Flying first class has its advantages

If you have not been on an airline lately, and now have a new infant or toddler, you probably don’t realize that the airlines are not “family friendly” as they use to be.  Here is what we have learned from flying over  50,000 miles in 15 months with our son.


I grew up in the era of great airlines – and remember getting on Pan American airways out of Ketchikan.  The pilot would show me the cockpit, and I would get a set of wings.  We had a lot of room, plenty of great food- and all the attention of the “stewardess.”  If you flew first class it was only 30% more, and you were treated like a king.  All of that has changed.

Airlines use to be family friendly- the domestic airlines are no longer.

Airplanes are more crowded than ever – most planes are sold out early- which limits the chance that you will be able to get the seat you want.  You cannot count on the middle seat being or staying empty, and many airlines no longer let you board first. The airlines don’t carry the food or snacks they use to, the ability to sit together may be limited, and if you think you will board first because of your family- think again.  Here is what we discovered, and the airline we now choose to fly.


Consider booking in the  first class cabin with your infant or toddler; the extra room, guarantee of seating together, knowing you will board first, and extra attention are worth it.  Typically the cost of first class travel, if you book a month in advance – is not as much as if you book coach less than two weeks before departure. In first class you will have more room for luggage- but especially, not having the middle seat and being able to slip that diaper bag between the two seats – allowing both of you plenty of leg room – is a plus.

Since first class travelers are boarded first, it means you will have plenty of overhead space to put your carry on bags.


If you use formula, bring powdered formula with you.  There are many convenient packages of pre-made formula that you add water too. But that means, buy the bottled water after you get through security.  Do not count on the flight attendants having time or ability to get you water to add to the formula.

The same is true with milk. In first class they may have a carton of milk, but we have found that often airlines do not bring milk with their beverage service. You can bring some beverages through security, however the amount and type will vary from airport to airport.

Pack whatever snacks and food your child wants, and do not count on the airline having child-friendly snacks available. As airlines have cut back the number of snacks available have decreased.  We use small one-ounce, disposable containers. This gives us a pre-measured amount of food, and if it is spilled it is less to clean up than if you have everything in one container.


Not all airlines offer pre-boarding to all families. These policies change from time to time, but often they change away from the family.  Another reason to have a first class seat is the knowledge that you can pre-board and be comfortable.

Alaska Airlines does offer boarding for families of children that are two years old and less. But if you find Alaska is no longer allowing families to be in bulkhead seats. So if you book them, and arrive at the airport with your lap-child- they won’t let you be seated. And sometimes they will force you to wait for the gate agent.  Alaska Airlines has ordered new planes that have airbags in the bulkhead seats of first class.  Thus, no infants in bulkhead seating of first class or coach.  This will extend to all airlines soon.
American Airlines does not offer pre-boarding to families. There is some discretion of the gate agent, however, they do offer that if you pay $10 you may get a spot in the first group for boarding in coach.

Delta offers pre-boarding for all families of any age, and they go ahead of first class.

JetBlue offers boarding of families with children 2 or under at the same time as those who chose to purchase the seats with more legroom.

Southwest Airlines does not offer first class. They do have a “Business Select” – which is often the same price as first class seats on airlines flying domestic routes.  Pre-boarding for families happens after the business select and the early-bird check in (group A) have boarded.  Southwest has open seating- not assigned. So you can work to get the seat you want- but the chances are someone will sit next to you.

United/Continental offers pre-boarding for families with children four years old and less, after first class and priority boarding.

US Airways offers pre-boarding for families with children 2 years old and under. These are put ahead of first class passengers.

Virgin America offers pre-boarding after first class and “priority” coach – it is for “families with small children under the age of 5” – although at some airports that age changes.


Alaska Airlines does not charge if you check the car-seat.  This is unique to the industry, and helpful when you need the extra luggage.

Most of the time you will gate-check the stroller, or the stroller-car seat combination. If you have a non-collapsable stroller, it will need to be checked at the check in counter.

An easy stroller to fold up is essential for travel


We travel with an iPad that has plenty of great apps to keep almost any age entertained.  You can count on them working, and they are known. Some airlines offer a entertainment for the kids such as Virgin America and JetBlue. Delta has some programs that can be purchased on some planes, as does United. US Airways and Southwest have no entertainment. Even if you fly JetBlue or Virgin America, having your own DVD or iPAD provides a more reliable form of entertainment for all ages.

An iPad helps to entertain your kids

These are no longer offered by most airlines.  Some will sell you them – but Delta and some US Air first class have them.  Best to bring your own blanket (less chance of germs)

We found when we travel the most difficult part is planning for, and bringing for our son. He has the most luggage, we have to make certain the diaper bag has the most items (food for the flight, diapers to last a day, change of clothes for he and mom, and lots of wipes, and some medicines — see our list in a previous post).

Once you get on the plane and settled, you like an airline to offer you a quick drink before take off. Usually only one parent will get the drink, as the other will be busy- but it is nice to have the ability to have your drink of choice, be it a diet Pepsi or Gin and Tonic.

Every airline measures its seat room to look the same. But when you get into the seat there is a profound difference in first class seating room.  For our toddler- who spends some time on the floor between us as he does on our lap, we find that Delta and Alaska provide the most room.
Alaska and Delta are our favorites to fly because our toddler has the most room between seats.  However, Alaska lost some points when the flight attendants stopped offering drinks before take off. This is not an Alaska Airlines policy – they leave it to the flight attendants who appear to be happy to not serve their first class customers as they walk in.   US Airways is quick with a drink.

Alaska is upgrading their jets to where you cannot sit in the bulkhead with an infant or toddler. Most jets do not have airbags there but it means you cannot be assigned a seat if you show up with an infant and have bulkhead seats until the crew confirms you don’t have that jet, or you have to ask fellow passengers to switch.

During this time we flew Southwest Airlines. They don’t have first class offerings, but on short flights, you can often obtain a row of seats. As JJ arrives at his second birthday it means buying him a seat, and Southwest Airlines may be the choice for a row.  We flew Southwest Airlines on a short flight from Phoenix to San Francisco when we couldn’t get great seats on any of the major carriers in the domestic cabin. Since we had “business select.”  More about this later.

Overall Delta is the winner. They provide plenty of room in first class for the infant or toddler, offer blankets and pillows, and for the parents- provide that much needed drink before take off.

Delta Was our Winner for First Class service with an infant