We always hang back when the gate agent announces early boarding for those travelling with young children. When we took our first flight with our three-week-old, all flushed with new parentdom, we proudly boarded the plane the instant they made the announcement.
And then we waited…
Playing the Waiting Game
Our daughter slept through this first journey, but once she (and her younger sister) became aware of the world around them, any benefits to our early boarding vanished.
Stuck inside a motionless plane, rather than at a gate where my children could amuse themselves on play equipment or burn off any energy by running around the adjoining gates, they were kicking the seats in front of them, bringing out that special whine that only surfaces when in public.
Final Call for Boarding
We soon discovered that boarding the flight after most passengers have already checked in works best for us, as our children are now at the age where we no longer require the assistance of the flight crew.
We also quickly realized that, depending on the age of your children, where you sit onboard can make your flight either tolerable, or unbearable (the only options I consider when travelling with kids).
Avoid the Front Row
To make the experience of flying more enjoyable for the child and parent, many families choose the comfort of the bulkhead seats at the front of the aircraft over regular seating, since the bulkhead has more room, and is often reserved for parents and their newborns.
However, for us, we always find that such a seat is not worth the trade-off of a regular seat, since regular seats have the seat-back pocket in front which promotes better storage and is great for tucking toys or bottles into.
The Ultimate Lesson
The ideal situation is to buy an extra seat for your child in her car seat.
If you’re travelling with the other parent, the next best thing is to reserve two seats in a row of three, with an empty seat in the middle, which will likely remain vacant if the flight isn’t full (this won’t work if the flight only has rows of two seats).
If someone is seated in the middle, they will be all too happy to switch seats with you to avoid being between two parents handing a squalling newborn back and forth.
In all my travelling experience, I’ve noticed that families like to gather around other families to create a ‘kids zone’ near the back of the plane, which can at some times be chaotic.
Albeit a benefit for other passengers who don’t want to deal with kids, we stuck it out while our kids were still small and unpredictable. Now that they have grown out of the “stop, drop and scream at any provocation” stage, we now sit away from the back to try to enjoy a modicum of civility.
There are benefits to sitting in the kids zone on longer flights, however: once everyone is settled in and the seatbelt sign is turned off, your kids might make a buddy and stay occupied for some time—kind of like a “play date with wings.” Another benefit: the washroom is close at hand.
My husband lives to fly, and before we wed I agreed to relinquish all rights to the window seat forevermore—easy to do since I much prefer the aisle seat anyways.
But this was before kids, and now my husband is lucky to catch a glimpse of the clouds from the aisle seat, as he peers over two small blonde heads.
Depending on your flight and the size of your family, try to ensure at least one window seat. In a typical plane with six seats across, we find it a good idea to occupy the three seats in one row, and then the aisle seat across from that row.
That way, both kids can take turns sitting in the window seat, my husband can get his aisle seat, and I can enjoy my magazine and movie from across the aisle, while he handles the snacks and spills.
The Second Seating Option
If your kids are going through one of those stages where they can’t tolerate each others’ existence, a better set-up is two sets of two seats, one behind the other, so kids (or parents) can get a break from one another.
If peace descends, you and your husband can sit behind the kids and have a mini date (movie and a sub, anyone?) at least until the kids start arguing about who gets the window seat.
photo#3: Frans Persoon
photo#4: elmar bajora