Flying tips

How to find the best seat on the plane

If you’re traveling as a family with a child under the age of 6, regardless of the boarding group you receive you will be allowed to board between group A and B. That means you should be able to get a row for your family regardless unless you’re traveling out of somewhere like Orlando where families will be 80% of the plane. You might want to spring for early bird check in if that’s the case, though technically you need to pay for it for your entire party (parties board with lowest number in group). If you’re traveling alone, like I was, it’s actually not too tough to find a good seat. Lots of couples travel together which means you should see a bunch of window seats open even into the early C’s. My strategy was to just ask the first nice looking couple I saw as far towards the front of the plane as possible. Even when I got to the gate 10 minutes before takeoff, I managed to get a nice seat by choosing to sit next to a toddler, so it’s pretty doable to avoid that middle seat. Also, the family next to me had their lap infant (the aforementioned toddler) in the middle seat, which I think is a neat trick to get extra space if the plane isn’t full. The mom told me the flight attendant actually encouraged them to do it, which was nice as well.

Bring your lap infant’s birth certificate

Thanks again to Leslie for tipping me off on this one. Southwest is the only airline I know that requires you to bring your lap infant’s birth certificate for proof of age. You don’t need to bring the original, a copy is fine. People have told me that a picture even works (though I can’t confirm that myself). You have to check in at the counter because Southwest will give you a boarding verification document for your lap infant. This essentially works as their boarding pass, but you must get that at the counter so build that time in to your airport plan.

How to check in exactly 24 hours in advance

Famously, Southwest doesn’t assign seats. You receive a boarding number (like you do at the deli) which is based on when you check in. Since you can only check in exactly 24 hours before your flight time, it’s important to check in as soon as possible after the check in window opens. You can buy early bird check in for $15 (covering any flights from origin to destination) – this checks you in 36 hours in advance. Adam, the Travel Fan Boy, said he likes to do this for early morning flights so he doesn’t have to wake up early the day before. Fair enough. Others have scripts they use to automatically check them in, but I’m assuming the majority of people don’t have that kind of coding experience (though Google is your friend). If you plan to check in the old fashioned way, I’d recommend what Leslie from Trips with Tykes told me to do. Open your browser (or app) to the Southwest page and hover your mouse over the “check in” button. Fill in your name and record locator. Have your phone clock (or an online atomic clock, thanks @yuterrance) open and watch the time. The MOMENT the clock flips to 24 hours before your flight, click on “check in”. This worked like a charm for me, I received A48 for my outbound and B30 for my return. (Pro tip: Don’t wake up 50 minutes before your flight takes off if you manage to snag group A boarding. Pro-er tip: Live close to the airport). Since I wondered myself, I’ll mention here that if you have any connecting flights, you get checked in all the way through so you should get a decent boarding number for your connecting flight.

Take care of yourself out there

While pouring all your efforts into project managing your offspring’s on board, in-transit behaviour, don’t forget to look after your own wellbeing and comfort. Take care of yourself and the rest will take care of itself. If you are in good form, you’ll be far more able to cope with the inevitable tests thrown at you by your errant charges. So, pack your passport, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and read our article on how to avoid those common mistakes that can ruin your holiday before you have even taken off.

Remember the wonder of flying

Flying is fun. In fact, flying is amazing. Remember that your little ones don’t associate budget airlines with baggage restrictions and commuting for business – they’re probably quite excited about going up in the sky. So you should be too. “Don’t forget that flying was once wondrous. To them it still is, so point out the small houses, the clouds, the setting sun…” says Skyscanner Chairman Gareth Williams. And if you’re desperate, get them to count how many passengers are on the flight. We kid you not, this has been known to work a treat!

Use the time to get creative

No matter how much you love them, a bored child is a pain in the rear. Here are items for keeping the terrors from the perils of boredom:

  • Notebook and pens or pencils
  • Reading books or a Kindle
  • iPod/headphones: if music be the food of a happy child, play on!

Take a break

Initially this one may seem to add even more stress to your journey, but it does makes sense. Oksana says that for her kids, several transit flights work much better than one long haul. “Kids have time to move (run, jump) in airports, which they can’t onboard.” Probably best not use this tactic if they don’t like the take-offs and landings, or have a habit of getting lost in airports, though.

Cuddly toys can make all the difference

Skyscanner Co-founder Bonamy Grimes has a clever solution for that desperate moment when nothing seems to make it all better: “stock up on toys, but make sure you hold back a favourite teddy that you bring out on the plane, and keep one in reserve for the way back.” There is always the risk of losing a cherished companion in transit, which is heart-breaking, so whenever you buy them a soft toy, buy two and if the worst happens, substitute New Peppa for Left-On-Plane Peppa.

Be prepared for upset tummies

The worst fear you might have about travelling with the kids could well be what if they get sick? A bit of advance planning will make this something to shrug off rather than panic over. Sounding like he speaks from unfortunate experience, Mark Logan, Skyscanner COO says: “always pack more sick bags than you think you’ll need for the drive to the airport in the hire car. And don’t pack away all of their clothes – for the same reason. Also, ensure that you bring your medical cards if you’re travelling within Europe. In my case, with three children, there’s a statistical likelihood that you’ll need it.”

Calpol can be your best friend

In the unfortunate event of your child being poorly when you fly, have handy an emergency stash (no more than 100ml obviously) of mother’s little helper, Calpol. Ear drops are also a winner for coping with altitude change.