Husband Flies First Class, Wife And Kids In Back. Is That Selfish?

A woman writes to the New York Times ‘Ethicist’ saying that she appreciates being able to travel, and “love[s] going places” with her husband and two children, but he books the tickets and:

  • Her husband always upgrades into or buys himself first class
  • While leaving her and their two kids (aged 12 and 16) in back

He says it’s too costly to get everyone premium cabin tickets, and he doesn’t want to buy first class for his wife because then their “kids might feel alone.” And she wants to know if this is unfair?

First, I suspect she’s actually referring to the husband flying business class not first class. She notes that sometimes they fly “economy plus” which is United’s brand name for extra legroom coach, and United doesn’t offer a first class cabin.

I also wonder whether the 12 year old should be left in coach without parental supervision. It really depends on the 12 year old, but United requires children traveling alone or without someone over the age of 18 to be classified as an unaccompanied minor. However,

  • Premium cabin for a family of four is expensive
  • And perhaps the husband feels like the kids need to be with a parent and that he’s incompetent to be that parent?
  • Upgrades shouldn’t be declined! But it seems like the two parents ought to at least trade which one takes it on a given flight?

The husband’s solution? He could travel “alone on a different flight ahead of us so that we don’t feel badly about the disparity,” suggesting that if they don’t see him doing it they shouldn’t mind? I actually think it sounds like he doesn’t want to be married.

Several years ago I wrote about husbands who fly business class while their wives fly coach. The Washington Post‘s relationship columnist has covered the issue, telling a woman whose boyfriend flies up front while he pays for her to fly coach that she should dump him: “His wife sat alone in coach: His epitaph writes itself.”

That said, spouses do not always need to sit together. But without extenuating circumstances they should probably share the parenting duties. Here’s a basic rule when only one seat up front is possible. When upgrades are offered, you take them. And if only one upgrade is available, the default may be that it goes to the person that was upgraded. However just as the parenting should be shared, the upgrade should be as well. Why not trade off?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Clearly, everyone who said it was OK — even a good learning experience — for kids to fly in the back while the parents sat in first, should have no issues with one spouse flying up front while the other spouse and kids are in back.

  2. Few years back,flying internationally in J on a plane with side by side seats.

    Dad was in window seat. I was aisle. His wife and several kids in coach.

    Every so often one of the kids would come up and want to crawl over me to sit with Dad. After about the 5th time, I had to tell him it was unacceptable and if he wanted to be with his kids, walk back to coach.

    He wasnt thrilled but it ended the “visits”.

  3. I’m flying to Asia with my teenage kids since I got only two business class seats. I booked myself in economy on the same flights and kids will be flying in business class.
    To me, I care for my kids and want them to enjoy all the fun that I’m blessed with sonfar

  4. To Cad who notes that the husband makes the money so he should sit in first class. If this is so, then the wife presumably looks after the children. Clue – there is no false equivalence here.

  5. Does she work or otherwise contribute cash towards their living expenses? Shut up and be grateful you’re going somewhere. Poor guy probably trades his life’s energy working and traveling for a living and may be fortunate to finagle a upgrade. And few people married 16+ years WANT to be married any longer, its the ridiculous legal system that prolongs the inevitable…

  6. Selfish? Ethical? These are questions we should not entertain. So long as each pax holds a valid ticket, it is not our position to judge which cabin.

    No, the husband makes the money he buys the tickets.

    He bought the tickets but we don’t know who earns what amount of money in that household or how their savings are organized. Please go to fuccing hell with your backward ass misogyny, chad.

    And few people married 16+ years WANT to be married any longer, its the ridiculous legal system that prolongs the inevitable

    I don’t know whether to feel sorry for you, your spouse, or to once again condemn you to the same depths of hell as chad.

  7. I have elite status and sometimes get upgraded. I never sit in first/business class while my wife and/or kids sits in coach. It is the most natural thing for me to exchange my premium seat for my wife or kids economy seat. I cannot imagine what type of person would happily sit in a premium seat while his wife and children are in coach. Just say.

  8. Be nice and let your wife be pampered. She chooses to stay with you. Understand this.

  9. Years back, flying to Hawaii with my wife, our daughter, and the two grandmothers. My wife and I got upgraded. We sighed and said “we should offer them to our moms. But probably they’ll say ‘oh, no, we’ll stay back here with our granddaughter. ‘”

    We made the offer and were immediately faced with two grandma-shaped dust clouds as they disappeared up front. They emerged in Honolulu slightly tipsy, grinning, having had a great flight. I still chuckle about that.

  10. I call BS. No way this guy would still be married or that any spouse would be this much of a doormat, unless she is terrified of divorce.

    Everybody knows that if there is one upgrade you offer it to your spouse, even if they are not the elite that earned it. And similarly the spouse knows that if there is only one upgrade you trade off.

    If you can afford one F seat you can certainly afford 2. It’s all or nothing.

    As for parent up front, kids in back that’s really another topic for another thread. But many parents do this – in fact why would you NOT do this when your children are teens, assuming, they can sit adjacent and look out for each other.

  11. The only time I flew in first with my wife in coach was at my wife’s insistence. Her sister flew with us and she wanted to sit with her sister. I offered to upgrade her sister, but my wife thought that her sister wouldn’t be comfortable with that. I wouldn’t have been comfortable on a 12 hour flight without a seat that lies flat.

    Even with it being my wife’s idea, it was still awkward. The flight attendant knew that my wife went back to coach, and I explained that she insisted on sitting with her sister. After that, I make sure not to coordinate flights with others going to the same destination. It’s easier not to mention what class I fly in.

    If you want to go business or first, pay for others in your family to do the same.

  12. Patti- Are you single lol?!

    Because you are my hero with that solution, and I am ISO a well adjusted miles babe to clink champagne glasses in Singapore A380 suites and Etihad apartments with!

    grichard- That might be the funniest, awesome-est, comment I’ve ever seen on a miles blog. Those grandmas must have loved that trip! That is so cool that you and your wife did that for them, and that is so “grandmas” to ditch you two and party upfront together on the way to Hawaii lol.

    Chad, you’re just an idiot lol. And if you take issue with that, well, A- I don’t care what someone like you thinks, and B- if you really are sore, anytime you’d like, I will meet you at SFO and we can talk about it.

    And TLU- well, UA GS said it more perfectly than I ever could lol

    This is why I always read the comments when this subject inevitably gets blogged about every few months. They never disappoint…

  13. If it were us we’d all fly together (we’ve flown with our young son in F transoceanic on points). If not, then my wife and I would VERY LIKELY swap taking turns in F while kids in economy. Knowing us we’d probably flip for it to see who gets the east vs longer duration west-facing itinerary to sit with the kids. At ages 12 and 16 I really hope my kiddos could handle coach by themselves and we’d sit upfront.

  14. My wife and I were sitting in economy on Qatar Airways. Just before the flight, I was approached and offered an upgrade to business. I asked the purser if my wife could take it instead (we are both Platinum with QR). The purser said no. If I did not take the upgrade, it would be offered to a different person. My wife looked at me and said “You better take that upgrade and have a second champagne on my behalf!”. I didn’t argue 🙂

  15. If the wife is the only one getting the upgrade, would we be even discussing this ad nausem?

    If the upgrade is offered for the person holding the premium tier status, it is likely not transferable so the option if either take it or stay in the cattle class together.

    And the upgrade, I am sure, is not gender biased, just tier based.

    Now, if the upgrade for only one seat is not based on tier status, then the spouse who is offered this needs to think carefully before taking it for him/herself, and consider if this could be used as grounds for divorce.

    Frankly, if the spouse decides to make it a gender issue (and given the current climate, one will gain a lot more attention than the other), then the union of marriage is on shaky grounds.

  16. How about don’t be cheap. I used to want to save money by doing this but then realized I don’t really have that many other ways to spend millions a year so I just pay for premium tickets for all 3 kids or charter. Don’t really want to leave large trusts to the kids anyways cause they’ll get lazy.

  17. Sounds like the wife who is complaining does handle the home finances. As a wife who does, I would think my husband is crazy if he were to buy us all first class. Totally not worth the money and doesn’t make financial sense. And we are a high earning family… there’s just better things to spend your money than on extra legroom.

  18. My SIL dated some financial services type who took her on a “romantic” trip to Paris. He had enough mileage for one coach seat and one seat in business. Our romantic opted for the business class seat and let her sit in coach.

    Our advice was to enjoy her week in Paris and drop this guy upon return to the US.

    Took her a while to find someone she wanted to marry, but she had to sort through a lot of males before she found an actual man.

  19. Maybe I’m just old, but throughout my 35 years of marriage, it always put a smile on my face to give my wife any upgrade I received when we traveled together. I got more enjoyment out of seeing her unexpectedly in first than I would have had myself.

    Now, we are fortunately in a position where we rarely fly coach. I wouldn’t think of buying only one FC ticket if we’re both traveling.

  20. I love (h8) post like this from @Gary but God Bless Him, he certainly knows how to generate clickbait. He’s a smart travel blogger and honestly, I just wish he’s eschew posts like this.
    My wife and I are these soldiers. When we fly to our UK home, she’s in Coach, I’m in First or Business.
    We have been married 45 years mas o menos. I am very lucky with my wife, as she is frugal and not a spender. She can be trusted with a high-limit credit card 🙂 (Eat your hearts out, men). I talked to her about this post and she reminded me that I offer to upgrade her and she refuses.
    Both of us can afford, and have plenty of miles if needed, for upgrades. She won’t even pay for Premium Economy.
    Now, she’s 5’2″, I am a larger bear. She would rather just save her money, as she sees it, for more tickets.
    The only time I just flatly over-ruled her was to HKG. 10hrs to the UK is one thing. 15/16hrs to SE Asia is another. Which is an interesting point. She doesn’t object to spending on suites at the Shangri-La 🙂 Neither do I.
    We both worked hard our entire lives, didn’t spend money like drunken sailors and can now live the benefit of that.

  21. When I have in the past had a business class seat on Air Canada flights and my wife is in coach I have given her with permission of flight attendant my seat and I have flown coach. I have done this once for my daughter when she was travelling with me without my wife. My wife is my life partner and deserves it. Today my kids are adults so I try to fly business with my wife and if my kids accompany while I have purchased business class tickets for them occasionally to travel with me I also leave them in coach.

  22. If someone flies frequently enough to earn an elite status that gets complimentary upgrades AND can afford to fly a family of 4 on vacation, its a fair assumption they have a good job and can afford to buy first/business class for the whole family. Otherwise, pile in the Explorer and visit a local park.

  23. When buying tickets, wife and I sit in the front, teenagers in the back. If upgrading on points and not all are moved up front, wife first, I’m second, teenagers jan ken po.

  24. I’m a very frequent international traveler. Prior to getting married I always flew business class. This is not cheap for international travel. After getting married, I still fly business, and my wife also flies business class, paid for by me. This is not cheap, especially with today’s international business class prices. MY travel costs have doubled from those of a single man, to those of a married man. I don’t think the significance of that is appreciated. I also don’t think that anyone would say peep of the genders were reversed. That being said, there is no way on this earth I would pay for business class for a kid. Number one, they don’t deserve it. Business class isn’t your birthright. It’s something earned by hard work. Number two, they wouldn’t appreciate it. Kids are VERY self-centered, unappreciative beings. I think that any parent being honest would agree.

  25. Dear Wolfie, your comment: “…my wife can be trusted with a high-limit credit card…” is revealing. As are the comments of some other people of limited intelligence on here. It never fails to amaze me that there are still people breathing air on this planet who talk about wives and children as if they are possessions. Here’s a thought experiment for the slow learners: what value does a lucrative monetary wage have? Now, think about what value does a child have? Which would you classify as of higher value? Yep, so how is it that someone slogging it out on the capitalist treadmill is valued higher than someone growing a child to healthy physical and psychological adulthood in a society? The sooner the anachronistic ‘boomers’ pop off the mortal coil, the better for all around I reckon.

  26. My wife and rotate. If we all book main cabin (AA) and I get the upgrade due to executive platinum status, then I take it or she takes it. I’ll ask if there’s 2 spots for my wife and I and we leave our 14 year old in coach. If there’s not 2 spots then we rotate. But we always agree someone is getting the upgrade.

    If it’s only 2 of us flying we usuay just book first or biz class, so there’s no issue.

  27. My kids are great. I guess I’m very fortunate. Oh, and so is my wife, if you’re wondering.

  28. Decades ago I, my late wife and our son were flying United IAD-SFO and YVR-IAD, both via ORD. We had about 85,000 United points. Not enough for three as RT in coach was 40,000 each – but RT in first class was also 40,000 for some insane reason. “Do you want coach or first class for 40,000 points each?” the phone agent asked. “Hmm, let me think, that’s a tough one.” NOT. The three of us agreed to put me and our son in first class and my late wife in coach. ORD-SFO, my son didn’t want the roast beef sandwich offered so I took it and went back to coach (she was in the first row; it was a 747 ORD-SFO-Shanghai) and gave it to her. On the way home, she and our son traded places as he wasn’t interested really in the first class amenities. It all worked well.

  29. As an Executive Platinum and Concierge Key for a couple of years I always found myself being upgraded but not always along with my wife. Thanks to her I have been able to achieve those status because she stayed at home watching the kids and taking care of the housework while I was traveling for business, so when it comes that there is only one upgrade seat I will always offered to her, but our Motto is that no matter what we will both be upgraded or both will fly economy.

  30. I agree Gary, sounds like this guy just doesn’t want to be married at all. When you are part of a family but only one nice thing is available, you share it. You take this one, I’ll take it next time. Works for just about every situation you may find yourself in.

  31. A vacation starts long before you land at your destination. Flying is part of the excitement. And if you’re the only one enjoying premium air on EVERY SINGLE FLIGHT, over your wife and children, that is selfish. And symptomatic. I bet that’s not the only place in their family where he chooses to put himself first.

  32. @Man .. is that your pronoun? I have to say, I find it perfectly illustrative when folk who who want to insult you can’t even spell your name correctly. Which tells me you are either a retard, or a drunk. Best tip: Don’t post after drinking.
    My wife has led a very independent career from me, actually as a teacher. And because she decided spending like drunken sailor wasn’t for her, she ended up a millionaire in her retirement account. I doubt you will understand that since I am guessing you are on your third trophy wife or boy toy. Or similar.
    You ended your post with an admonition that folk should die. Which, I think, says everything about your mentality that anyone with half a brain needs to know.
    Were you Japanese, I would gift you a knife. Small brains like you won’t even understand what that means. Please don’t breed.

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