Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Flying with kids: choosing a seat

A T-Rex always gets the window seat.

Middle, aisle, or window? When I got on a flight before I had kids, the choice usually came down to whether I thought I wanted to look at the view, or have easy access to the bathroom without having to ask someone to get up. (As for the middle seat: nobody really wants that, right?)

When you're traveling with children however, the choice becomes a bit more important, and over the years I've developed some clear preferences for certain seats on the plane. Here are some of my top tips for choosing a seat when you're traveling with kids. (Keep in mind that these tips are mainly for people flying Economy Class: unfortunately I have had no experience with Business Class or First Class.)

1. Access to the aisle is always good
If you're flying with a young child, or more than one, you will most likely need to get up to take them to the bathroom at some point. Having an aisle seat makes this easier, and less of a hassle. Access to the aisle also makes it easier to get up and take a restless child for a walk around the plane: not a big area to walk really, but sometimes it can help.

2. If you're flying with an infant, ask for a seat with a cot
On certain flights, babies can qualify for a cot, also called a bassinet. Ask your airline about this when you book your flight, and let them seat you wherever a cot is available. You can read more about cots in All about cots and bassinets.

3. If you're breastfeeding, a window seat can be nice
Feeding your baby on board can be a great way to calm them down, help equalize the pressure in their ears, and also (of course) make them less hungry. The middle seat can be awkward when breastfeeding, especially if you're seated next to someone you don't know. The aisle seat can also be awkward, and you might feel a little worried by passing passengers and carts. Best choice in my opinion is the window seat: it' gives the most privacy for you and the baby. 

4. One adult flying with one or more kids
I've flown as a solo parent with my two children (they are now 4 and 8 years old) on several occasions. Usually we are seated together, three in a row, with me in the middle and the kids taking turns between flights as to who gets the window seat. This makes it easier for me to "buffer" any sibling silliness, and allows me to help both of them if they need assistance. Only once have I been on a flight where there were only two seats on either side of the aisle. In that case, I took the seat across the aisle, while my most anxious child (the oldest) sat across the aisle from me. How you position yourself and your kids best will depend on their preferences and personalities.

5. Two adults flying with one or more kids
When my husband comes along on a flight with the kids, I always hope that the plane will have the 4-seat wide section in the middle. Then we can put the kids between us and have access to the aisle on either side: perfect. If there are only three seats available together, we try to get the other adult seated on the same row, just across the aisle. To me, this works a lot better than sitting behind or in front of the rest of the family. Everyone can see each other, and it also makes it easier to give a helping hand. 

6. Switching seats is (usually) allowed
Sometimes you don't end up with the seat you would like, even if you were confirmed for a certain seat ahead of time. For example, if a delay forces the airline to use another type of plane for your flight, then all the seat assignments might change. If you end up with a seating arrangement you don't like, you can ask people on board if they want to trade seats with you. On a recent flight with my kids and my husband, he was not seated with us in the 4-seat middle section for some reason, but the young guy who did get that seat was quite eager to trade seats. I mean, seriously, who would want to be seated next a mom with two kids if they could stick the dad in that seat instead? In my experience, people are usually quite accommodating, especially if it means that they don't have to be seated next to small children!

7. Other considerations
  • Sitting next to the bathroom can be a very good thing when you're traveling with a young child. Especially if they have a nervous tummy from the excitement of travel.
  • Some airlines now offer you the option of upgrading to a seat with more leg-room in Economy Class. If you've got the cash, this might be a good option.
  • Seats at the bulkhead (the dividing wall inside the plane), often have more legroom. However, when seated there, you don't have a seat in front of you to shove things under, and you don't have a screen or tray in the seat-back in front of you. Instead the screen and tray usually fold out somehow from your arm rest or your seat. One good thing about these seats: your kids can't kick the seat in front of them!

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