Can Your Travel Companions Visit You In First Class?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

In the past week I’ve had no fewer than a dozen readers ask me a question which ultimately boils down to:

“I’m flying in first class, and my friend/family is flying in business/economy class. Is it okay if they come visit me?”

Generally speaking, the rule is that you can visit guests in a “lower” cabin, but you can’t go up to a “higher” cabin to visit someone. The exact details of the policies vary by airline, but I don’t know of any airline that allows guests to visit someone in a higher cabin.

Why can’t you visit passengers in a higher cabin?

Ultimately because it’s a slippery slope, and potentially disruptive to other passengers who paid for a peaceful, private experience.

Should one guest be allowed? What about two? Or should it be as many as you can fit in your suite?

Etihad’s spacious First Class Apartment could easily seat the Brady Bunch

Should the guests be allowed to visit for five minutes? Five hours? The entire flight? Can they sleep at your seat if there’s room?

Slumber party for six in Singapore Airlines Suites Class? 😉

Should your guest be allowed to order food or drink from the first class menu? What if it’s only water and chips?

Where do you draw the line with what food to “share?”

As you can see, it’s just a very slippery slope, which is why airlines don’t generally allow this.

Are there exceptions?

I know many people subscribe to the “it can’t hurt to ask” theory when traveling.

And on a case-by-case basis there are certainly instances where I’ve seen the crew briefly allow guests in first class. For example, if parents are traveling in first class and kids in business class, I’ve seen the kids briefly come up to get something from their parents. But that’s about the limit of what I’ve witnessed.

Everyone has a different tolerance for how much they’re willing to push boundaries, but personally I couldn’t in good conscience ask for anything beyond the above scenario.

First class crews on most top airlines are trained not to say no to first class passengers, and you’re putting the crew in a very awkward situation if you’re asking for a guest from a lower cabin to be allowed to visit.

Bottom line

For the most part visiting guests in a higher cabin is a big no-no, though you can always visit a guest in a “lower” cabin.

What do you think airlines’ policies should be when it comes to visiting guests in a higher cabin?

  1. I don’t know much about visiting, but I’ve been able to swap seats with family members seaed in Y before

  2. Ben, what are your thoughts about this? I was currently on a flight where the the flight was 7 hours and 20 minutes. I was up front…One of the passengers left his wife fly Coach and the fellow was flying F. Here is the thing..EVERY Couple of minutes the wife would come to First, hang straight in the hall of the cabin, to the point that sometimes i had to climb over her legs so I could go to the restroom, sit there and chat with the husband, snag a few things, head back.. She did it pretty much every hour to the point that I could hear everything even with Bose head sets. I was on the verge of saying to the crew but i didn’t want to be “that guy” But as you mentioned, we are upfront for a relaxing experience/atmosphere rather than hearing a chit chat and better yet, having the isle blocked at times by her just sitting there? Awkward and at times not safe. I could tell that the FA’s were getting irritated by it though.

  3. Nope and nope.
    I was very impressed with CX when there was an Indian family (2 parents 2 kids) flying and they told the parents that the kids could not visit them in F. There was a bit of an upset and the crew apologised profusely to us for the disturbance. They still didn’t allow the kids into F.
    If you want to fly/visit/be in F, buy F (points or paid). There was a family of 2 parents 5 kids + nanny on my recent EK F flight. That’s the way to do it.

  4. @janyyc – Stupid parents for not going back to coach to see their children, rather have the other way round…

  5. Years ago (20 years?) HKG-SGN (I think it was CX rather than VN), my mom was in F and me in Y. She asked the FAs about letting me visit, and they told her only before arrival. 30 min before landing one of the FAs came and grabbed me and I sat next to her in F. Did get to use the smaller bus for F pax and got early access to immigration.

    Seems like a fair deal. I wasn’t there getting the food / seat I didn’t pay for and annoying other pax, but they let me up at the end when it didn’t matter in terms of service to keep her happy and let us deplane together.

  6. Hi Lucky,

    Nothing grinds my gears more than economy pax family or friends wandering up front, mostly trying to use the washroom.

    What annoys me even more is that the majority of attendants turn their heads as if the person isn’t there or God forbid if they say anything, usually get a volley of obscenities hurled their way. It’s kind of like being over limit in an express check out.

    I don’t fly FC because I think I’m better than those in coach (I’m not) but as some of your other contributors have opined, I appreciate the calm, the amenities, etc. and why should those paying hundreds (if no thousands less) feel they can help themselves to the environment.

    Kudos to the cabin crews who stand their ground.

  7. I think it really depends on the airline and flight. I went to the Air France expo in NYC last summer and during the La Premiere segment, the flight attendant there told us bluntly that we could invite a friend or family member to visit us in La Premiere. I think the etiquette here is for you to invite the person to visit you in F, not the person inviting him/herself to visit you in F.
    I recall the first EY Residence passenger inviting someone from economy to join him for breakfast in the Residence. That Y passenger was definitely very lucky!
    If I were to invite someone from J or Y to visit me in F, I would first ask the flight purser (or whoever the head flight attendant is) and then, if approved, I would then go to J or Y to pick up my friend and ask him/her to hangout with me in F for a few minutes. I wouldn’t do this during meal service, but rather, after during dessert or tea. Oh and I’d most likely only do this when the F cabin is less than half full.

  8. Embarrassing story. Back in like 07, my dad and I were flying CX. He was in J and I flew Y. For the second meal, he managed to get the FA to send me a fruit plate from J. I was totally embarrassed and the look on other paxs faces were priceless. For the record he’s a little bit of the DYKWIA type and I was also 10

  9. i think the policies are fine, they should always be enforced. if they are not, they will be abused for sure.

  10. It’s just way too complicated to have “visitors” from a lower cabin, for everyone on-board.

    Either you all book seats in the same cabin (and stay there), or you survive the temporary separation created by choice. If the aircraft has a premium lounge (and you are all in a premium class) make use of that.

  11. I have had my boss join me for a drink in CX F when he flew J. It was for about a half an hour, the F cabin went out half empty and I was on friendly terms with the flight services manager having flown with her several times in the months before.

    Personally as long as there is a time limit I don’t have a problem with it. Can’t imagine parents who would leave their kids in Y for a whole flight though.

  12. On my flight home from Mexico in January a very drunk guy I’d met briefly earlier in the week decided he needed to come up to F to chat with me. Let’s just say I’ve never been happier about this policy than I was right about then.

  13. I’ve only witnessed it from the back, but did have the economy cabin cheer at a an obnoxious drunk woman who put in her place after trying to visit her husband (?) in First during a meal service.

    That said, I do think there should be exceptions to use the restroom if a kid is going to puke or crap his pants and the meal service is in the way of getting to the rear facilities. That has the potential to make the flight miserable for everyone, including those in the premium cabin.

  14. On a slightly off-topic note. @Lucky, are all Etihad’s A380s fitted with Apartments? I was looking into LHR-PEK flights in First, and Etihad came up with LHR-AUH-PEK-AUH-LHR, with LHR-AUH in F on A380, and AUH-PEK in J, for less than £4k. Still expensive I know but cheaper than I thought the The Apartments would cost to be honest!

  15. Is it ok to switch a family member flying in economy my seat in first class for the duration of the flight? When would be the appropriate time to swith

  16. Sorry, accidentally hit post before I was done. Is it ok for family members to switch seats for the duration of the flight if one is flying economy and the other is flying first class? Then, when would be the most appropriate time to make the switch? Before boarding? After boarding? After take-off?

  17. I just traveled in CX first from HKG to LAX and asked if my GF who was in business could join me for dinner. The flight attendant said that when flying to the US passengers aren’t allowed to move between cabins, so I couldn’t even go back to business, but on other flights it would be fine to have my GF up for dinner. She was really nice though and brought my GF a glass of krug from first 🙂

  18. I disagree. Sure, it’s completely inappropriate for any guest to waltz into the F cabin without the crew’s permission, especially kids. A quiet atmosphere is part of what makes First First. But if I have a friend or partner up back, and an empty seat next to me, I always tell the crew, and usually ask politely if he might join me after the meal service. They’ve never refused.

    If the first class cabin is full then, at the very least, the crew usually sends some drinks and snacks back to my friend. That’s not obnoxious; it’s a nice way for the crew to say “sorry you’re stuck back here while your asshole buddy is up front — we wish you were there too.” 😉

    On one Qantas domestic flight, a friend sat with me for the final 2 hours of a 3-hour flight. In Cathay First, the crew invited my partner to meet me for a glass of champagne on the ottoman. It isn’t my “right,” and it shouldn’t be abused (no couple should intentionally buy different cabins in the hope of blagging their way into a quasi-upgrade.) But different people have different budgets and different mileage balances, and upgrades sometimes clear unevenly, and sometimes we get stuck on opposite sides of the iron curtain.

    A good crew understands that it’s their job is to make each First Class passenger’s experience as enjoyable as possible. If that involves chatting quietly with a friend from economy class, and it doesn’t inconvenience everyone else, and it only costs the airline an extra glass or two of wine, where’s the harm? (The only time I *wouldn’t* ask is if the seating is configured in such a way that you can’t interact with your seatmate, like on Virgin Atlantic. But if I were on Virgin Atlantic, I’d ask the crew if my friend might join me at the bar for a drink. And they’d say yes.)

  19. So – it is OK for F class to visit the “lower” C class, but not for Y class to visits the “higher” C class?

  20. I think as long as you are polite and discreet about it, and it doesn’t disturb other passengers it is typically fine. My wife and I have traveled several times in first with our kids in business. On a flight to to Düsseldorf on EY, were the only 2 people in F, so they let us set up a 4 person dining room during the meal and the kids ate with us before going back to business. On a QR flight to Doha we were not the only ones in F, but there were empty seats, so they brought our kids up for the landing so they could easily take the private transfer with us.

    On the other hand, I have seen many examples of families who travel in F with their children and servant(s) in business. I once saw a lady in F ask the flight attendant to get her servant from business so that the servant could fetch the lady’s purse from the overhead! Wish I was making that up but I am not.

  21. I’ve had people visit me in first and I’ve visited people in first when I was in a lower cabin without any issues.

  22. We were traveling back to US from FRA after our honeymoon and had one biz and one econ on Lufthansa about 10 yrs ago. I could never secure that second biz seat with miles, though they flew with many empty seats.
    So, had my wife sit upfront, and flight attendent told me that I could sit with her for the whole flight, except “MEAL SERVICE”. That was very very nice of LH, and I couldn’t imagine LH of all airlines would do that.
    ps, I tried to pay for the cash upgrade at the gate, but they quoted some some crazt walk up fare.

  23. as a parent, i can’t imagine myself booking inferior cabin seats for my kids. i would suffer with them in economy.

  24. @Ivan

    Probably a lot of case where they hope that a second F seat open up closer to departure, but can just get one F and plus J when booking open up?

    Seems to remember quite a few people asking Lucky about it on this blog from time to time?

  25. Lucky, while I am mostly supportive your views, I disagree with you here.

    If a J or Y passenger is wrong to visit F cabin, then it is equally wrong for F passenger to visit the J or Y cabin.

    There is no need to play snob and say that F can go anywhere in the plane, while J or Y are forbidden for visits.

    If peace and quiet is the justification, then a passenger from a foreign cabin should not be allowed, as you will certainly be disturbing some neighbours.

    And in a crowded Y cabin, tiny aisles with many people around you, a F passenger will certainly be disturbing much more ppl then if the Y passenger where to sit at the ottoman of F cabin and have a short quiet conversation.

    I prescribe to the idea of common sense: if F passenger wants to invite his family member seated in J/Y for a short chat, keep the volume down, keep it short, and avoid during busy meal times. And do not abuse it and do it multiple times.

    Similarly, if the F passenger were to go over to J/Y cabin, do keep it short and the conversation volume low and do not do it frequently. It is not because you are F passenger that you should disturb others in J / Y often.

    Do not be a snob and plant ideas that F have all the rights to abuse patrol in J and Y cabin and neither should you have suggested frownings for family members visiting F cabin for a short visit.

    However, repeated visits or long stays are way off common sense. I hope FAs have common sense. And I am frankly disappointed with this article, with the snobs of F cabin really unnecessary to begin with.

    I have flown Fs before, and would always feel it is a privilege to be in F cabin, and if someone else’s family members are fortunate enough to have a quick visit to F cabin, I will certainly not have objections, unless they misbehave, then FAs can impose the rule to say that they have already done exceptions and it is taking too long.
    (And this rule can be imposed on F passengers visiting J or Y cabins as well, especially when they are disturbing other passengers in J or Y cabins)

  26. @ flyingfish — To clarify, I’m not even stating my opinion, but rather just airlines’ policies. Virtually all non-US airlines will let you visit a lower cabin, but not visit a higher cabin.

  27. @flyingfish

    so you think all Y passengers have the right to get up and visit F cabin if they desire?
    great… not sure how they’ll fit in tho. 😉

  28. On an Alitalia flight last Summer, an elderly lady in the business class was accompanied by a middle-aged woman seated in Y. The elderly lady had slight issue of mobility but otherwise seemed to be in good health. Her companion wanted to sit next to her on the empty seat but the head FA told her she must pay the price difference. Also the head FA kept referring the cabin as First class which we all know AZ does not have such cabin. After much back and forth, the woman was allowed to remain for the take off and was sent back soon after seat belt sign was off. They allowed her to return for the landing but that was it. No midflight visiting allowed despite the companion was at the first row behind the curtain and the elderly may need assistance to visit bathroom. FA bluntly said the cabin crew could assist the elderly lady should the need arose.
    I am not surprised by the rule but I was a bit surprised by the blunt comment the head FA said, if you want to sit here you can pay the 1800 price difference now to do so.

  29. Lantean: I think it is not a right in moving about cabins.
    By right, I do not think F should patrol in J (J passengers will not be happy as well), nor Y (where it is already crowded).

    But we could politely ask, and explain why.

    For F visits from lower cabin, I believe if this is explained upfront, and you will only cross over for a short chat during off meal hours, I really do not see the fuss. And I will expect the 2 ppl to keep their volumes down as there will be more ppl watching.

    And frankly, if I am in F cabin, as low as they are not bothering me, I will not mind.

    And no, I am not suggesting 1 person in F, and a dozen in Y, and the whole family take turns to visit. I think that is probably off common sense.

  30. @Lucky

    I am not sure where your data-point is from.

    I was once in J and a family member is in F.

    I was allowed to join my family member in F before we descend, so we can deplane together upon arrival. And I do read quite a few airlines (non-US) allowing this.

    While I can understand moving between cabins are not encouraged, but it is perhaps not right to say that just being in F, you can roam all cabins. Nor cos you are in lower cabin, everything higher is out of bounds.

  31. well, i generally don’t understand why people need to move from cabin to cabin to begin with. do they have something so urgent to discuss they could not have done before departure? or after landing? or what is it? is it something like:

    Dick: Hi Jane, i see you’re still in F
    Jane: Yeah Dick, i am. too bad you’re suffering in J
    Dick: so we still have 12 hours and 49 min to Hong Kong
    Jane: only 12 hours and 48 min now Dick!
    Dick: so you had caviar, eh?
    Jane: yes, it was exquisite
    Dick: fark, i had a salad
    Jane: only 12 hours and 47 min now left Dick…

    are these the pressing matters they need to discuss so bad that they can’t be apart for a few hours?

    i have traveled with friends many time when i was in F/J and they were in Y. i saw them before boarding and after landing… we all survived just fine.

    and… if it’s business travel and they do have legit business to go over, those people would most likely be in the same cabin already, that should not be an issue.

  32. Was on a TG flight FRA-BKK this past summer. A father was in F, his wife and daughter in J. About 45 minutes prior to landing, they were invited up to F and took two empty seats. I saw no problem with this, maybe one day I’ll be in a similar situation. And besides, I killed all the Dom before they got there :-p

  33. @ flyingfish — They’re not “data points,” they’re the official policies of virtually all airlines. There will always be crew willing to break the rules, but those are the rules…

  34. What seems to really irritate everyone in this comment thread is when people book separate cabins deliberately and then try and spent all their time together in the higher cabin.

  35. Adding a data point to this, the official word from Etihad on having a guest come visit from another cabin into the A380 apartment is “Yes”. They responded to a post on flyertalk …

    “The answer from Etihad is Yes. We still advise you to contact our cabin crew on board before inviting your friend. Thank you. *JS”

  36. I flew in the Singapore Airlines Suites on my birthday and some of my family were in Economy. The crew were amazing! They gave my family first class treatment and the Chief Steward and Inflight Supervisor constantly went back to economy to check on them. I heard it was strange because the IFS never goes to economy! Anyway, they also brought them up to the Suites to give me a cake and gift and my sister was allowed to stay and use the double bed for a while. They also offered any FCL drinks and gave them FCL wine whilst they were sitting in Economy! That’s how great SIA is!!

  37. General advice on FT seems to be that you can ask about it but shouldn’t always expect it to happen.

  38. @Latean Too true, as far as logic follows, only young children on a long haul flight would have any real need and as @steven k response highlights good parents don’t typically abandon children in another cabin in the first place (much like leaving your children in the car while you go to the bar or casino – just crazy).

    Throwing a whole bunch of people together into an enclosed tin can (aircraft) for extended hours is an environment that relies so heavily on people thinking beyond just themselves. It is a communal environment, so people have to think of others in order to prevent problems developing. When people hop between cabins, the ill-most feeling is created in the lower cabin, not the higher cabin. Why? Because the people that see that person going through the “iron curtain” go why are they getting special treatment (because which ever way you cut it, cabin jumping people are trying to enhance what they had before boarding). This encourages others to try and game this too, on that flight or future flights. And you hear people now using such opportunities granted previously to argue with cabin crew less willing to endorse this behaviour (never takes long for an opportunity to become a “right” in the minds of those involved). Again, it leads to unhelpful complication and way too many grey areas, so I quite understand airlines saying no, even if there are empty seats.

    After all, you can’t complain if you got what you paid for. A First class seat has never come with a family invitation or visiting rights for pax from a lower cabin, it’s just people trying to make it so.

  39. @Lukcy

    Now reading this, it makes me a little embarrassed.. But it seems it goes better when you are really acting from inoncence. Experiencing for the 1st. time the ‘wonderful’ PNR splitting in UA I got upgraded and my girl didn’t from NRT to LAX, about mid flight I decided to swap seats with her for the remainder of the flight.. Didn’t knew the rules, but of course I first politely notified the cabin supervisor, he seemed fine with that. Maybe it was the fact that this particular flight had the most wonderful UA crew i’ve ever met!

    I appreciate to know your opinion about this.

  40. Are there links to any of these airline policies? I’d like to see how it is worded. When I can’t get 4 F seats, my wife and I will sit in first and the kids (15 and 18) in coach. Typically one of us will walk back every hour or two or one of the kids will come forward. They have figured out that when the drink cart passes them they can’t access the rear lav and thus have to use the one in front.

  41. I have to be a bit crass here: I pay for the privilege of having a quiet, exclusive experience. This means I can work, sleep, rest undisturbed. Every time someone moves past me in the aisle, it disturbs my peace.

    Another thing is privacy. I fly in the front of the cabin (whether that be J or F) to be able to work. And I don’t want to worry about another person looking over my shoulder – my clients pay good money for my firm to be discreet and not reveal any strategy secrets. The more people pass me from behind, the higher the odds of someone seeing my laptop open on a slide with confidential information.

    Finally: if you’re traveling with someone you really want to sit close to who can’t afford premium cabins: Do the right thing – pay their airfare or travel back there with them! Y sure is horrible, yes, but I’d fly Y with my boyfriend 10 times out of 10 if the alternative was him in Y and me in F.

  42. Flew with wife and 13 year old daughter from LAX to ORD. Only one cleared upgrade so I told FA my daughter would be in my seat in First. To my horror, I looked up from exit aisle to see daughter wiping off liquid from pants. Later in flight the FA came back to tell me to not panic as the woman in the window spilled water and my daughter helped clean up for her. My attitude is my family flies seldom so they get the upgrades if we don’t all clear on revenue if they are with me. If flying on miles, find flights you all sit in upper class or all sit in economy. No visitors in upper class are acceptable. And what flights are all of you flying where first is half full? I don’t even see flights with many empty seats anymore on UA.

  43. As a 25-year veteran Flight Attendant, I will allow someone seated in Economy to visit a friend who is sitting in Business or First, under certain conditions:

    Only allowed on domestic flights. Not on international flight, which are much more restrictive.
    The visit must be quiet and discreet so as not to disturb other passengers.
    The visit is only for “a few minutes”, maybe 10 at the most, though some try to extend that to a long time.
    Visitor must not obstruct or block access in the cabin.
    Only after the service is completed.
    Only one visit during the flight. Cannot keep coming up again and again and again.

    When I do allow it, I monitor it closely, and ensure that there is absolutely no disturbance to fellow passengers.
    On rare occasions, we have allowed people in a premium cabin to trade seats with someone in a lower cabin, again under certain circumstances:

    I have only ever allowed it on domestic flights.
    Trade is allowed only after the main service is completed.
    It’s only allowed once.
    Once done, they cannot trade back, or trade with anyone else.
    Once done, no “visitation” is allowed; they cannot go back and forth to chat, visit, etc.
    Bags are not moved; they must remain where they were stowed at the beginning of the flight.

    The upshot is this: Folks in F and C cabins have paid a considerable amount of money for the perks that come with the cabin. Some of those perks include fewer passengers, larger seats, more room, clear aisles, no lines at the lav, and perhaps most importantly, plenty of peace, quiet and no disturbance. Allowing any disturbance, no matter how small, cheapens the brand and the quality of the product. In effect, allowing a disturbance means that they aren’t getting what they paid for.

  44. CX HKG-Europe (ZRH specifically), one person in F, one in J, both adults

    Has anyone recent experiences with this situation?
    What is reasonable/ allowed?

    Thanks in advance!

  45. This is kind of an old topic now but it’s also unfair to an extent to the rest of Y. I had a 3h euro flight in economy and had to get up 4 times to let the girl (older teen?) go visit someone up front, extremely annnoying.

    And as for me… I was in ecomomy because the airline screwed up both other segments were J and given the joke that is Euro business I didn’t care and took the exit row.

    My exception to mixing cabins, let PY use the back end washrooms on intl flights.

  46. Many commenters here protest that a visitor from a lower cabin disturbs the peace and tranquility of the C or F cabin. I often fly international redeye flights in J or F and I have no interest in the food, drink, or entertainment – all I want is uninterrupted sleep – and I find those disturbing my peace throughout the flight is the darn FAs, not a visitor from a lower cabin. Recently flew a 10+ hour JFK-GRU flight on AA in F on a three cabin flight and in the middle of the night I was awoken by loud voices cackling and giggling and talking for over 10 minutes. I pulled down my facemask to see a gang of flight attendants standing in the galley socializing in full voice! I had to go into the galley to ask them to lower their voices so I could sleep. As for intruders from lower cabins stepping through the curtain for a quick exchange with a friend/family member in an upgraded cabin, I’m absolutely fine with it provided it’s brief, discreet, just once, and doesn’t interrupt the FA’s ability to go about their jobs. Think of it this way: If someone in J visits someone else in J for a quick chat, is that quieter than someone from a lower cabin stopping by to check in on their companion? I don’t find airplanes to be quiet places of refuge whether it’s Y, J, or F. In fact on many redeyes when I’m trying to sleep in my lie-flat bed I’m woken up by FA’s talking in full voice to nearby passengers as they serve dinner and drinks. Many of the FAs are the worst offenders of talking loudly and banging items around in the galley while I’m trying to sleep. That’s far more disruptive to me than the odd Y visitor saying “how’s your flight?” to a friend during a brief visit.

  47. Gaea Perigrinor says it right (the best) – see above:

    I think it depends, and should depend, upon a) the individuals and b) the particular circumstances. Airline attendants should be flexible, while maintaining order. Policies only as a general rule; subject to the discretion of the Purser/FA.

    Main rule: should not be allowed to disturb other passengers.

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