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Where to Sit on a Plane With Two Small Kids

Jan. 04, 2019
6 min read
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I'll admit it: I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding where to sit on a plane with my family of four. Seat configuration, flight duration, aircraft type, extra legroom or bulkhead -- these are some important factors that parents may take into consideration when selecting the best seating arrangements for their young family. There may not be a “right answer” to the conundrum of where to sit on a plane, but devising a seating strategy will surely alleviate added stress on flight day.

Seat Maps

Before booking flights for the family, I always check SeatGuru for the seat map of my flight options. With SeatGuru, you can browse the seating charts of more than 150 airlines by entering your airline name, flight number and date of travel. Once your aircraft results populate, you’ll be given detailed information about seat legroom dimensions, restroom locations, in-flight amenities and, my favorite feature, tips and reviews from other SeatGuru users. (Also check out TPG's list of the most family-friendly airlines around the world.)

For example, I recently flew with my 5-year-old twins from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on an American Airlines 777-200 aircraft. Originally I had selected seats 17D, 17E, 17G, 17H: the middle four bulkhead seats together. But a few weeks before the flight, I checked SeatGuru and realized that the seats I had chosen had limited recline and fixed armrests.

SeatGuru Seat Map of 777-200 American Airlines Main Cabin Extra

On a nine-hour overnight flight with young kids, I immediately switched us to the middle four in row 18 (one row behind our original seats), where SeatGuru showed no issues, which are indicated by a yellow or red-marked seat. Thankfully, the four seats in the middle were available. I happily sacrificed a little less legroom for moveable armrests so my twin daughters could lay down properly and arrive semi-rested to Buenos Aires.

Back or Front of the Plane?

Assuming you are not sitting in first or business class, deciding whether to sit up front or hide in the back of coach is a dilemma for many families. Some families like sitting in the very back of the plane to be beside the lavatory and to avoid the “side-eye” from cranky frequent flyers that usually sit up front. We flew Southwest a handful of times when the girls were under 3 and thanks to their open seating policy and family-friendly boarding process (families board after Group A is called), we’d head to the back of the "bus" to secure our four seats together. This put us in close proximity to the lavatories.

The back of the plane, where many young families like to sit.

I personally prefer to sit up front as it’s easier to get on/off the aircraft with carry-on luggage and the front seats may come with extra legroom. If flying any airline besides Southwest, my seating game plan is to obtain seats at booking and sit up front. Many airlines charge extra for seats in the front of the plane, so if you don’t have elite status with an airline and don’t want to pony up the extra money, your best approach may be sitting near the back of the plane where other savvy families with small children are seated. This ensures less side-eye from other passengers and peace of mind for you.

Who Sits Where?

Arguably, the most popular and widely used narrow-body aircraft for domestic travel in the US are the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. These airplanes come equipped with 3-3 seating configuration in coach, leaving families of four pondering what’s the best approach for seating with two small children.

The arrangement that has caused us least grief in-flight has been putting three family members on one side (adult and two children) of the aisle and the lone family member in the aisle seat across from them.

3-3 seat configuration with one parent in the middle

If your kids are close in age and bicker, like ours do sometimes, you can put a parent in the middle seat and divide the children (one in window seat; one in aisle seat). This seating strategy has saved us from several in-flight arguments over sharing toys (or lack thereof) and space constraint issues. You may have children that behave better when they are seated together. If so, adjust your approach.

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If traveling long haul on a wide-body aircraft such as a 777, 787 or A380, where economy seating layout runs 3-4-3 or 2-4-2, we usually opt for the four seats in the middle. This strategy allows for more “spreading out” among the children. An alternative to the four middle seats is sitting in an aisle–window combination in a 2-4-2 configuration, where one parent sits with a child and behind is the other parent with the other child. The latter option ensures a less challenging one-parent to one-kid ratio over the one parent with two kids on each side seating arrangement. Bonus: a window seat for views and distractions.

Bottom Line

When selecting seats for your family, take into consideration the personality of your children as well as the aircraft's seating layout. Try a few different approaches and see what works best. How do you select seats for your family? Any secret tactics we should know about?

Featured image by Picture by: Stuart Bailey / Brit