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.

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‘Mile Runners’ are in it for the long haul

A group of frequent flier hustlers is so obsessed with wracking up miles they are willing to do absurd acts such as flying around the world in 48 hours or going through Detroit five times on a single trip just to earn freebies.

For $320, Randy Petersen accrued a marathon of 35,000 miles for the following flight sequence: YXU-DTW-ATL-SFO-JFK-DTW-ATL-SEA-YVR-MSP-DTW-NRT-LAX-DTW-MSP-YVR-DTW-YXU-DTW-MSP-YVR-DTW-JFK-NRT-ATL-MSP-YVR-MSP-DTW-YXU. That’s a roundtrip flight from London that passes through Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, Detroit (again), Atlanta (again), Seattle, Vancouver, Minneapolis, Detroit (third time), Japan, Los Angeles, Detroit (fourth time), London (again), Minneapolis (again), Vancouver (again), Detroit (fourth time), New York (again), Japan (again), Atlanta (third time), Minneapolis (third time), Japan (third time), Minneapolis (third time), Detroit (fifth time) and finally back to London.

Petersen, who co-founded the frequent flyer community MilePoint.com, seems to think the upgrades are worth hours of sitting on planes and in airports. “It’s a ratio of travel time vs. distance flown vs. cost vs. end game,” says Petersen. “A mileage runner for value always wants to accrue miles at a low cost and then redeem at a high cost.”

Is the multiple-leg jog throughout airports around the world worth perks like a priority boarding, access to airport lounges, and maybe a few free tickets? It’s a question Shira Levine examines for Fox News.

Traxo: all-in-one mileage, points and status tracker

Last week, we took a look at ten ways to prevent your hard earned miles and points from expiring. From that article, we received a tip to check out another new online mileage tracker – Traxo.

Traxo describes itself as “an automatic, intelligent new system for organizing, managing and sharing all of your trip details”. What this means to us travelers, is that the site automatically monitors your miles and points on over 40 different sites. The system knows how to access almost every major airline, hotel chain, online travel agency, rental car company and credit card reward program – and once entered into their site, you’ll have a single point of reference for all your accounts.

Best of all, the site does more than just display your account balances – it also tracks your current membership status, informing you how far you are from the next tier. It also collects all your (upcoming) trips, and its social features can share (parts of) these trips with authorized friends and family members. Other handy features can alert you when miles or points are going to expire, giving you plenty of time to find a quick way to add some new activity.

Of course, as with all sites that “scrape” from your accounts, you need to be well aware that there may be risks involved, but the Traxo privacy policy seems quite adequate.

The site is easy to navigate and accounts can be added very quickly. Best of all, the service is free of charge. To take it for a spin, head on over to Traxo.com.

Five United Airlines non-answers about the frequent-flier future

United Airlines decided to dive into the weeds. Executives from the airline met with close to 200 members of the online forum FlyerTalkers to discuss some of the major issues they see with the carrier, according to USA Today. This may not seem like a bold move, but to put the company’s top dogs out in front of some of the highest-value customers comes with plenty of risk, especially for an airline recently named the second worst in the United States.

So, what was on the agenda? The frequent-flier program was of course top of mind, as many of the people in attendance hold elite-level memberships. Despite being pressed by customers and media, however, the United Airlines executives kept their lips sealed on future plans for the program.

Here are five key topics from the event:
1. How the merger will affect the Mileage Plus and One Pass programs: no details were provided on what will change. But, they are expected to come out in the next few weeks. Through 2011, according to USA Today, the programs will not be integrated, “though some streamlining changes will begin. Look for them to be integrated in 2010.

2. Doubling down for the end of the year: USA Today pushed to see if United would be offering any year-end double-elite-qualifying mile offers. The company was “noncommittal.”

3. A place to put your feet up: United would only say that a rebranding effort for its Untied and Continental lounges is “a possibility.” It may use one of the existing names – United’s Red Carpet or Continental’s Presidents Club – or it may not.

4. Slightly better seating: United wouldn’t reveal whether it’s premium economy section would be retained post-merger. Continental doesn’t have a similar offer.

5. Thresholds for top-tier: will it take 75,000 miles or 100,000 miles to become the top dog? Well, there’s still no answer.

So, United made itself visible and accessible, but it didn’t bring much to the table. This leads to the obvious question … why bother?

[photo by Deanster1983 via Flickr]