Back in my earlier days, all I had to do was make one decision - window or aisle? - and then I’d be given a seat number and and then I would get on an aeroplane and sit in that seat and thus would conclude my mental exertion on this issue. Alas, that was then. Now that I have a partner and two young children, selecting the right seating configuration feels like a high-stakes strategy game - there are benefits and risks in every decision, and one bad move can mean doom (or at least hours of added stress).
As we’ll be flying for the first time next month as a clan of four, I’ve been reading about how other families select their seats. (This is, of course, if they even have a choice — these days, many passengers don’t.) There are so many factors parents must consider: their kids’ ages, how well they get along, how active they are, the number of carry-ons they have, and more.
I’ve found that two-parent/two-children groups typically opt for a couple of common setups in three-to-a-row aircrafts. First, there’s the standard “3 and 1” arrangement. This is where a parent and two kids sit in one row, while the second parent takes the aisle seat in the adjacent row. The family is kept as close as possible, which is great if that’s your jam. Then there’s “2 and 2" — a divide-and-conquer approach in which each parent takes one kid. This may reduce fighting and any jealousy over the window seat (each child can have their own), and if you have one young flyer who’s inclined to kick the seat in front of them, you can make sure they’re sitting behind a family member.
Both of these configurations can work, but there’s another seating arrangement I recently discovered, and I have to say it is rather enticing. It is called the “holiday seat.”
The idea was shared with us by reader stickto, who commented on our post “How to Survive a Long Flight With Kids.” In a holiday seat set-up, he explains that one parent sits with the children (it works if you have one or two), while the other parent sits far, far away in the “holiday seat.”
You can split a longer flight and take turns being in the holiday seat, or switch off between your departing and returning flights. “It’s honestly so much nicer for the one parent than it is bad for the other,” stickto writes. “...You also avoid the issue with the 2-and-2 configuration of kids constantly moving from one seat to another. In the 3-and-1, the kids understand that [the holiday] parent is not to be bothered.”
I think this arrangement can work brilliantly if you have kids who are around two to six years old. On long flights, children may nap at different times (or not at all), and both parents are exhausted and frazzled for the entire stretch. A holiday seat allows one parent to get a real break without glancing over to see little Hugo playing with the window shade and wearing a barf bag as a hat. They can sleep or zone out to a podcast or crack open that novel they’ve been carrying in their bag for past two years. It’s a holiday!
Do use this arrangement with care — if you hear your children screaming all the way back in aisle 34, you might want to see if you can help instead of whispering to your neighbour “Geez, whose kids are these?” I can see how it would be easy to get carried away, here.