The Seat Swap – Flying With Small Kids

Have you ever had to do the, “seat swap” while traveling? No, I am not talking about some new and exciting dance or party game. I wish I was. What I am talking about is trying to sit next to your toddler or newborn without paying lots of extra money to pick your seat. In fact, there are airlines that don’t let you pick your seat at all, even if you wanted to pay extra. What’s a mother traveling with a tiny child to do? Well, you have to engage in what I like to call the seat swap. Here are a few rules that will make other passengers less likely to give you the stink eye when you ask if they would be willing to swap seats.

infant in flight

The Seat Swap Rules

1. Keep your child close.

If someone realizes that you are asking to switch seats, and they don’t see your little one near you, chances are that they are already telling you no in their head before they attempt to say it out loud. I once asked a teenager (who wasn’t sitting near his mother either) if he would be willing to switch with me. His mom started to come our way, intending to put me in my place. Her son pointed out my two year old daughter, sleepily resting in a random seat, “she wants to sit next to her little kid, Mom.” If she had seen my little one, we could have avoided the five minutes it took her working her way down the aisle full of people to yell at me for bothering her son. As soon as she saw my sleepy little muffin, the frustration melted right off of her face.

2. Smile, smile, smile!

The best way to counter grumpy people that are annoyed with you for wanting to switch seats is to smile your butt off. Well not literally, since you actually need your butt for sitting. You need to try your best to keep a positive attitude when you notice the other person seems irritated. Getting frustrated yourself is not going to help an already awkward situation. I try to explain my best, that even though I purchased five tickets together, the airline has seated my husband and our very young three children all over the plane. “I would really appreciate if you would swap seats with me.”

Ksena sitting in a CARES harness when she was a little over 3 years old.
Ksena sitting in a CARES harness when she was a little over 3 years old.

3. When they also have a travel buddy.

This is the worst situation (which can only be made worse if another parent is also traveling with their child! In my opinion, the parent with the youngest child should win). In this situation you have to be quick, and be good a remembering seat numbers. If there are only two people, you can usually get a single person to swap nearby so that the seat you need can be swapped, while they still get to sit next to their travel buddy. The most complicated instance I have ever had of this was for four people to swap seats in order for everyone to be happy. In the end I was glad though, because I couldn’t imagine my 3 week old baby (whom I had purchased a ticket for so he could have a car seat), being next to a stranger, and having to reach over them every time I needed to breastfeed. Yes, this is a serious scenario I am describing. It makes me mad at airlines, but they don’t take into account that you really need to sit next to your small child.

4. Ask which seat they prefer.

If you have seats in the aisle and next to a window (which is possible if you are traveling with a large family), ask the person you are asking to swap which one they prefer. Or you can say, “Hi, I’m traveling with a small child, does someone close want to swap for my aisle seat?”

CARES harness on three year old
My sweet looking ball of fire 🙂

5. Dealing with a Grump – Let’s Get Real!

It could be that a person refuses to switch with you. This has happened to me before. I will look at them and say something like, “Well ok, but since I can’t be next to my child during this 7 hour flight, that means that if the ‘fasten seat belt’ light comes on, that you are going to have to take care of my 2-year-old.” Or I could say something like, “Here are a few extra barf bags for when my daughter gets air-sick.” Insert their grumbling, shifting around things, and them moving to the seat I was originally assigned to. I think when someone realizes that they are going to be next to a screaming toddler, they are a tad bit more willing to be flexible.

6. If all else fails, get your flight crew involved.

If you can’t secure a reasonable solution yourself, look for the woman on your flight crew that is the most likely to have had children, and ask for her help. The flight crew is trained in smoothing over awkward situations, and they want everyone else to have a smooth flight as well. They know the chances of your child screaming for four hours increases if your seat is three rows away from them.

Do you have any stories about a seat swap on a recent trip? I would love to hear them. Please tell me I’m not the only one 😉

Happy travels,


2 thoughts on “The Seat Swap – Flying With Small Kids

  1. When we have flown and our seats are separated, we get to the gates a little early and alert the desk and they shuffle it for us. They know that most people don’t want to sit next to a 2 year old . And separating parents and kids is not smart !

    1. That is great Autumn! I have not ever had someone at the gate be willing to do that for us, but I will keep asking 😉 What airline have you flown that has done this?

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