11 Keys to First-Class Etiquette

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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.) 


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.

(I could understand if you want to avoid sitting backwards or something along those lines.)

Singapore Suites double bed.

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 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?

Korean Air first Class Lounge.

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?

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.

AA first class, July 2019.

Reclining

When flying on a domestic first class product with limited legroom (a smaller aircraft), I don’t think you should recline your seat on super-short flights. 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.  

Peekaboo.

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.

Lufthansa First Class chocolates.

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.


Drinking

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.


Final word

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! 

 

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11 comments

  1. People who rest their feet on the bulkhead are the same people who do everything else bad on your list. They have no home training, and your list, unfortunately will not help them because they have no self-awareness to change. Like none. And we have to deal with these folks AND their unruly kids 🙁

  2. I agree with most of your points and think they apply to any class, not just first class. Especially the comments about children. People really need to keep their children either under control or at home. My one objection is the “don’t recline” rule. Why have a seat that reclines if you can’t use it!? Most seats sit up very straight and it’s quite uncomfortable even on a short flight. Especially in first class where there is sufficient leg room. I should choose to be uncomfortable so the person behind me can be more comfortable? That might sound selfish, but so is the request that I don’t recline my seat. Thanks for your insights. I appreciate your blog.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. In a normal business class cabin, reclining is not that big of an issue to me but on smaller planes it’s more of a problem. I great what you’re saying though.

    2. C. Sherman, I only wish that before a passenger reclines their seat they they inform me. So far, none have 🙁 I always turn around and notify the passenger behind me that I would like to recline if it’s not ok with them. I never even ask during meal or snack time as most folks have drinks or food sitting on their trays. Which is a tight fit when the seat is recline.

  3. I would have been quite annoyed by the kids you mentioned in the lounges. There is a difference between a child doing childish things and a child who has parents allowing them to run amok. My lounge visits are infrequent – I hope I don’t run into any of those situations!

  4. I agree completely with all of the points you made, but especially with the boarding entitlement mentality and unruly children who the parents do not control. I would also add one: keep the area around your seat tidy. I fly international first class a few times a year and have seen some seats that look like a pig sty (no offense to pigs intended)!

    1. Yes that entitlement seems to run deep with some. That’s a good one to add. Ive seen some bad looking suites, though sometimes inattentive staff makes it worse.

  5. Please don’t apologize for your views that children should be well-behaved in 1st class! Many of us agree with you (my kids were taught how to behave when traveling from a young age, regardless of which class we were flying in; I was an airline employee so we often were in 1st). I had no idea though that some people would “cut” in line to board first … seems silly to do that unless like you, they need a photo for a valid reason! Thanks for your blog.

    1. Those line cutters almost always have an aura of arrogance that’s hard to fathom. Thankfully I don’t think it is that common. But it’s great to hear about well-taught kids learning how to travel from an early age.

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