During the first two years of her life, my daughter flew many times as a lap baby, yet she often sat in her own seat rather than on top of me or my husband.
I attribute this at least partly to the airline seats my husband and I booked whenever they were available, a strategy for more comfortable (and still budget-friendly) lap baby travel that is today’s hint.
Our trick: Whenever a plane had three seats on at least one side, we always booked the window and the aisle seat for ourselves, leaving the middle seat open.
We first realized we were onto something with this strategy when we flew Alaska Airlines a while back and booked the A and C seats for ourselves. Before the flight took off, we checked with the gate attendant to see if there was an extra seat for our daughter, and the attendant told us that Alaska keeps the middle seat next to a lap baby free, assuming the plane isn’t full. Then, on the plane, we were pleasantly surprised when the middle seat remained free, and we could claim it as our own.
“It is not an official policy simply because it isn’t always possible” but the airline does “consider this a best practice,” a spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines told me.
And I did find evidence over at The Cranky Flyer and Flyertalk.com that other parents have had similar experiences on Alaska Airlines, as well as on Delta and American. Meanwhile, my husband and I also recently had a free middle seat between us on a United Airlines flight from Kona to San Francisco, so my daughter’s last flight as a lap baby was spent in her own seat.
Elsewhere, over at The Points Guy, Jason Steele recommends just placing a lap baby “in the middle seat between the parents” on Southwest flights, where there aren’t exact seat assignments. “Passengers would have to kick your toddler out of his or her seat once occupied…. [and this] probably won’t happen unless the flight is full,” he writes, and it’s also worth checking out his similar tips over at Mommy Points.
Other travel experts are fans of the book the A and C (or D and F) seat booking approach too. Over at the BoardingArea blog Points, Miles & Martinis in a post on “Flying With An Infant,” the Weekly Flyer advises parents to “book a window and aisle hoping no one selects the middle seat.”
But what about when the middle seat next to you doesn’t turn out to be free? If there are other free middle seats on the plane, we’ve also been able to ask our seat mate to switch and we haven’t gotten a “no” yet (when it comes to middle seats, one generally is as good as another, unless we’re talking about one next to a baby).
To be sure, booking the aisle and the window isn’t possible if you’re traveling with two lap babies, as airlines generally don’t allow two lap babies in one row. So, if you’re with at least two under 2, I suggest booking a window seat for each adult. There’s a good chance the neighboring middle seats will still be free, and safety experts recommend the window seat if you must fly with a lap baby (of course, they also generally prefer that you reserve a seat for your child).
In addition, it’s also always a good idea to check with the gate attendants before you board to see if any free seats are available. My understanding is that airlines are supposed to give such free seats to infants traveling with car seats, but we’ve yet to score a lap baby seat this way.
Finally, it’s certainly true that my daughter never got her own seat on full flights. But there’s another plus to booking the aisle and the window seats in those scenarios too. As people are always willing to switch out of the middle for the aisle or window seat, my husband and I would still end up next to each other on full flights. Plus, my daughter would also still get her own seat of sorts in those situations: We simply put the arm rest up between our seats, creating a make-shift middle seat for our little one.
What airplane seats do you prefer to book when you’re traveling with babies and young children, and why?