My Husband Flies First Class and Puts Me in Coach. Is That Fair?


My husband loves to travel and always either pays for, or gets an upgrade into, the first-class cabin. When we travel together with our children, he buys himself a ticket in first class and puts us in economy or economy plus. He even did this recently on an overnight flight to Paris. He justifies flying alone in first class because of the cost, and the fact that our kids (12 and 16) might feel alone if I were to travel in first with him and leave them in the rear cabin. I feel that this is unfair.

I don’t think our kids would mind if they were in economy plus and my husband and I sat together in first class. Is that unfair of me to want? My husband has suggested traveling alone on a different flight ahead of us so that we don’t feel badly about the disparity, but this does not really address or solve the problem of the inherent selfishness in his thinking. Am I wrong? We are happy to travel, and love going places together, but it is still very strange. — Name Withheld

From the Ethicist:

The institution of marriage has always taken on characteristics of the society in which it arises. But a modern marriage is meant to be a pairing of equals, in which each partner treats the other with respect, consideration and dignity. Each has a say in the making of significant decisions, and each cares about the other’s comfort and preferences. Your husband has another view. He evidently thinks that because he’s the ticket-buyer in the family, his own preferences get priority.

“We are comparison machines,” the social psychologist Susan Fiske has written, and the comparisons we routinely make are with those closest to us. Your husband isn’t entirely oblivious of this — hence his proposal to enjoy his warmed cashews and lie-flat seat on a separate flight from yours. But the best way to address feelings of inequity in intimate relationships is through creating greater equity.

You would have mentioned if your husband claimed a specific physical or medical issue (e.g., a need to keep his legs elevated) to justify his seating choices, which means that whatever his reasons for flying up front presumably apply to you. And your kids handle being away from you all day at school, so yes, they could surely handle a few hours on a plane without either of you. Still, if your husband thinks that only one adult per trip should fly up front, why not suggest taking turns?

The previous column’s question was from a reader asking about how their local community theater should cast its staging of the musical “The Fiddler on the Roof.” He wrote: “The director proposing the production has committed himself to colorblind casting. Others involved say that, in view of the Jewish community the play is about, they would consider this to be a cultural appropriation. How should we approach this conflict in values?”

In his response, the Ethicist noted: “Nontraditional casting is of particular value where there’s a tradition to be bucked; familiar works or historical episodes can be experienced in fresh ways. I love that an open-access approach toward the classics has long been common, including in the amateur realm … That’s the attitude to take with your ‘Fiddler.’ When a show has been done to death, the task is to bring it to life.” (Reread the full question and answer here.)

What a great both/and answer. Instead of coming down on the “right” side of the letter writer’s dilemma, the Ethicist explores ways each approach can be right, and possible challenges of each, and raises further considerations like context and intention. Such complex, multilayered issues as cultural respect and cultural humility deserve consideration from many different perspectives, which is in itself a practice of inclusion. Brier

“Fiddler” has become so universally loved because the themes speak to all cultures: religious values, assimilation, generational differences. Also, the original producers had no qualms about allowing a predominantly Black school to perform it, and they didn’t ask for royalties. In this case, the roles should go to the most qualified actors regardless of race or religion. Marsha

The characters should be portrayed by Ashkenazi Jews, since that is who “Fiddler on the Roof” is about. As much as diversity should be welcome in artistic events, if the play is about Ashkenazi Jews, then having them portrayed by Black actors is not true to Sholom Aleichem’s story or to the cultural heritage which is the play’s focus. Sara

While I agree with the Ethicist’s main point here that the performance of “Fiddler” will benefit from all sorts of actors, he missed an opportunity to remind readers of the wide breadth of Jewish identities. Jews are not a monolith, and another benefit of any kind of “blind” casting for this production is that it may more comfortably open roles up to folks with a variety of Jewish or Jewish-adjacent experiences to bring to bear on, as the Ethicist stated, an already polyglot-American-Jew-ish (emphasis on the “ish”) show. Julia

As a theater professional and educator for 40 years, with particular focus on Jewish theater, let me express my complete support for The Ethicist’s thoughtful and nuanced response. I have endless questions about how we proceed with inclusivity, diversity and access. What is “authentic,” what is historical and what is fantastical are not just aesthetic questions, but political ones too. We are here to explore — yes to honor and recognize, but also to meet change head on. Jewish Tevyes are great, but so are other choices. Ellen

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