I have flown some of the top first-class products over the past few years, and I have to say that for 95% of people on first class flights, people already know how to act.
But there are some issues that have come up a few times that I’ve noticed.
I’m not saying I’m the authority on all of these issues but these are just a few things that have bugged me at times and I wanted to spread the message so that others could think about these things when flying first class.
So here are 11 things to consider about first-class etiquette that can hopefully improve your experience and the experience for others. (I realize this is somewhat of a rant-post which I usually don’t do but I wasn’t sure how else to talk about these things.)
Be considerate with your seat selection
If you are traveling as a single person I don’t think that you should select seats that are designed for couples if there are other seats available that are equally as appealing.
For example, some first-class products like the Singapore Suites have certain rows that can be combined together for couples, while other rows are always single suites.
When we flew the new Singapore Suites, we initially were not able to combine our suites together because an individual had chosen one of those “combinable” suites.
I called Singapore Airlines to see if they could do anything about this (thinking that this would be a long shot) but they actually talked to the other passenger and they agreed to switch their seat!
I don’t think that “couple friendly” seats like this should be off limits to individuals but I do think it is very courteous to consider that you are potentially preventing a couple from sitting/sleeping together by selecting a seat that is probably just as good as another seat you could choose.
Avoid bad parenting in first class lounges
If you are traveling with kids be extra mindful of their behavior in first class lounges.
First class lounges are typically much more exclusive than business-class/general contract lounges. They are often more intimate, quieter, and have a more luxurious feel.
Those factors mean that any loud visitors will be extra disrupting in a first class lounge.
I will never forget when we visited the ANA first class lounge in Tokyo, which is a pretty small lounge.
During our visit, some parents allowed their kids to essentially run laps around the lounge with their shoes squeaking up the place like an NBA playoff game.
The parents even thought it was funny and joked, “Oh, look, now the kids are going to need a shower.”
Listening to this would have been annoying in just about any lounge but it was especially egregious in an otherwise quiet first class lounge.
Another time that sticks out is visiting the Korean Air first class lounge at ICN.
There, parents allowed their small child to run up to the buffet and start grabbing items with his bare hands with no regard about him touching/fumbling around with other food items.
As if the health hazard wasn’t enough, the parents then let him continuously shoot loud little race cars 30 feet across the lounge over and over again.
Maybe these things are okay to some people, and I’m acting like a grumpy old man but to me these things are not cool.
Of course all the blame lies on the parents and not the kids but sometimes I wonder am I the only one bothered by these things?
Don’t cut the line during boarding
I don’t know what it is about first-class passengers, maybe it is the type of person who often flies first class, but I have had people try to subtly cut me in line when waiting to board on a couple of occasions.
As many of you know, I try to be the first passenger to board the plane so that I can get photos of an empty cabin for the blog.
I stake out my boarding position very early to ensure this on almost every flight.
For some reason though, other first-class passengers have felt like they can just slyly work their way to the front of the line and challenge my spot without any explanation.
Maybe this has just been a coincidence but I feel like some first class passengers are just extra entitled or maybe overly competitive?
Unless you are specifically granted the right to be the first person boarding the plane and this is clearly conveyed by you, a sign, or airline agent’s call, do not try to cut other passengers.
First class dress code or nah?
I personally don’t feel like there should be any dress code for first-class.
As long as you don’t stink and do not appear repulsive (which usually involves stinking), I honestly don’t care how “unfashionable” you are.
Others feel differently and feel like you should dress up a little bit. For men, this would be like wearing a collared shirt and avoiding shorts and flip-flops.
But honestly, I think it is just all about wearing what makes you comfortable. Brad and I have worn shorts and t-shirts in first class before and thought nothing of it.
I will say that bare feet are just gross regardless of which cabin you are flying in.
So if you do take your shoes and socks off, try to keep them hidden from the public view. And for the love of all humanity, do not put your bare feet up on the bulkhead.
You don’t have to recline
When flying on a domestic first class product with limited legroom (a smaller aircraft), I don’t think you should recline your seat on short flights (at least not fully).
While the legroom is much better in first class, it still can be annoying when a passenger fully reclines their seat and makes your working/eating situation tricky on a small aircraft.
I am of the mindset that anything under 1.5 hours can be done without reclining or with limited reclining. Of course you are well within your rights to recline your seat as you wish but at the very least just do so responsibly.
Changing in the cabin
A lot of first-class products offer a fully enclosed suite.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with changing in your suite as long as everything is closed off to everyone else and you do so discretely.
In that case, the only way someone would get a glimpse of you is if they were peeking in your suite which would be a problem for them and not yourself.
A flight attendant could have reason to do that from time to time but if you change quickly, that risk should be negligible.
And let’s be honest, some people do a lot more than changing in some of these suites….
Note: in case it’s not obvious, if your suite is not fully enclosed you should head off to the lavatory to change.
Go easy on the snack baskets
It is common for first class cabins to offer snack baskets or sweets.
These come in different forms.
Sometimes a flight attendant walks around with a snack basket, other times you can find it sitting somewhere in the cabin, and in some cases it might actually be in your first class suite.
If the snack basket is offered to you or is in a common area in the cabin, try to be a little considerate and not indulge yourself like it is your kid’s Halloween stash.
I think that it is more than okay to grab yourself a few snacks/chocolates/whatever just don’t go overboard.
If you do plan on grabbing multiple quantities of whatever is offered, consider waiting until midway through the flight after other passengers have had their chance.
Keep your window shades down
Unless you are taking off or landing, it is generally a good idea to keep your shades down if the cabin is dark and most passengers are trying to rest or sleep.
All it takes is one open window shade to cast an ultra bright light beam into the cabin and ruin the experience for a lot of other people.
I am someone who loves to look out the window and I’ve probably pissed a lot of people off opening up window shades in the past but I totally understand how annoying this could be and try to avoid doing it now.
Using the call button
Some people might disagree with me on this but in first class I think you should feel free to use the call button as you deem necessary.
In economy, I feel like the call button is really only for urgent needs.
In domestic first class, the call button is also usually not necessary because it is such a tiny cabin and a flight attendant is usually only a couple of steps away. (It could come in handy if for example a passenger was sleeping next to you and you did not want to wake them when you get up.)
But in international first class, it is my opinion that the call button can be used for pretty much anything: requesting snacks, drinks, turn down service, etc.
Don’t be afraid to ring a flight attendant.
As long as you are polite and reasonable with your request, they should have no problem with helping you out.
When flying first class, technically you can request as many drinks as you would like until the flight attendant feels like you are too intoxicated.
However, it is obviously not the best idea to push the limits.
Instead, try to limit yourself to a couple of drinks under what you normally would drink on the ground since you can get intoxicated faster at altitude.
In all of my first class flights, I don’t think I have seen many people who have gotten truly wasted but I have had a couple of close calls myself.
I once got a little bit too buzzed on Virgin Australia and almost woke up a random passenger from their slumber who I thought was Brad (Brad was actually in the next row).
Luckily, when I got very close to this stranger’s face (a few inches), I realized that this was in fact not my husband’s face and I quietly tip-toed out of the suite without the passenger ever noticing.
Kids in first class
And finally for the hot button issue of kids in first class….
I personally have no issues with kids flying in first class as a general rule. My only issue would be if you know you have a child that is very prone to throwing loud fits, long crying sprees, can’t sit still, etc.
That’s a different story.
I have met enough families to know that some kids are just quieter and calmer than others. I get it that most small kids will cry/be loud at some point during a long flight but some kids are much more problematic than others when it comes to being quiet and sitting still.
I once had a kid behind me in first class continuously mess with the tray connected to my seat which constantly shook my seat. It was a pretty short flight but it was still extremely annoying to deal with and led to me turning around for some awkward eye contact with the parent.
If you happen to have a loud child or a child that struggles to be still, I honestly don’t think first-class is the best place for them to fly, especially if we’re talking about international first class for tickets go for $10,000.
If you do choose to fly with your child that you know will likely have a lot of issues, I think that you owe the other first class passengers the courtesy to take extra care that your child is not disruptive.
Let me be clear, I am not trying to tell everybody how to act when flying first class. However, these are some things that I have experienced first-hand during my first class travels that I think are areas people should be mindful of. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.