Lily Allen’s got it all wrong when it comes to kids on planes

You wouldn’t catch me leaving my children in cattle while I travel first class, says mum-of-two Charlotte Cripps

Monday 29 April 2024 20:39 BST
Lily Allen says she plans to put her daughter in economy while she travels first class from New York to London (Victoria Jones/PA)
Lily Allen says she plans to put her daughter in economy while she travels first class from New York to London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

Lily Allen has confessed that she is prepared to pay to travel first class on a flight to London from New York, while sticking her daughter Ethel, 13, in economy – adding further fuel to the trend for “kids on planes” debate.

You know the one: where people tell TikTok they’re proud to have said “no” to parents separated from their children on a long-haul journey, or boast about telling some poor toddler they can’t sit next to the window. There are also stories about parents who do what Allen is proposing to do: pay to sit in first class while their kids sit in cattle with the nanny.

No matter how proud, how “justified” or how viral the video makes them, I still think it’s completely shocking. I’d never do that to my kids – and I can’t believe Allen would, either. What is she thinking?

I know free champagne is wasted on children and every parent longs for a bit of peace and quiet – but would I feel comfortable swanning off to business class without my children?

No, is my simple answer. I just can’t imagine parting ways at the plane door and waving off my kids, saying: “See you in eight hours, darlings! Have a great flight!”

Yes, I might get extra legroom, gourmet meals and a bed, but I’d spend the entire plane ride feeling guilty about my children hunched up with a stiff neck from trying to sleep with their heads propped up against a window – if they’re lucky enough to get a seat with a view in the first place.

We all know what it’s like to travel in the cheapest section of the plane with inedible food and people asking you to get up every 30 minutes to stretch their legs before they get deep vein thrombosis, or to go to the bathroom – so why on earth would you put your kids through it and not yourself?

Allen, 38, who lives in New York with her actor husband David Harbour, made the bold revelations in the latest episode of her podcast, Miss Me?, with her friend and co-host Miquita Oliver, whose 40th birthday party she talked about flying over for in London.

She brushed over the idea that it’s “selfish” of her and instead joked about the very viral trend she’s about to become part of: featuring adults defiantly refusing to give up their seats for children who are separated from their families on flights.

Here’s why it’s so wrong, in my opinion: as the mum to two young daughters, I think we should all want to sit with our children on a plane. I would never stick my kids on a bus and take an Uber to the same destination – so why would I leave my children in economy?

And OK, as for the argument is that first class is “expensive” – that’s right, but I’m not proposing we all start taking out second mortgages just so the whole fam can fly in first. Quite the opposite. I’m simply saying that whatever your kids are doing, you should suck it up and do it with them. And why would kids want to sit in first class, anyway? Their legs are short and a young child in an adult seat is quite roomy.

While writing this piece, I spoke to one mum friend who told me it’s nice to split sections on the plane to have her kids “far away, bickering”. “And anyway,” she said, “they won’t even notice as they will be engulfed in watching the TV screens on the back of their economy seats.” But all I could think was: What about the emotional impact on them?

I know exactly how it feels to be shunted into steerage – it’s easy to end up seething with resentment. My ex-partner got upgraded to business class on our flight to Mauritius due to a blunder in the airline lounge in London’s Heathrow before we boarded the flight. He was a year sober from alcohol and ordered a non-alcoholic cocktail – it turned out to be full of vodka.

It was pretty serious – it could have reignited his obsession and compulsion to drink. He had downed the entire pint glass full of fruit and ice before questioning whether it was alcoholic, ­ but I still complained fiercely.

“Can you imagine if he relapses on our dream holiday – it’s a nightmare! It could kill him – he’s an alcoholic!” I told the airline rep who totally agreed – and smiled warmly, offering him an instant upgrade to business class.

The question: “What about me?” fell on deaf ears – and because he had restless leg syndrome, I gave in and let him take the business class seat. He then spent the 12-hour flight lying back having a manicure, a neck massage and silver service treatment, while I missed him next to me. All the excitement of the holiday faded away – I felt alone and like a second class citizen.

So, why would a mum treat their child in such a way? I know Lily Allen has recently admitted to having to sell her dream £4.2m Cotswolds mansion to pay a huge tax bill. But surely, even if she can only afford one first class ticket – why not sit in economy with Ethel?

Couldn’t it be viewed as incredibly humble in the same way as when Prince Harry travels commercial? And if she can afford it, then it’s still unacceptable – are kids not worth the upgrade?

The brutal truth is, I would put my kids in business class over myself – if I had the choice. Like many other mums, I often put my children higher up on the self-care list, making sure they have everything over my own needs.

I’m always buying them new clothes, rather than for myself; and even when I do the food shop, I often forget to buy anything meaningful for myself while I’m charging up the supermarket aisles grabbing fish fingers and pasta.

It’s true there needs to be a balance – I should really have that much-needed massage someday. But when it comes to splashing out, I’d far prefer to send them to ballet than bliss out by myself in a luxury spa for the day.

Planes aren’t exactly a wellness retreat in Switzerland – but that’s how people squashed into economy view first-class when we walk past them to get to our seats. Once the curtain is drawn across, it’s them and us.

I have no doubt the kids left behind are thinking: why can’t I get a good night’s sleep, too? Why can’t I be gifted the stylishly curated designer “his” and “hers” amenity kits? Given silky eye masks? I wonder if mum and dad will save me a calming pillow mist – or a lip balm? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

If Allen goes ahead with her plan to travel in first while her daughter is in cattle, she may invite her over to her plush seat for a fizzy drink and a catch up. But it’s not good enough. I can’t help worry that this flight from New York to London carries much more baggage than she realises.

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