Babies and first class: why is this an issue?

babies first classEarlier this week, I saw a story about babies and first class air travel posted on Facebook. The Facebook poster asked our own Heather Poole (flight attendant, mother, and new book author!) for her thoughts on the story, and she replied, “I’m fine with babies in first class. Usually they just sleep.” Columnist Brett Snyder is a frequent flier and new dad wondering if he should use miles to upgrade his first flight with the baby. Reading the article and the many comments, I wonder: why is this (or really any story about babies and airplanes) a contentious issue?

Long before I even thought about having children, I thought the same about babies in first class that I thought about anyone in the front of the plane: must be nice for them. Sure, it might be a waste of money to give a premium seat to someone whose legs don’t touch the ground and who can’t enjoy the free Champagne, but it’s the parents’ choice to splurge on the ticket. If the parents are more comfortable, the kid might be happier and thus quiet — a win-win for everyone on the plane. Does the child “deserve” to sit up front? Perhaps not, but airplane seating has never been based on merit. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, a passenger is a passenger, no matter how small.As the veteran of nearly 20 flights with an infant in Europe, the US and trans-Atlantic, I’ve been fortunate to fly a few times with my daughter in business class. While the roomy seats and meals make a 10 hour flight easier with a baby, more valuable is the ability to skip check-in and security lines, board the plane early, and spend layovers in a spacious lounge with a place to heat baby food or change a diaper. Some of those perks used to be standard for all passengers with small children, but have now gone the way of the hot meal in coach. Some airlines still make travel easier for parents: JetBlue is one of the only US-based airlines to allow you to gate-check a stroller of any size and check your first bag free (checking a bag becomes inevitable with a baby). Gulf Air offers free “Sky Nannies” on long-haul flights for young children, and Lufthansa offers a guide service (for a fee) to escort families traveling through their German hubs. Turkish Airlines (my most frequently-used airline while I live in Istanbul) always offers a “baby meal” and blocks off empty seats when possible to give us more room.

I’m also fortunate to have an easy baby who so far (knock on wood) has been very well behaved on every flight. This is in part very good luck, but also due to the fact that I watch her constantly and head off any signs of crying before they start. I’ll hold and feed her as often as it takes, even if it means I rarely rest anymore on a plane. Many of the same people who’ve given me “the look” when boarding with an infant have complimented me after on her behavior. Brett also notes in his article: “Don’t just sit there while your baby screams. Do everything you can to calm him and people will be more understanding.” This is good advice, but does it really need to be said?! I’d never dream of sitting by idly while my child disturbed other people and I’m embarrassed by any other parents who would consider such behavior acceptable. Still, I recognize that even with the most watchful parents, sometimes a cranky baby is unavoidable but I hope that when/if that day comes, my fellow passengers will see how hard I’m trying to make the flight easier for all of us. Better still, if I anticipate a difficult age for my baby to fly, I’ll look into alternative methods of travel (or postpone until an easier time).

If we are going to ban babies from first class, or even segregate them from adults on all flights, why stop there? Why not a separate flight for the armrest-hogs, the obese, the incessant talkers, or the drunk and belligerent? I’d like a plane full of only frequent flyers, who know not to use their cell phone after the door closes, who don’t rush the aisles the minute the wheels touch down, who don’t recline their seats during drink service or bring smelly food (or nail polish) onto the plane. Start flights for only considerate, experienced travelers and you will find me in the front of the plane, with my baby on my lap.

For more about (considerate) travel with a baby, read my past “Knocked Up Abroad” stories here.

Vote in Gadling’s Airline Madness Competition!

See more categories here

Boeing moves flight attendant call button

call buttonIt happens on many flights: you or a seatmate is groping blindly for the reading light or trying to plug earphones into to the armrest, accidentally hitting the flight attendant call button. This may happen several times per flight, causing flight attendants needless trips up and down the aisle to check on embarrassed passengers. It’s a pet peeve on the Gadling team, among both crew and other travelers.

Not anymore. The new Boeing 737 airplane, unveiled this week at the Paris Air Show, has finally corrected this design flaw. The call button has how been moved away and distinguished from the reading light button, to prevent future mistaken “dings.” Other new design elements for the most popular passenger jet include LED lighting and higher overhead bins to provide more headroom. Airberlin will be the first airline to receive a new 737. “On every flight somebody pushes the wrong button. It is an issue for flight attendants,” said pilot Tim Techt.

Photo courtesy Flickr user gurms

Airline seat as buffet rebuffed, only take what you buy

airline seatsWhen you go to a buffet, you know what to expect: take as much as you want. You pay once, and then you can consume all that you like. It’s the nature of the environment. This stands in stark contrast to other restaurants, where you pay for an entrée and get nothing more. If you want an appetizer, you have to shell out a few extra bucks – likewise dessert. As a society, we have learned to live with this, even to expect it.

Yet, this changes as soon as we start boarding planes. We want more than we’re paying for, even if it comes at the expense of someone else.

I was cruising through the travel news this morning and saw a Q&A story on ABC News about fights over the armrest. One passenger wants it up, and the other wants to put it down. A fight ensues, unless one of the passengers is reseated.

The question was simple: is it unreasonable to insist that the armrest go down when the passenger next to you is spilling over into your seat? Remember: airline seating isn’t a buffet.

The advice given by ABC News writer Lesley Carlin was on point, indicating that a passenger is entitled to the space she pays for, no exceptions. I was heartened to see her assessment, “Airplane seats are, quite simply, ridiculous,” which though obvious, needs to be restated routinely.

Carlin explains:

But, still, despite the underlying issues with the seats, when you buy a ticket, you’re buying a particular amount of space on the plane. It’s not fair for someone else to usurp some of it. If you live in an apartment and buy a Christmas tree that turns out to be too tall, you can’t just cut a hole in your ceiling and let some of it poke into your upstairs neighbor’s place, right? That’s exactly what the passenger leaning into your space was doing, and that’s not cool.

So, would you eat from a stranger’s plate … without asking?

[photo by InfoMofo via Flickr]

Zombies with passports: The Walking Dead goes worldwide

In order to promote the new show The Walking Dead on AMC, swarms of zombies invaded 26 cities worldwide (including my city of Istanbul, pictured above and filmed here) earlier this week, lurching around major tourist landmarks and generally freaking out passerby. The undead began their sightseeing in Taipei and Hong Kong, then hit European capitols including London, Rome, and Athens. More arose in Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, and Johannesburg, before going after American brains coast to coast from New York to the show’s premiere in Los Angeles. Check out more photos and video on the show’s blog and Facebook page.

Zombies would make ideal travelers: they can walk through airport security slowly and with no complaints, pack lightly, and don’t need to be fed or entertained on planes. If you can evade the attempts to gnaw on your flesh, they’d make better seatmates than a screaming baby or an armrest hoarder on a long flight. When there’s no more room in coach, we will all walk the earth.

See any zombies on your commutes or travels this week? Leave a comment below if you escaped unbitten. Want more Halloween dead-eyed fun? Our favorite British bear does his take on the zombie genre with Dawn of the Ted.

[Photo Courtesy of Fox International Channels]

Don’t grab the seat in front of you – Airplane tip

During your next flight, be considerate of the passenger in front of you. When settling down into — or, getting out of — your seat, don’t grab the seat in front of you for leverage.

Nothing is more startling (or, annoying) than to suddenly feel your seat rock backwards because the passenger seated in the row behind you couldn’t just use the armrest.