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Do kids and first class mix?
The pros and cons of getting your little darlings used to free-flowing orange juice, white linens and flat-beds
For the last few years, I've been traveling between Bangkok and western Canada once, sometimes twice a year with my four- and five-year-old sons.
Despite all that sky-high experience, I still fear holidays more than the dentist.
Seventeen hours of cramped conditions, multiple airport transfers and little-to-no sleep, occasionally getting my face smashed in by a reclining seat as I bend down to pick up yet another piece of Lego that has fallen on the floor.
Enough is enough. Risking the wrath of the hot-tempered travel elite, I broke the unofficial rule of air travel: never bring kids under the age of 10 into the front end of the aircraft.
Upgrade certificates in hand, for the Vancouver-Tokyo leg of our journey back to Bangkok I decided to test whether Air Canada's executive first class is soothing enough even for kids with the energy levels of Peewee Herman on speed.
Here are the pros and cons of my experience.
Con: Executive first class passengers don't want to see kids
For those of us who recall the pre-parenting pain of being stuck on long-haul flights near horrible children with oblivious parents, there's a genuine desire to be considerate of other travelers by making sure your own kids are well-behaved.
That feeling is magnified tenfold when you're sitting in the section of the aircraft where fellow passengers don't think you belong. Stress-free it ain't.
If you think the looks you get while boarding with a child as you head into economy class are demoralizing, try facing down a cabin full of wealthy, unhappy-looking travelers with your little darlings in tow.
Pro: Sleep like a baby that isn't wailing due to ear pain
When we fly overseas, I try to book a night flight so the kids will sleep most of the journey.
Not that I get much shut-eye myself.
There's usually a foot in my face or I'm sitting on the edge of my seat praying to the gods of travel the boys sleep long enough for me to finish my crappy meal and watch a lame romantic comedy.
In first class, however, you, your kids and everyone else get to sleep peacefully, stretched out on 180-degree flat beds, comfy duvets pulled up over happy, relaxed jowls.
Con: Pod seats are tricky
On long-haul flights, Air Canada's executive first class cabin is equipped with pod-style "suites," which are great for both space and privacy.
My kids know the rules about seatbelt lights, turning off gadgets during takeoff and landing and avoiding generally unruly behavior that could get us kicked off the flight. So letting them sit on their own wasn't a concern, given they were still within my line of sight.
What was an issue was the inability to easily reach over to help keep them entertained. I spent most of the flight out of my seat helping them change their movies, passing out books and iPads, cleaning up toys and making sure they were eating their food.
Never mind the constant reminders during dinner not to press those irresistible buttons that electronically recline the seats to avoid knocking their tray of silverware and gourmet pasta onto their laps.
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Pro: No uppercuts, jabs or roundhouse kicks
The upside to the separated "suites" is that the boys weren't seated within punching reach of each other, so the usual fist fights over whose turn it was to use the blue crayon never occurred.
They could also spread out their toys (all noise-free, of course) across the flat-bed seat, giving them more room to play and thus refrain from exhibiting the usual stir-crazy behavior that inevitably takes over by hour six of a 12-hour flight.
The in-flight entertainment helps too. What kid can resist a 12-inch touch-screen TV equipped with noise-canceling Sennheiser headphones?
Pro: It's OK to fly first class, because adults often behave badly too
Despite some dirty looks during boarding, nobody shouted at my kids or me during the entire flight. Victory.
The adults, on the other hand, just couldn't keep it together.
Two men across the aisle from us got into a verbal altercation less than an hour after the flight took off out of Vancouver.
It all started when one passenger propped up a pillow over his retractable TV set. This was either to further block the already somewhat obscured view of the man in the seat in front of him, or reduce the glare on his TV.
I never did find out.
Passenger Two, the blocked man, quickly turned around, asking what Passenger One was doing as the pillow was spilling over into his airspace.
Passenger One said nothing. Instead, with a flick of the wrist, he shooed him away like a fly.
Passenger Two's response: “Are you for real?! Next time get another flight!”
Following that incident, one flight attendant whispered to me that a first class passenger once got angry during the dinner service and sprung out of his seat to go to the washroom.
In the process he sent the plates on his tray flying down into the crevices where the table is stored, jamming the whole thing.
And did he apologize? No.
Moral of the story: don't stress too much, as adults in first class can be disruptive jerks too. Particularly after they've knocked back their 10th snifter of expensive cognac.
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Con: Kids just don't appreciate the finer things in life
My kids get excited about chocolate milk and French fries. The gourmet fruit and cheese trolley didn't merit even a glance.
The amuse-bouche and selection of fine wines didn't thrill them either.
But what about the ambient mood lighting that synchs with time zones to ease jet lag, you ask? Nope. They were more enthralled with the reading light.
Pro: Better treatment
Here's some not-so-shocking news. The flight attendants are a lot nicer to you and your spawn if you're sitting in the front of the aircraft.
They kept the juice and snacks coming. They helped the kids recline their seats to the desired position, indulging them in ways no mother ever would.
One flight attendant cut my younger son's food up for him. Another helped them switch movies and adjust their headsets during the dinner service so I didn't have to get up.
I wanted to bring them home with me.
Con: They'll never be able to handle economy again
To quote Little Orphan Annie, “It's better when you don't know what you're missing.”
Flights back in cattle class will never be the same once your kids have tasted the sweet, sweet nectar of white linens, flat beds and free-flowing orange juice.
For our final portion of the Vancouver-Bangkok flight via Tokyo we were back in old, familiar, enjoyment-free economy class. This didn’t go unnoticed.
“Why are we sitting here? I want to be in the big seat again,” said my four-year-old.
“The ladies were way nicer on the last plane," observed his big brother. "They brought me lots of snacks and apple juice.”
Welcome back to the real world, kids.
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Have you ever flown first class with young kids? Tell us about your experience in the comments box below.