Flying a Teenager in a Premium Cabin: Is it Excessive?

First Class Cabin 747 United Airlines Global First 747 Honolulu - Narita
United First Class cabin

Recently my dad decided that since my family can’t get their travel plans to Europe together (with Ramadan coming up, we can’t fit our travel plans into two weeks – too many places to see!), my 17 year-old sister should go to London by herself. She’ll be staying with family, so no wandering around the city by herself, dragging a sad suitcase along. I’m finding decent availability in the next couple of days, however I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I send her there in coach or business class? If we were traveling as a family and it was a space issue, I’d gladly sit in coach so she could sit up front with my parents. However, she’s traveling alone, it’s at least 10 hours of travel (more when you factor in the inevitable layover), and we have the miles for it.

My parents are telling me it’s excessive, unnecessary and to just put her in good old fashioned economy class – which all of us grew up flying back and forth between Germany and the US. Plus, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to get a teenager used to flying in a premium cabin. Or that it’s entirely necessary.

A couple of years ago she and my mom traveled on Air Berlin business class in the recliner style seats and she wasn’t impressed by any of it – the food, the seat, the lounge (not that I blame her – Air Berlin’s old business class product doesn’t look all that great). She’s tough to please, but it’s not about impressing her. Since she’s traveling on a 10+ hour flight (likely on a domestic carrier), she’s about 5’7, and likely flying a domestic carrier, I’d like to make the experience more comfortable. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’d like to get feedback from you: Which cabin do you book your kids in when they’re traveling alone vs. as a family? And do you think sending a teenager to travel alone in business class is excessive?

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  1. I’m also 5′ 8″ so I can appreciate the need for leg room. So I’d put her in an exit row or bulkhead but wouldn’t put her in business class. It’s like doing chores, only when you get older do you appreciate that you had to do them so that when you pay someone else to do them (or to sit up front) you appreciate it that much more.

    • PointChaser

      That’s a good point, Lea. When my younger brother went to London for the first time, he was 12 years old and paid for his own ticket from money he saved up selling newspaper subscriptions. Things are just easier for the newer generation and I don’t want to spoil her.

  2. It sounds like the business class travel is more a function of comfort on a long trip rather than an ostentatious pleasure. 10 + hours on a plane is difficult for anyone in economy class. Get her the ticket and let her enjoy the trip.

    • PointChaser

      It’s definitely about comfort, but luxury just comes with it. She’s excited about the trip either way and I’m sure it will be a fun trip for her.

  3. It’s your decision, of course….but I agree with Lea.

  4. I say it depends on the length of the trip.I have always flown coach with my kids – every year we fly to my parents 6 plus hours each way and it’s no problem. We would never pay for business/first because we think it is an unnecessary luxury, and they know that.

    However when we flew 17 hours in coach last summer, it was really rough on my kids. They didn’t sleep a wink all night; my son threw up twice because he was so tired and uncomfortable. So this year we are traveling business on points. They know the only reason we are going business is because it was free – otherwise we’d be in back of the plane where we otherwise always are.

    I would argue that for most people 15 plus hours in coach on a US carrier is so uncomfortable that no one of any age should have to deal with it. At 10 hours your niece’s flight is right on the edge to me.

    • PointChaser

      I’m sorry to hear your kids had such a rough time in coach – 17 hours is tough on any adult, so I can’t imagine it being easier for a kid. I bet that experience will make them appreciate business class that much more.

  5. I like your brother; sounds like he’ll do well in life.

    • PointChaser

      Thanks! He just got back from a volunteer trip to Nicaragua (he still owes me a trip report), is graduating college this winter, and hopefully heading to med school next year. I think working hard from a young age definitely builds character.

  6. My wife and I worry about spoiling our son when we travel… but I think they are spoiled no matter what compared to the average person. With all the miles and points we accumulate, we go on trips that I barely dreamed of when I was growing up, and I can imagine Timmy will be envied (or despised?) among his friends because we travel to Europe, Mexico, Asia, and beyond – whether the seat is in economy or business class.

    Even though we try to educate the masses that this travel is well within their reach, we have to realize that most people will continue to think “it’s too good to be true” and will never follow our advice and be stuck thinking that Orlando or Hawaii is as good as it gets, or as much as they can afford.

    As long as we continue to teach humility and appreciation to our son, and educate him that the travel opportunities he has is not normal, I see no problem flying in business class with him.

    On our first major international trip (to Paris for 2 weeks last year), he was only 26 months old and flew in his own Iberian Business Class lie-flat seat. I was interviewed for CNN iReporter and here is the article about taking our son with us.

  7. I vote for coach, an aisle, bulkhead if available or exit row. The time goes by quickly and she will sleep for a little while. Next time she flies business class, she will appreciate it more. If she flies business class this time it doesn’t sound like she will appreciate it anyway.

  8. There’s nothing like sitting in coach on a long flight to make you appreciate business class even more the next time you fly business class. However, you know your sister better than any of us — just go with your gut feeling on this.

  9. If you have the miles move her up, she will care less. It is more about the people she meets,

    I have gone to the back of the plane to lie flat more than once, before the seats were lie flat.

  10. I would send her in coach. She’s only 5’7″. My son and I are both 6’3″ and have only flown coach to Europe the 4 times we went. May look at business when we go to Asia but I have done 3 trips there in Coach also. Save the miles for another trip.

  11. Christian

    I guess my perspective is a little more long term philisophical. A very wealthy man was flying with his wife and daughter to Europe. He and his wife were flying first, with the daughter in coach. I overheard the question of why, since money was obviously no object. He responded that if he flew her in first, what could her husband offer her that didn’t already have? Kind of the give your teen a Ferrari thing. If you start with the best, there’s only worse as a change.

    • PointChaser

      Makes sense. I plan on getting her involved in this stuff when she turns 18, so she’ll definitely be earning her keep. But I do think from all the feedback I’ve gotten here and from others, coach is the best way to go. Maybe when she graduates high school or achieves something great, I’ll treat her to a business class trip somewhere.

  12. My vote is for business class. The reason is that it may be better for in terms of safety. That will lower the risk of having a creepy guy around her. That would be the only reason. If you think she can handle herself, then coach is fine. She is getting a free ticket, right? 🙂

    • PointChaser

      That creepy guy scenario was literally my first thought! She assured me coach was fine and she could handle herself. I put her in an aisle bulkhead seat with lots of people around, which will hopefully deter any potential creeps. When we take a family trip in December, hopefully this experience will make her appreciate business class that much more.

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