Flying with a young kid isn't an easy adventure — but sitting in the right area of the plane can help smooth your travels. Sure, there's a pretty typical scenario when you think of kids and flying: as soon as the family sits down, the person next to them asks the flight attendant to move seats — whether for fear of a screaming and crying mess, a seat-kicker, or some combination of annoyances. It's not fun to experience as a parent, especially when you want to get your family from one location to another without the worry that your child will be superuncomfortable or disruptive. Of course, sometimes bribery works to smooth the journey (gummy bears, chocolate, or new toys are all good options for my toddler). But I've found it also helps to get my child seated in the right place.
My daughter is 3 years old and has been on over 15 flights, and I can honestly say we've only had one flight that was a bit stressful because she was upset, overtired, and just not having it. And that flight was just two hours from NYC to Chicago. The other flights, some which have been over 10 hours and crossed oceans to Europe and Africa, have been painless and dare I say . . . easy.
What's our trick? We've got quite a few: timing her naps, tiring her out before flights, a surprise new toy in the air, keeping our own energy calm and not worrying about those around us, coconut water, and, of course, finding the right seat on the plane. For us, the best place to sit is close to the front of the plane and to give our daughter the window seat. Sure, my husband doesn't love giving up his perfect view to the world below, but this seems to work best for all of us — and others around us.
Why the window? Because there's nothing worse than having to decide whether you need to pee bad enough to risk waking your sleeping baby. I want to be able to be mobile on a plane and not stuck inside my seat because my little one is resting. And I will absolutely never wake my child on a plane, even if I think she needs to pop her ears or the timing won't be right on the next leg of the trip. It's never worth it. There's also the issue of the food and drink service carts. If your child is asleep and in an aisle seat, the cart can easily bump an arm or a little foot. Or if your child is awake, they might end up ordering a sugary drink from an accommodating flight attendant that will only spike their energy levels — not ideal when you can't let them run it off.
I wanted to know if I was alone in my thinking, so I spoke with Alex* a flight attendant who has over 23 years of experience working with airlines to get her take on where to sit when flying with young kids. She said that is has less to do with the seat and more to do with how the parents act with the child. "Children can be anywhere depending on their parent's awareness of others and their ability to discipline their children's actions if they're kicking the seat, yelling, or otherwise acting out," she says. "If you want, you can purchase a seat even if the child is under 2 and bring their car seat. That way, they'll feel much more comfortable."
And I agree. On short flights that are under five hours, we usually gate check our daughter's car seat. And I never paid for a seat when she was under 2 because . . . savings! But, once my girl was older and we had to pay for a seat, we brought her car seat for long flights, especially those that are overnight. She was more comfortable and slept so much better. Window seats are also a little better suited for larger convertible car seats, even in the tight squeeze of economy class.
So I say go ahead and bring kids on the trip of your dreams. The memories are worth it even if the flight doesn't go as planned. And remember, let them run that energy out preflight in hopes of a restful adventure to your destination.
*Name has been changed