Is It Okay To Fly Business Class While Leaving Your Spouse In Economy?

Filed Under: Advice, Media

The Daily Mail ran an a story yesterday with the following headline: “The economy class wives: Their husbands fly first class while they are forced to slum it in the cheap seats… read on to find out how on earth these men get away with it!

I think it goes without saying that the story is blatantly sexist. For that matter, so are the comments, which are cringeworthy, like this one:

I would never do this. Very ungentlemanly. But if the husband is the bread winner, a better seat is in his gift. Keep your man happy (a clean home, regular sex on tap and nice cooking) and all should be fine.

Still, I couldn’t help but read the story, since I think the topic as such is interesting. It’s a long piece, but here’s an excerpt:

Tina Kumar, 30, who lives in Wimbledon, is one such neglected economy class wife. Her husband, Arrun, 38, who runs his own natural stone business in Croydon, South London, regularly travels in business class while she languishes in the cheap seats — a decision she has come to accept because, she says, her husband is ‘the definition of a walking, talking workaholic’.

Once onboard, the couple, who married in 2011, don’t see each other. ‘We won’t go to each other’s respective sections on the flight,’ says Tina. ‘In the early days I did, but it got too awkward. I’d get stopped by cabin crew demanding to know where I was going.

And the division between them doesn’t end there, as Tina admits, in what for many wives would be the final straw. ‘Even when we get off the plane we’re like strangers to each another. Arrun will have a chauffeur waiting for him. The car whisks him straight to meetings.

‘I have to find myself a taxi. At least he does text me to check I’m en route to our hotel.’

Admittedly this is The Daily Mail, so this is written in a way that almost makes it sound scandalous. So to the credit of the people who come across as horrible in this piece, I’d note that for the most part they’re business travelers, and their spouses are coming with them for vacation. I think that’s slightly different, for example, than booking a vacation together, and flying first class while your spouse is in economy.


Is it okay to travel in a better cabin than your spouse?

Personally I’d never book a ticket in a different cabin than my travel companion. Part of the fun of traveling with someone is their company, so I wouldn’t want to book a different cabin than them.

If I knew from the beginning they were coming then I’d plan accordingly, and either book us both in economy, or otherwise both in first or business class, depending on what I can swing.

As far as upgrades go, if I clear an upgrade, I’ll always offer my travel companion the upgrade, though they’ve typically turned it down. Personally I find economy much more tolerable if you can choose your seatmate. For that matter it even allows me to be productive in economy, since I know I won’t have an armrest hog, and also don’t have a stranger looking at my computer screen for the whole flight.

But here’s a situation that I admit is tricky, where I’m not sure what I would do. What if you are on a business trip and your company is paying for business class, and your spouse tags along?

Personally I’d suggest trying to get them a seat in the same cabin. But what if that’s not possible? Ultimately it seems better if they join you on the trip than not. Do you downgrade yourself from a paid business class seat (when your company is incurring that expense, presumably so you’ll arrive well rested) or what? That’s a tricky situation…

American-Business-Class-787 - 3

Bottom line

Personally I couldn’t imagine voluntarily booking a premium cabin while leaving a travel companion in economy. I’d always offer them the seat, though more often than not I’d probably end up sitting in economy with them. At the same time, I’m a bit conflicted if a company is paying for business class, and if you decide to bring your spouse on the trip, and can’t get them a business class seat.

So while it’s not something I could personally see myself doing, and while the “journalism” from The Daily Mail intentionally makes the guys doing this sounds like pigs, I somewhat see where they’re coming from.

Where do you stand on traveling in a different cabin than your spouse?

  1. I think it’s absolutely fine to do, sure you are not going to have sex for a month do the best time to do this would be right after your hernia surgery when you can’t have sex anyway as it would be too painful.
    Alternatively you could offer the business class seat to your wife and then get laid every hour on the hour once you get to your destination. LOL.
    (Written with tongue firmly in cheek)

  2. On a semi-related topic, I always laugh when I see couples trying to get a bunch of people to move seats so they can sit together on short flights. Um, LGA-BOS is about 35 minutes – can you really not bear to be alone for half an hour?

    I agree with you on the same cabin for traveling couples though.

  3. My wife recently joined me on a trip to Amsterdam for work. My job paid for J and we bought her a cheap seat in Y. I had a meeting 3 hours after landing so took the J seat on the way out, she got it on the way back. We travel to Puerto Rico 2x a year and i’m almost always upgraded, usually we trade off. Love my wife dearly but when we’re going away for a 5-7 day vacation we will survive if not next to each other for the 3 hour flight.

    When traveling with friends however, I love nothing more than getting the F upgrade and rubbing it in their faces (usually when sneaking them back some free cocktails).

  4. If someone else is paying for the premium seat or the upgrade is free, you or your traveling companion should use the premium seat. No brainer.

  5. You would give your life for this person, but not your premium seat? Of course you offer it to your spouse, it almost goes without saying. If they accept, you take theirs and smile when remember the nice time they’re having. If you want to stay together, that’s fine too – give it to someone who looks like they need it. The sole exception I can think of is the case of arriving for business with an an immediate meeting ahead, and then it’s only fair to the company paying that the business traveller arrive as refreshed and alert as possible.

  6. My girlfriend had an experience on a flight from Orlando to Frankfurt where a couple where flying in business and they had put their kids in economy with the nanny….

  7. As a married woman, it would all depend. If his business puts him upfront and we make a decision to bring me along then we book a ticket that makes a sound financial decision for our family. Where we sit for a few hours is pretty short sighted. In your case, you travel 1st all the time so a fun companion > seat. I book seat mates all around me so I don’t go upfront. If I got the chance, I’d send my husband cause he’s 6’6. It all depends on the reason for being up front and one’s finances.

  8. My dad used to ride in J (all expenses covered by company) for his business trips and when the family came along we rode in discounted Y fares. As a family we save money, and (apart from having fun) that is our primary goal when we go on vacations. I think dad lost out on some because we had fun while he was in the office.

  9. I almost always fly alone, so the chance of being able to fly with someone else is too great an opportunity to pass up.

  10. In the case cited in the article, the husband runs his own business. So presumably, he is the one deciding to book the ticket for himself in business and his wife in economy. And even if it is awkward for her to go visit him up front, it shouldn’t be hard for him to go back and visit her. Sounds like an ass.

  11. This happened to me recently! Family holiday to Bali flying Jetstar Business class from Brisbane. My best friend who became my girlfriend after booking the flight was able to join us in Business for the trip over but there were no seats left on the way back.

    Funnily enough I tried to swap seats with her but cabin crew said that we were not allowed as weight distribution had already been decided. Me and my 95kgs were not sure how to take this, haha, and since it was a points ticket on a budget airline (even though it’s owned by Qantas) I couldn’t downgrade the ticket.

    Needless to say, my partner has become a points enthusiast after this trip!! Though, I did have to make up for it with a few dinners out and a hot chocolate stolen from business.

  12. On my honeymoon I was in First and he was in Business originally on our 14 hour flight – ended up getting him to First when another seat opened up but they were my miles that I had earned (mostly) by flying economy for the trip so I decided to take the 1 F seat. Is it ok since I’m the wife though? We try to match up but on the short 1 hour positioning flight I also got upgraded due to status and he was in coach – our marriage has survived thus far.

    There’s also at least 1 long FT thread on this. I’m surprised how many spouses would get that angry about the situation. No reason for 2 people to suffer.

  13. My partner is entitled to business class international, and long haul domestic travel. For the life of our partnership – over 20 years so far, we always travel together in the same class of cabin.

    In the early days, when we were not as comfortable financially, he would downgrade to economy ( with me and not him being ironically offered an upgrade). Now that we are more comfortable, we split the cost of the 2nd fare (he earns way more than me), or use points to upgrade (I am master of points and upgrades).

    Travelling together is one of our great delights. We have fun. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. OK, I will admit to one exception, when I had a 1st class certificate, and having never travelled 1st class – really wanted to use it. We did. He got entry to the 1st class lounge, and driven to the aircraft, but despite there being no one else in 1st class, we could not persuade cabin crew to upgrade him. He was in business though, so not exactly slumming it.

  14. @Josh Yeah, that’s a good point. It sounds like he’s personally booking himself into business class and his wife into economy. That doesn’t seem ok at all, even if the trip is for business purposes. If an outside company were paying for the seat, it might be different.

    This raises a good point about flying etiquette with partners. My wife signed up for pre-check a few months before me, and once on a trip she breezed through the pre-check line while I was waiting in the terrible security line for 45 minutes. And I was actually kind of offended! 45 minutes in a security line goes by way faster if you have someone to talk to. But I understand that she didn’t want to be lugging her bags around any longer than she had to, and it’s not like we don’t spend enough time together anyway. Who knows! Solution: Now we both have pre-check. The secret to a happy home.

  15. The few times that happened we both agreed that alternate – one flies First or Business class leaving home and the other gets the seat returning home. We do explain it to the FA’s so they don’t think something is suspicious.

    Just a side note: The most expensive First Class seat is cheaper than a divorce. Much cheaper.

  16. @LS. Your honeymoon is perhaps the MOST important time to travel next to each other.

    But I have no problem if I or my spouse are on business in business class and the other is tagging along in economy. In fact it would almost be fraudulent to the company, let alone inconsiderate to the working spouse, to swap places.

  17. I’m EXP on AA, my wife is Plat. We are pragmatic about it. While we prefer to travel together, we’re not letting an upgrade go to waste. We alternate who actually gets the seat if we don’t both have the option to sit in a premium seat. On the rare occasions that we have two seats in premium and our daughter is flying with us, the kid gets a premium seat, and someone is responsible for parenting a 5 year old on a plane while enjoying the F/J seat.

    For the record, for the screamers about kids on a plane, mine has been flying since she was an infant, and has only ever been a nuisance to other travelers on her first takeoff and landing.

  18. All about equality until chauvinism pays. Then the women have no problem. Hypocrites. And the guys that unable it just to get laid. Pathetic.
    Equality in everything. Let her lug it in the economy. And when the titanic is sinking it’s each person for themselves, not ladies first.

  19. I have the issue when I’m on a paid ticket and get upgraded and my husband is on a rewards ticket. I always offer my seat to him and give him my boarding pass. No questions asked.

  20. I’m the elite flyer in my relationship so if only one person is going to be upgraded it’s me, however I always offer my 6’3 partner the free at-gate upgrade, and he has always chosen to tough it out in economy with me. He doesn’t particularly enjoy flying so he’d rather be close to me than more comfortable, and although that really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me it’s his choice. I would absolutely not fly up front without him, but wouldn’t give it a second thought if he wanted to take my upgrade while I stayed in economy. I have done the same thing for other friends who seldom fly. The way I see it, I have gotten to fly up front a lot (albeit mostly domestic) and if someone else has the opportunity to have a new experience and I’m not paying money or miles for it, why not give it to them?

    This particular fellow running his own business and letting his wife ride in economy does seem like a bit of a jerk, but the article is written with such thinly-veiled outrage I do wonder what of it is actually true and what of it is fluffed.

  21. We used to have this problem. Work paid for business class for my husband, and if I wanted to tag along on an otherwise free-to-us trip (including hotels, transportation, per diem, etc.), I would book an economy ticket. And not complain about it.

    Eventually we got things dialed in to where I would book an award ticket for myself, and have his travel department book him on my flights. Or we would just fly separately. And then they stopped paying for business, so we would book him on flights where I could use my SWUs to upgrade him. There are lots of ways to avoid the separate cabin issue with a bit of legwork.

  22. An even more embarrassing situation is when a sales manager flies with the company CEO/President etc. The sales manager is often a road warrior who flies regularly and has elite status for airlines, hotels etc. while the boss often has no status at all because he/she stays put at HQ running the company. Does the sales manager take the upgrade in row 3 of business class and let the boss sit in row 37 beside a screaming baby? This happened to me and I offered the better seat to the boss which he of course turned down, saying my regular endurance of air travel entitled me to the perk. I was also upgraded at the hotels but all he knew was my room was on a higher floor than his.

  23. I had one such situation–we were traveling to the same place, and I was in J while she was in Y. We were on different planes though. I took her some food out from the lounge .

  24. not for me, but it’s their business. nobody should force ‘equality’ on anything on others just because ‘we’ think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do. it’s up to the couple/family/company/country to decide. we dont know or understand their internal relationship/custom/tradition/culture or how they evolve over time. if it does not work for them they will find solution in order to survive.

  25. Here is my policy: When I fly for work on paid business class I fly by myself. I never brought family with me on business trips. When we fly on a family trip for vacation we all fly on the same cabin. If the price is right or I have enough miles we all fly in business otherwise we all fly coach together. Sometimes I book a paid coach ticket for me (so I can earn miles) and redeem miles for them in coach. On those cases I specifically ask to not be upgraded since I want to stay with my family.

  26. I let my wife have the seat if I get UG and she doesn”t.

    I give credit to the Daily Mail couple for staying in their respective time cabins.

    It pisses me off when parents are in First or Biz and have a parade of kids coming up from economy to talk (often loudly) or swap seats etc

  27. If this is something that would cause a divorce, the marriage isn’t going to last anyway.

  28. During my 30+ years in paid business, I’ve sat by countless men who had their wives in economy. Whether it was vacation or work trip, I’ve never sat by a woman with a husband in the back. Usually, the man says the wife prefers to stay with the kids in the back. Ive flown up front enough to know there is a sense of entitlement to remain there. It would be awesome to see the guys willing to give up their J/F for a spouse.

    I also detest the clingy old couples in J/F that must sit together. I’ve been married 30 years and I know they can survive being a few feet apart. In fact, they’ll probably be happier.

    Lastly, I’ve sat up front while my teens sit in back. We discuss it. They are happy to travel and conduct themselves properly. They do not visit me in front, I usually make one trip to the back during a 4 hour flight. This is their opportunity to show me they can behave responsibly. And yes, we’ve had many talks on airplane etiquette as I often get them upgraded.

  29. I usually travel alone and am not married but last month I invited a girlfriend with me on a business trip to France. I normally fly J but instead I flew in Y with her and it was nice to have company even though the food was barely edible. I’ll ride in the back for a friend or family member.

  30. I’m 6’1″ and 250+ lbs. Any woman who expects me to sit in coach so she can have the “luxury” of sitting up front is a woman I don’t want to date or be married to. (I used to be married to a spoiled brat, I’m not doing that again.)

    Although the slightly better food and free booze is nice, it’s more about having a seat where my knees aren’t dug into the seat in front of me and I have a bit more room to spread out. Sure, no big deal on a 1 hour flight, but it starts to matter on a 15 hour flight.

  31. It’s complicated… I wouldn’t do it as well. I flew already about 1.2 million miles. The first 400K in economy class. With the complimentary upgrades on some trips they brought me to the better classes. When we didn’t have childs, we flew together on many first class trips on miles. After our first daughterbecame 2 yrs old, it became more difficult – especially because the Miles&More program offers companian awards for one person travelling with a Senator (Gold) member. Because of that, my wife and child didn’t fly with me that often anymore on my business trips. Now I have three daughters – and they really don’t need the space of a business or first class seat – further my wife doesn’t really care of the class of travel, because she isn’t really tall and doesn’t eat on flights… The main problem is me: After 800K miles in business and first class, I won’t step back to fly economy again… So I have the same decision to take… But: I could never let them fly them separated from myself. So we fly less – but when we fly, we choose business class – something in the middle… And with all the offers in Premium Economy coming up, I could think about some other things…

  32. It happens to us frequently. I have ALWAYS let my wife ride in the front in those cases and stayed with the kids in the back. Usually, we fly in F together or in Y, but occasionally, getting split up can happen. No big deal if it does.

  33. When I get upgraded due to my status and I’m traveling with my girlfriend I always give my seat to her. No questions asked

  34. We recently flew on AA with the kids on a longer flight to a vacation destination. Hubby is an ExPlat and his upgrade for the first leg cleared the night before. He told me he wanted me to take the seat while he sat in the Economy bulkhead with the kids. He ended up using points to upgrade one of the kids into first so she could fly with me.

    On our second leg, his upgrade didn’t clear until we were on the plane. He once again let me take it while he watch all three kids. For what it is worth, the man sitting next to him also had an upgrade clear and he offered it to his teenage son that he was traveling with.

    I kind of felt bad for leaving my hubby in back with the kids (they can be a handful…) until I reminded myself of all of the flights I’ve taken with them during the week while he is working and then he often catches up on AA (and gets the upgrades). I didn’t feel quite as bad after that.

  35. The husbands in the article sound like jerks, but that’s neither here nor there. If the wife is putting up with it, but is not happy about it, she’s enabling his behavior. Not my business.

    If the situation were to arise where I was flying F and my spouse was in Y (and couldn’t be upgraded), we would take turns – one would flying F in one direction, and switch on the way home.

    On my last trip to Australia, my teenage son and I were in Y. There were two teenage boys sitting next to my son whose parents were flying in business. The mother came to check on them during the 15 hour flight, but they didn’t venture up front to business to visit.

  36. You might be riding in first class but if your wife is in the back of the plane, you living with zero class.

  37. non of the readers here see an underline cultural norms here. these people are of Indian(Pak) decent and they have their own cultural social ways between husband and wife. they are married for life and no matter what he does, she will obey him til death.

  38. Depends on the carrier. Not a big deal if it was Delta or United, but totally different story if it were Singapore or Cathay

  39. Unacceptable on every level as far as I’m concerned.
    If it’s a business trip and one’s company is paying for the husband’s (or wife’s) premium class ticket then why not have the wife or husband join at a later date (after the meetings) and extend the stay in the location of travel for business to have some R&R, otherwise one should totally downgrade. if the travel date has to be the same.

    I’m sure many (if not all) business travelers started in Economy once upon a time, and still made the meetings they had to… 🙂

  40. @choi Eh, I wouldn’t assume that. There are over a billion people of Indian descent in the world, and not all of them believe that. Especially the types of Indians who are usually flying business class (e.g., better educated, wealthier, etc.). Source: I am a man of Indian descent who finds the idea of a wife blindly obeying her husband to be absolutely disgusting. In fact, I’m sure every single one of my male Indian friends would feel the same.

  41. As I’m only 18 years old I’ve experienced this: My dad always got payed Business and when we took vacation as a family (he mostly had a conference in that country before or after). He gave up his business seat for my mother and flew Economy with me (last seat in cabin AND entertainment box underneath) Ewwww). We basically all only flew Business then: Upgraded by him mostly and on short haul we flew Business mostly anyway. I know of a lot of friends whose parents flew Business or First and left the Kids in Economy which I think is awful. (I remember a couple flying in First leaving their Babies and Nannies in Business: What happened was the kids basically terrorizing Business, waking everybody up when sleeping throwing toys around and I mean I was sleeping and this kid comes up to my seat and throws a magazine at me, Believe me I was like WTF and the nannies were sipping their free champagne doing nothing). Booking Business and booking economy for spouse is not ok in my opinion. I mean with the kids I may understand, but as a family you should maybe travel together (I mean I try not to talk to my parents or friends inflight, I just want my peace but you get what I mean right?).
    My dad offered a flight in First class to my mother as birthday gift (paid by m&m points (even though he isn’t Senator!). They first told him it wasn’t possible, but after a few weeks of the secretary calling every single day they gave up. (So it is possible to get F award space with Swiss as non senator haha 😉 )
    When there is no possibility to fly in the same class I as a man if I had Business would switch seats with gf or wife or spouse. (Simply switch out tickets with or after boarding and go to the seats: And “no you can’t switch seats because of weight distribution is just bs as long as you don’t fly in a C208)

  42. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t even be talking about this if it was a female executive flying in business while the dad was in back with the kids

  43. My wife is a foot smaller than I and she has seen me suffer in economy on several trips, i.e. having my knees up to my chest in a Delta flight from JFK to Dubai or getting my knees slammed by a rude idiot in front of me who reclined his seat very fast without regard to the person behind him. For this reason, SHE has requested that I spend the extra money for myself on a comfort seat to enjoy more legroom. She doesn’t have a problem where she is sitting and is just happy to be getting a free vacation. That said, I don’t need to overdo the separation with a first-class seat.

  44. <>

    Not only that. My husband of 45+ years is also my best best friend and travel companion. If I can’t arrange for us to sit together front of the plane (most of the time) – we will sit together in the back. Together is the most important thing.

  45. The missing within parentheses is:

    If you want to be divorced when you arrive, please proceed.

  46. My wife is the business traveler and flies long haul international constantly. She has status on multiple airlines so when I go with her we always buy economy or premium economy for me and use her points to upgrade me to sit with her. She would never fly economy and never give me her seat (nor would I take it if she offered) So if I tag along we always work it out so I fly with her in business. I know I wouldn’t do a 10+ hour flight in economy while she was up front – I’d choose not to go before I did that.

  47. “But here’s a situation that I admit is tricky, where I’m not sure what I would do. What if you are on a business trip and your company is paying for business class, and your spouse tags along?

    Personally I’d suggest trying to get them a seat in the same cabin. But what if that’s not possible? Ultimately it seems better if they join you on the trip than not. Do you downgrade yourself from a paid business class seat (when your company is incurring that expense, presumably so you’ll arrive well rested) or what?”

    Of course not. You stump up and pay for their ticket in business class (or go halves if that’s the nature of your relationship). Your own ticket is already paid for in full by your company. Jesus.

  48. Yes. It’s perfectly normal.

    I used to do this with my ex-wife all the time. I’d get a nice J seat and she was perfectly content with a cheaper seat in Y. That way we both saved money!

  49. @choi “non of the readers here see an underline cultural norms here. these people are of Indian(Pak) decent and they have their own cultural social ways between husband and wife. they are married for life and no matter what he does, she will obey him til death.”

    Somebody tell Trump. I can’t wait for Islamic values to finally take over in the West. Sharia Law FTW.

  50. These comments are hilarious. If the situation was reversed, and it was the woman flying up front and the husband in the back, I suspect I wouldn’t be reading any comments about the husband divorcing the wife after the flight.

    You all are so sexist!

  51. The real special place in hell is for parents who fly up front and leave their kids in coach with me.

  52. @Barack’s Nose Hair says: You might be riding in first class but if your wife is in the back of the plane, you living with zero class.

    hahaha couldn’t agree with you more, responses are funny like your name.

    For me, it’s the opposite. Wife gets business with kids and I sit in economy if needed!

  53. Few years ago, we were flying to Orlando on vacation. When I printed boarding passes (and we were on separate reservations), they offered upgrade to first for not much $ so I did it fully expecting to be able to do that when I printed my husband’s (my bad). It wasn’t available. I called Customer Service and asked to get refunded and back in Coach. They wouldn’t do it–said all sales final. So I sat in First, he sat in Coach. I offered to switch but it wasn’t a big deal to him. I did get him an aisle seat in exit row and it ended up costing $10 less than my first class seat! I went back to see him and got the weirdest looks from folks–what is she doing back here?

    So I certainly couldn’t plan on doing this and would have been upset if it would have been a long haul flight to be separated but it worked out well. The guy sitting next to me wanted me to switch with his wife who was sitting in bulkhead row which I can’t do because I’m so short. I told him if it made him feel better, my husband was back in Coach.

  54. Me, my wife and 15 year old daughter are flying DFW to DXB to HKG in August, with EK. I have 2 award seats in First (couldn’t get three) and one paid business seat. Daughter wil be in business. I’m wondering if the FA’s will allow me to switch seats with my daughter for let’s say a few hours. So I can give her also the EK First experience 😉 Any thoughts?

  55. I fly more for business than my husband. I also work my butt off. His job is physically demanding but rarely involves travel. He makes a great income. If I get an upgrade I take it. I know it sounds awful but at the end of the day he is lucky to enjoy all the perks of my position and salary. A lot of wives in our neighborhood don’t choose to work at all. Must be nice. I definitely would trade off and that is a great idea. For work travel I need business or first. Flying coach is grueling when I have to fly a red eye and go straight to work. I also bring my work along with us so sometimes need to work on the plane. Really depends. Ladies quit complaining and get a career.

  56. In my marriage, it is clear as day. If I get an upgrade, my wife gets the seat when we are travelling together. She enjoys it more than I do. And I don’t have a choice!

  57. I’m the breadwinner and work my ass off. The flight to Mexico only had room for one business class award ticket, and one economy. When the ticketing agent asked who would like to sit in business, I replied with “Is that even a question??”

    Chivalry is not dead!

  58. When I was younger my dad travelled a bit and occaislonky I tag along with him in economy though his company paid for him to go in business and the same happens when my mum tagged along with him I think it’s completely fine if the company is paying otherwise book in the same cabin

  59. Better yet, if you can’t score your partner an upgrade, why not split mealtimes in business class with them? That way both of you get a taste if the high life.

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