Hello from a First Class wife: married to a man who ensures that I fly by his side and not behind him.

The aviation media is going overboard with the new stories of The Economy Class Wives which was published yesterday by the Daily Mail, UK. It screams, “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!” You can read it here.

The story is written in a very chic lit fashion, and leans on the stories of a few to make a trend out of the discussion on hand. It seems they got some of these people chatting in a party, after a few drinks, and that’s where they poured their hearts out to these paparazzi. Hear this,

But what if it’s your husband that’s heading off to a seat with extra legroom, a delicious meal with proper cutlery and unlimited top-ups to his wine glass — leaving you in cattle class?

One can imagine it would test any marriage to breaking point. But, astonishingly, an increasing number of men are insisting on taking a business class seat — whether they’ve been awarded an upgrade by their employer or have forked out for it themselves — with little thought for their wives sitting behind them on the plane.

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’.

After reading the article, I thought to myself, here is a story of successful men who travel in premium cabins, enjoy the extra legroom, get served a delicious meal while their wives slog it out in economy either because they are just 5’3” in height and hence don’t need a comfortable seat, or because a choice has to be made between a 3500 GBP v/s 600 GBP ticket or because the kids need to be taken care of down the back, but mainly because they are WIVES.

Onboard Singapore Airlines First Class Suites

Onboard Singapore Airlines First Class Suites

This is what my 3 year old travel diary says so far, ‘83 flights together, 83,000 miles hand in hand, 3.4x around the earth’. Whenever my husband travels in a premium cabin, he makes it a point to get me a seat next to him. Sometimes we pay for it, occasionally we use his miles to upgrade my ticket and rarely the airline offers an upgrade. But, when traveling on the same plane for work or vacation, I always occupy the economy, business or first class seat next to him (in one case across the aisle because it was a last-minute upgrade!).

And yes there was a time when we were both booked in economy and he got upgraded to business. Guess what, he gave up that seat and still decided to sit by my side. I remember I was quite upset with him on that flight but in retrospect here is why I love traveling together by my husband, right next to him.

We experience something new together

Onboard Etihad Airways First Apartments

Onboard Etihad Airways First Apartments

It is always great to enjoy something new together. Traveling together in a premium cabin is just not about that seat with the extra leg room and fine dining. I still remember the ride to the JFK airport in the limousine that Etihad organizes for their first passengers, the red carpet welcome into the airline’s premium lounge at the airport and how amazed I was looking at the make-up mirror in Etihad’s A-380 First suite on our way back from New York. An experience in a first class is just like a culinary experience at Noma, it begins right from the time you make a reservation and lingers on much after the dinner is over. So why enjoy the meal alone when you can share the entire experience with a loved one.

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.’

Arrun is unashamed about his love for business class travel without his wife

We make memories together

Onboard Jet Airways' Premiere over to Paris

Onboard Jet Airways’ Premiere over to Paris

3 years ago, Ajay swept me away to Paris for a surprise proposal trip. He still chuckles about the twinkle in my eye, when the lady at the check-in counter handed me a business class boarding pass to Paris when I was expecting an economy boarding card to a different destination. Last year, days before our flight to LA we spent hours discussing what we would pre-order from book the cook menu offered on SQ First. It was my birthday and the crew surprised me with a cake and a handmade card. When the crew converted our first seats into a double bed and closed the doors behind them, we jumped on that bed like kids. More importantly, that night we slept mid-air in each others’ arms and dreamt together.

As for ever-patient Tina, even she sometimes gets lonely in economy.

‘When we go to romantic destinations such as Italy or Sri Lanka, the plane is always full of couples. I do observe them rather wistfully.

‘The husband will help his wife with placing her bag in the overhead locker. He’ll make sure she is comfortable, too. I do miss that. It’s moments like that when I think I’d love for us to be together.’

Onboard Singapore Airlines First Class Suites

Onboard Singapore Airlines First Class Suites

We build on our trust

I think about the incident when Ajay gave up his upgraded business seat, without a second thought to sit by my side in economy. He is Platinum and I am still Gold, so he frequently gets an upgrade above everyone else on an overbooked flight, and this was a product he wanted to really check out. He asked for a second upgrade, but the J cabin was sort of booked up by now and we were delaying pushback.

I insisted he travel comfortably and gave every possible logic including that I’m only 5″1′  tall and I don’t really need the extra space. All he said was that felt more comfortable by my side. I said he was a fool to give up a 180-degree reclining seat to a random stranger but in my heart felt secure that he did not trade my company for the upgrade.

‘And the first question people ask is always the same: ‘Has your husband ever offered to change seats with you?’ Hand on heart, he hasn’t ever suggested it.

‘It really used to bother me — did he think his comfort was more important than mine? What did it say about how much he respected me? I’ve got used to it, though.’

Tina, who met Arrun in 2009 while visiting a stone quarry in Verona, Italy, doesn’t believe her husband’s actions are down to stinginess.

‘He’s not tight with money. But when there’s a choice between a £3,500 ticket for business compared with £600 for an economy ticket for me to join him, it’s difficult to justify it. Do I need the extra legroom? No — I’m only 5ft 3in.’

We escape and live in the moment

Not everything in life is perfect. As a working couple, the everyday life, the stress, the demanding boss, everything affects us. And that is the very reason we consciously escape the everyday life once in a while. Buying a ticket last minute and an impromptu flight to a new destination together also brings out the adventurous streak that often hibernates in the daily routine. The feeling is magical when hold each others hands and peek out of the aircraft window and all you can see is the blue waters and glimpses of the islands in the Maldives.

‘John finds economy unbearable,’ she says. ‘He doesn’t like the chatter, hates that too many people are in close proximity and can’t bear being crammed into his seat.

Michelle Sedgemore, 49, endures this fate when her husband, John, who works in IT, leaves her to look after their two children, Alexander, 13, and Saskia, nine, while he swans off to business class

‘I discovered this when we went on our honeymoon to the Maldives in 2001 — our first long-haul journey together since we began dating two years before.

‘But the 12-hour flight was a disaster. John didn’t stop moaning and grumbling. I had to have a few glasses of wine to try to drown out his whingeing.

‘Eventually, the cabin crew found us two other seats with more legroom. But it was too late for me — I refused to move with him. I’d had enough of his dramatics and didn’t want to spoil the remainder of my flight.

‘After he left, the stewardess promptly delivered me a topped up glass of wine. I needed it.

We discuss our future

Over the last few years, I have learnt that mid-air is really the place when we are not worried about our worldly duties and have dedicated time for each other. Conversations vary from discussions to squabbles to playing scrabble to introspections to a vision of our future together. We often make our travel plans in airport lounges or on board the flight and on those long haul flights we talk to each other for hours, and share expectations, hopes, and dreams, over a flute of champagne. Planning something new together, like flying the A380 or hopping onto the Dreamliner on our next trip does add excitement in our relationship (we are both aviation nuts, he for real and me an acquired taste!!).

Now thinking about the number of times I have cozily snuggled by side I have to unapologetically admit that I’m a proud first class wife not just because I travel first class with my husband but because I am married to a man who loves and respects me so much that he makes sure I am always by his side and not behind him.

What are your experiences traveling as a couple? Stuck in the seat behind the curtain, or both of you stay at the same side of the curtain? Look forward to hearing your stories…

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Comments

  1. Great article Shipra. I wonder how many people read the daily mail stuff and wave it off as a cultural thing! It’s both scary and not entirely true. Marriages are so individualistic. My spouse is American and we both slave equally, I travel as a consultant and get the constant perks and upgrades. I ensure we share that between us. It feels good as I ferry my man through any priority upgrades given by airlines and hotels. He gets an equal status with me because I travel so much, he puts up with my busy schedule and me

  2. Arrun is clearly going to have a second wife, whether it’s because he wants a new model, or wife number one stops accepting her “position”.

  3. Some of this could be cultural, especially with Arrun Kumar.

    Some men or women will end up sitting in coach while their spouse is in business if they are on an un-upgraded business or corporate ticket where the spouse along for the ride is in the better seat because it’s personnally paid or award.

    I too travel with my wife and we rarely travel long haul in coach. But being together in business or first rarely means that we get to snuggle like you suggest. The seats are mostly individual cocoons of noise cancelling headphones, IFE and sleeping.

    • @DaninMCI let’s not make this cultural. If this is the norm which the daily mail can’t prove, then it does not merit a debate on what they are trying to prove.

  4. For someone who follows your blog and is just getting into frequent traveler mode, this article was inspirational.

    God Speed to both of you.

  5. Great article Ajay ! Totally agree with the sentiments expressed – I’ve given up upgrades to travel along with my wife and in some occasions, exchanged seats with her so that she is in business and i’m in economy with my kid – she travels less often and deserves to experience it more than me !

  6. That shows how normal / grounded you both are. Can completely understand the sentiment as my parents , even when we were kids , never left us behind in a separate cabin – either we all travel Business or we all travel Economy. Why travel together if you are not together ?? I don’t think any excuse counts in this case , where a man considers himself ( or behaves ) to be superior than his wife.

  7. We usually fly Southwest when we fly as a family since we have companion passes so the kids fly for free. Recently though we flew AA with our three young kids (hubby is ExPlat).

    His upgrade cleared for the first leg the night before the flight. He told me that he wanted me to take it and he would watch the kids in the bulkhead in economy. At the airport, he decided to use miles to upgrade our daughter’s ticket so she could fly up front with me. She is three and enjoyed the first class experience more than I expected.

    On our second leg, there was an issue with the upgrade list and his name didn’t make it on until he checked at the gate during boarding. The upgrade ended up clearing last minute after we had already boarded. He happily told me to go sit up front and he would watch the kids. The man who had been in the seat next to him also go upgraded and ended up sending his teenage son up front instead.

    While for the most part, I would prefer to sit with my husband, I also really enjoyed getting a little break in first class.

    I often arrive to our destination warn out and exhausted after caring for the kids during our travels. This time, I felt refreshed and like I was able to be more calm and patient with them.

  8. Great post. I travel 100K+ miles and still don’t understand the big fuss about upgrades on <12 hour flights. I often give away my upgrades to the elderly and military.

    My wife rarely travels with me; but when she does, if i get 1 upgrade, I insist on her taking it since she rarely experiences business class. She often declines and both of us sit in Y.

    It is <12 hours. How does it matter in the big scheme of things?

    • @RoamAmore, I think different people have different tolerance for flying, and maybe you are braver than everyone for doing 12 hour flights in Y. My max tolerance is about 5-6 hours. That said, I usually won’t want to squander away an upgrade, but when it means we sit apart from each other or Shipra won’t go up front, we just pass it along.

  9. What a delightful post. My husband and I were fortunate to meet Ajay when we traveled with him on OWMD. He was a kind and fun soul who seems to have met his match.

    Best wishes to the both of you!

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