Flying With Kids
From Booking to Landing
Flying as a family? No matter how savvy a traveler you are, the rules are different once you’re trying to book a flight and travel enjoyably with kids in tow. Here’s how to get from Point A to Point B without misery, and maybe even have a little fun!
Booking Tips With Kids
Naturally, when you book airline tickets as a family, you expect to sit together. Unfortunately, this is no longer guaranteed, or even the norm in some cases. To ensure you sit together, start by booking early and selecting seats at booking.
This is the most obvious and certain way to sit together on the plane.
Next, check your reservation before departure to make sure your seat reservation hasn’t changed. I know, right? But they do that to you sometimes. If there’s a problem, call to talk directly to an agent.
Explain your situation calmly and politely, and ask the agent not if something can be done, but what can be done. The nicer you are, the more the agent will want to help you. This may not be fair, but it’s human nature.
Always beware of booking seats on third-party sites. Sometimes, there’s a disconnect between third-party booking sites and airline sites.
For instance, if you book your reservation on Travelocity and select seats on their website, this information may not make it to the airline agent.
For this reason, booking directly from the airline is best. Sometimes the lowest fare wins, we know, but for the reason above, book through the airline when possible.
Desk agents can see who you booked through, and can offer more upgrades or help to “loyal” customers. You’ll be better off in the case of delays or cancellations if you book directly, too.
If you can’t book seats together at booking, book all aisle or all window seats. These seats are much better “commodities” than middle seats when you need to trade with other passengers later.
Another option: elect to book seats with a middle “buffer.” Book the aisle and the window, leaving the middle.
This middle seat will be among the last seats booked, increasing your chances of having an empty middle seat to spread out in. However, if it does fill up, the decent thing to do as a fellow human being is to offer that person the aisle.
To help you out, use a seat alert at a site like SeatGuru or ExpertFlyer. These sites show interior maps of almost all airplanes, allowing you to see the best seating options at a glance. Unless desperate, do not pay at the gate for premium seats.
Some airlines use this tactic to increase revenue, but in almost all cases, seating can be arranged once onboard, if you have young children.
Finally, if you still can’t resolve your seating arrangement, you’ll have to ask fellow passengers to switch (see how below).
Seating Tips: In The Trenches
It should be acknowledged that paying passengers should never have to resort to begging strangers to have mercy on them and “allow” them to sit next to their own children. However, it often comes to that. Here’s how to go about it for the best results:
- Start by going to your assigned seat and waiting there. No one will appreciate your cluttering the aisle, least of all the onboard flight attendants.
- Politely let the attendants know what you need. Their main objective is to get the flight in the air on time, so they’ll almost always help you in your quest.
- Start with the passengers in your direct vicinity, politely explaining the situation (pointing out your helpless child rows away). Have something decent to trade if possible. Note that the passenger sitting directly next to your young child is the most likely candidate to trade.
- If the first person you ask refuses (it’s their right to do so), just keep asking. Someone will cave, if only to end the awkward begging session.
- If you have older kids or teens, do NOT expect anyone to trade. You can ask – we have – and get lucky, but after a polite ask, drop it. We were once subjected to a huge fit by an adult passenger insisting on sitting next to his girlfriend on a two-hour flight. Don’t be that guy.
Car Seat and Stroller Hacks
If you’re bringing your car seat on board, make sure it’s FAA-approved (there will be a sticker on the seat).
Board early if it’s an option. It’s not easy to maneuver a car seat down that narrow aisle! Don’t be surprised if a flight attendant comes by to check your installation.
If you don’t need your car seat, car seats can be checked at the gate or at check-in, both free of charge. If your seat has wheels or attaches to a stroller or frame, by all means, bring it directly to the gate.
Gate-checking is the only way to guarantee your seat actually goes on your plane and will be waiting for you at arrival.
Bringing a stroller? Like car seats, strollers can be gate-checked or checked upon arrival at the airport free of charge. If you gate check, it will be waiting for you in the jetway upon arrival (you’ll need to wait for it for a few minutes).
Tip: Don’t want to hassle with baby gear in transit? Rent strollers, car seats, and even high chairs and cribs at the arrival terminal or in your destination city.
Airplane Etiquette With Kids
Kids, just like everyone else, become citizens of that small metal tube we call an airplane the minute they board. Make sure they learn how to be good citizens. The best way to teach them is by example, of course.
Seeing Mom and Dad acting politely and generously toward fellow passengers goes a long way. Here are a few additional tips to make your life easier on board (as well as everyone else’s).
Get rid of as much gear as you can before boarding. Parents of young kids have enough on their hands – they don’t need to fight for overhead space, too.
If you’re headed to your final destination, consider volunteering to gate-check your carry-on bags, stroller, and car seat (if you’re not using it on the flight).
If you’ve done tip 1, don’t board too early. Ignore the offer to board first with young kids. Who wants to sit on the restrictive plane longer than necessary?
Now, if you have carry-on bags to stow in overhead bins, by all means DO board first.
Help kids avoid kicking the seat back in front of them by sitting cross-legged. This seems to be the number one complaint of solo and adult passengers on planes in regard to children, but sometimes, toddlers’ legs are just the right (or wrong) length.
Yes, you can and should teach kids not to purposely kick the seat, but for those ages during which it’s unavoidable, this is a solution.
Bring appropriate entertainment. You’ll want to carry on toys with magnetic strips and few pieces. That collection of cars or Legos Junior loves? This is not the best use of them.
If your young child is going to watch media, but sure to use child-size headphones and splitters to ensure no one else has to hear cartoons.
Follow these tips to best ensure an incident-free flight!