Forward Cabin Blues: what to do when your child cries in first class

You worked hard for those upgrades and you’re darn well going to use them; so if your toddler is tagging along to that architecture symposium in Prague because you want him to experience what Eastern Europe has to offer for a change, well then welcome to business class little man because there’s no way Daddy’s sitting 14 hours in coach.

But traveling tandem with a tyke in First Class (or Business if we’re talking 777s) can take some of the shine off of the extra amenities your seat assignment normally affords. There’s the extra disdain above and beyond the normal attitude you’ll get from the hoi polloi as they shuffle down the aisle back to steerage, not to mention the sideward glances from your fellow first class passengers and they look askance at the gauche maneuver you pulled by allowing an underling to breach the realm of elite service. And yet, worst of all, is the feeling of panic mixed with dread when your little one does what little ones do when confined to an aluminum tube for half a day: cry his little clip-on-tied eyes out.

Kids crying on a plane is annoying but expected, back there, back where your seat only reclines half a degree and you crane your neck to see the nearest video screen. But up here, with three square meals, personal entertainment systems, and yes they were out of the Côte du Rhone but the Malbec is surprisingly decent, the caterwauling of a child is as out of place as a Jackson Pollack at an expo of Renaissance Humanism. You need to quell any disturbance as quickly as possible.

The first step is not to panic. If you do, your child will sense your rising stress level and will, thanks to children’s built-in counter-intuitive evolutionary programming, wail even louder. It’s best to affect a calm but assertive demeanor with which to proceed.

You may feel the urge to ‘talk it out,’ or reason with your child using words and logic. This is a huge mistake. Treating your child as an equal lowers your status in the eyes of your fellow elite passengers and makes you look like someone who couldn’t manage a sleepover, let alone a six-acre office park project with 65,000 square feet of floor space. No, your child is your subordinate so let your fellow captains of industry watch you as you manage, top down style.

Clearly voice what you expect of your child and, if possible, remind him of past successes in a loud enough voice for other passengers to hear. This will build his confidence and inform your neighbors of your child’s front cabin qualifications.  For example, “Alistar, I expect you to stop crying and behave like a good young man, just like you did at the Pinter play in the West End,” is a tactic I used recently.

Don’t bribe your child. Many parents bring toys, games, and other distractions on the plane to hand to their children the minute they act up. This is rewarding bad behavior. Never negotiate with terrorists. Trust your child by issuing the items up front and then take them away if he refuses to quiet down. On a recent flight to Chicago when Alistar was acting up I had to take away his tablet PC for a few minutes. I could tell by the looks I got from the other passengers that they thought I was being a bit harsh, but when Alistar quickly quieted down, their noses when back to their own copies of the Financial Times and I was able to enjoy the rest of my flight knowing that I had helped my son earn entree into the world of wider seats, flight attendants hanging jackets, and prompt juice refills.

Flying first class with a child is not for everyone, but if you can make it work–and quickly quash any tantrums that occur–everyone around you will be forced to bask in the fact that your parenting skills are as elite as your frequent flyer status.

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