinely interested in our experiences rather than asking a flight attendant to be reseated as soon as we stepped aboard. As a result, we’ve continued to travel with Evy in tow now that she’s old enough for her own seat, and we look fondly back on the fantastic trips we enjoyed when she was just a peanut.

Bottom Line

Before Evy was born, my wife and I were afraid that our travel days would come to an end when we had our first kid. We had become very accustomed to jetting around the world to celebrate special occasions, using our hard-earned points and miles for premium-class flights and luxurious hotel rooms. Fortunately, we’ve hardly skipped a beat in the two and a half years since Evy arrived and she’s become quite the little world traveler herself. We try to redeem miles or use other ways to enjoy first- or business- class flights, and if you’re considering taking your current (or future) little one on a similar trip, go for it! Hopefully this post has given you the confidence to do so along with some tips to ensure your success. Happy travels!

One of Evy's first flights was Delta first class to New York to see family.

What tips do you have for traveling in first or business class with an infant-in-arms? Sound off, below.

All images courtesy of the author except where otherwise noted.

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