Twin Travel Tips: Transportation

How to Choose Airline Seats with Twin Infants on Your Laps

We were flying back from Buenos Aires and the man sitting next to me was expecting twins. Essa and Zia had just turned 17 months but had already been to ten countries and four continents. The first thing he asked us was “How have you managed to travel with them?” and his last question was “Did you give them some kind of medicine?” We laughed at that. While we have rarely used a dose of Benadryl here and there to ease jet lag transitions, we don’t drug the twins to get them to behave in flight. We got them trained the old-fashioned way- practice, practice, practice! We learned a few things along the way.

Zia is looking out to the sky

Zia was looking out to the sky

We took full advantage of traveling with our girls as lap children. Our girls put on roughly 105k miles -each- before they turned two years old. What are lap children? We didn’t have to buy tickets for them but they were not guaranteed an open seat (hence they may have to stay on your lap). The airlines have narrow profit margins and flights are getting more and more crowded so you need to know how to best work the system. (*The following is based on the assumption of 2 parents and 2 kiddos. Modify so it applies to your own situation!)
Why have your precious kiddos fly as lap children? One word: cost. The plane ticket is the single most expensive portion of most trips so doubling the number of tickets can be prohibitively expensive. When kids are under 2 years old, there are a few options.  We will outline some of the options and some tips in general to flying with young twins.

Let’s discuss the easier but more expensive options first. Option one is to buy seats for each of your children. This is the most expensive but most comfortable option. It allows you the space you will need to store carryons, diaper bags, and the like. It also gives some room to have your babies sleep next to you rather than on top of you. The second option is to purchase one extra seat for “overflow” space. This option still allows increased flexibility compared to lap children and is cheaper than option one above. You have a minimum of 3 seats for 4 passengers so you have some extra space for gear as well as baby(ies). You can likely fit both babies on one seat for a snooze when young, but this gets more difficult as they get older and more mobile. Even as a worst case scenario, it gives you some space to put one baby while you hold the other when your partner has to use the bathroom. Either of these are very comfortable options if you can afford them.The last option is to have your infants/toddlers fly as lap children. This is the cheapest option and the one that we chose EVERY SINGLE TIME WE FLEW. While it is more complicated, the savings alone will help to pay for future trips and more travel. While this is the most difficult option to navigate and predict, there are some tips and tricks that improve comfort.

Essa and I were sitting at the bulkhead seats on our red eye flight to London from Dallas

Choosing the right seats on the plane is very important. There are also some rules you need to be aware of specifically when flying with lap children. The following are some of the points that you should consider:

  • The most important consideration for traveling with twin lap children are oxygen masks.  This is not obvious, but each type of jet has a different number of masks above the seats. You need to understand this to ensure that you are able to stay close to your partner on a full flight. As an example, if there are 3 seats on one side of the plane, there are usually only 4 masks.  As you need to have a mask for every passenger, 2 parents with twins in middle/aisle seats and 1  stranger by the window cannot sit together (5 people for 4 masks).  You can usually surmount this problem by having parents sit across from each other aisle-aisle.  On really small planes (1 or 2 seats per side) you will likely have to sit with one parent in front of the other.  It is very important to understand this as most of the airline staff do not.  If you choose your seats but in doing so exceed the number of masks, you will likely get moved far away from your teammate.
  • Proximity is very important. The reason it is imperative to understand the mask situation is to sit close your partner. It is much easier to care for twins on a flight as a team than it is 1 on 1. We are constantly handing items back and forth and I am playing goalie catching flying toys with my long arms as the girls launch them in all directions. This also facilitates bathroom breaks and meals for parents. Choose your seats online when you book to ensure you are all together. Be cautious when flying on different airlines internationally.  Occasionally partner airlines will not give you seat assignments when you book your flight.  This can set you up for disaster on the day you fly when you discover your seats are on the same plane but so far apart they are in different zip codes. If you don’t have assigned seats at the time of purchase, call the airline’s customer service, explain your situation, and get your seats together. Be aware, sometimes you have to call multiple times before someone will finally help you. Be persistent!
  • Use sympathy to your advantage.  Young children are uber-cute and flight staff ogle over them just like everybody else.  We are like lobbyists on capital hill for each and every flight.  Ask first at the ticket counter, ask again at the flight gate, and ask the flight crew on the plane again if you have to.  Be persistent! If there are ANY open seats on the flight, we are almost always able to get 1 or 2 of them next to us. Even if your twins are great travelers, it is very difficult to travel with them on your lap the entire trip. Do anything you have to- smile, beg, plead- to get open seats.  Cry your eyes out if you must.  There is no room for pride here.  You need those seats (and flight staff are usually more than happy to accommodate). International flights often have open seats (we only failed to get a “free” open seat on one international flight) while domestic flights are more difficult.  We were able to get entire rows (4 and 5 seats) on international flights despite only purchasing 2 tickets.  Do not underestimate your twins’ power as little negotiators!
  • Sometimes, despite your pleas, flight staff are constrained by the rules from changing purchased seats on a flight even when there are other open seats.  When this happens, do anything you can to convince the person next to you that the open middle seat a couple of rows up might be more peaceful than the window next to 2 potential squirming and screaming critters. People  often jump at the opportunity to move away. We usually try to keep our girls awake until we are in the air.  This sometimes results in them being a bit overtired and cranky before takeoff.  Don’t give that soothing bottle until you pull away from the terminal.  If a little crying gets you an open seat, it is worth it.  Be ruthless!
  • Time long haul flights to your advantage. Our girls are great sleepers so we prefer to fly red-eye flights.  They would sleep 8-9 hours straight on the long haul flight.  Rather than save a few dollars on various flights, try to time them to maximize nap and bed times.  This pays dividends by making travel easier for you.

    Essa was sitting in first class seat on the flight to Washington DC from Albuquerque

  • Should you fly first class? First class means more space, but be aware that the passenger next to you might kill you when your babies start crying. Since we travel a lot we have free first class upgrades. Using them worked great when the girls were sleeping beauties but was not well tolerated when they grew into squirming monkeys.  In general, people in first class do not like having children invading their territory.  Even when our girls were well behaved (as they almost always are when we travel), other passengers were annoyed and seemed to resent our presence.  If the girls uttered a peep?  Forget it.  We could feel the anger.  We gave up on using our upgrades once the girls turned 1. In coach, we have had complete strangers help us out in a pinch from time to time when flying.  This never happened in first class. 
  • Bulkhead seating = bassinets for babies on long haul flights.  If you have a long haul flight with young infants, call the airline well in advance to request bulkhead seating and inquire whether they havebassinets.  Most airlines will have 1-2 bassinets for your babies to sleep if you can get bulkhead seating.  This is a godsend.  You have a place for your babies to sleep undisturbed and can free your hands for a number of hours while your kiddos slumber in their own little beds.  This is much more comfortable and safer than having them sleep on the seat next to you. Fight for bulkhead seating for this reason on long flights.  These seats are generally near the bathrooms which makes for easier bathroom breaks and diaper changes.
  • Bulkhead seating is MORE DIFFICULT with toddlers. You actually have less space to store your gear and people oftentry to walk through.  You also can no longer use the bassinets.  Using the seat pockets and space beneath the seat to store items you will need to have readily at hand is invaluable. You don’t have this space with bulkhead seating.
  • Pick seats in the back of the plane for shorter flights. This is advantageous for you and considerate for other passengers. These seats are usally the last to fill (i.e. more likely to have open seats next to you), are close to the toilette, and are further away from the rest of the passengers in case your little ones choose to act out scenes from Macbeth.
    Zia in the bassinet

    Zia in the bassinet

Summary:

  1. Understand how many oxygen masks there are when picking your seats to ensure you don’t get separated on the plane.
  2. Location, location, location. Once you understand #1 you can plan to be as close as possible to your partner.  Teamwork is the key to travel with twins. Choose your seats online at the time of booking.  If you are unable to do this, call customer service.
  3. Get those open seats! Do whatever it takes to claim any open seats on the flight as your own. We were successful at this at least 80% of the time we flew and really only failed when the flights were completely full.  This is what makes travel possible with lap children.
  4. Choose flight times to maximize your children’s sleep schedule. Even if you have great little travelers, it is easier for everyone when they sleep.
  5. We do not recommend flying first class with infants or toddlers.
  6. Try to get bulkhead seats for long haul flights and inquire about bassinets for young infants.
  7. Avoid bulkhead seats with toddlers.
  8. Choose seats in the rear of the plane for short flights.

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21 thoughts on “How to Choose Airline Seats with Twin Infants on Your Laps

  1. Thank God I found this site! Our twins are three months and we will soon be flying to Texas from NY. Then, we will be relocating from NY to TX… So very long road trips are in their future when they will be about 8months. I can’t wait to read all of your tips! PS. You’re very pretty and your twins are adorable

  2. Pingback: The Ultimate Guide of Surviving the Flight with Twins Toddler and Infants | Travel with Twins

  3. Great tips! We will be flying internationally when our boy/girl twins are 10 months old. Which is the better option: bulkhead seat with bassinet or trying to sit next to open seats?

    • Both if possible! I would say bassinet is probably the better of the 2 for infants, but likely won’t work for squirmy toddlers. Be aware that you will have to get your children out of the bassinet every time the plane encounters turbulence!

      • Thanks for your tips! We ended up having bulkhead seats with bassinet. However we didn’t use the bassinet for the kiddos (they were took freaked out to sleep in there). We ended up using it to store stuff. I loved the extra foot room for them to sit and play. I think I would recommend this option even for older toddlers. But the airline might not want to install the bassinets if you’re kids are too heavy/walking. Just plead with them and promise that you’ll just use it for stuff. The regular rows are just too cramped these days. Now if they’ll give you extra seats (we each had a row on one leg of the journey), I’d rather have that over 2 seats in the bulkhead row. Soon we’ll be paying for 4 seats and now cost becomes the biggest issue!

  4. Thank you so much for this post. We have twin girls and a 4yr old boy. Our son has traveled many times and I’m aware of some of the rules, but the way you wrote it is amazing. We are planning a trip to my home country, Brazil, and this will be interesting. Would you recommend one seat in front of the other or across the way from the isle? I would like to know that before we call in and make our requests for the bulkhead seats.
    Thank you in advance and I hope all is well with your little ones.

  5. Ive read your article and sounds good. We are flying to Australia from NYC- a total of 3 flights. The longest being 15 hours. the other two are broken up to 4 hours and 1 hours or so. I dont exactly have twins but I am so nervous (on the verge of cancelling). I have Irish Twins- age 19 months & 8 months (only lap children). Please advise.

    • The flying with infants posts should still apply even though your children are at different stages. They should give a few ideas at least. Not sure when you will be flying but we are happy to answer specific questions when we can.

      Have a great trip!

      TwT

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  7. Wow such great practical advice. Thank you. We are flying from SA to Berlin via Amsterdam with 20 month twins. I booked the bulkhead seats but do you think at 20 months it will be better to book regular seats instead? I’m petrified as this is the first long haul flight we will be doing with the twins (with layover)

    • Shona:

      At 20 months your kiddos are too big to use the bassinets. At that stage we find bulkhead to be more of a liability than an advantage. The main drawback is having no under seat storage at hand. We keep our carry-ons under the seats so we never have to try to get into the overhead compartments. You have to Stowe most of your gear in bulkhead seats.

      The best seat choices for your family depend on how many of you are traveling, the size/layout of the plane, whether your twins have seats or are on laps, and how full the flight is (per our article). Ask at checkin whether you can have an empty row (usually toward the back). I can’t tell you how many times we were given 4 seats in a row or 3 seats in 2 rows (6 total) despite only paying for 2 tickets. You never know if you don’t ask. There are generally more open seats on international flights and staff are willing to help you out if they can.

      Hope this helps. Have a great trip!

      TwT

  8. We are traveling for the first time with our 19 month old twins. Their 12 year old sister will be with and she’s a seasoned traveler so I dont have to worry about her much. My question is this. We are flying on a 767-300 with Delta which has a seat structure of 2,3,2. We upgraded to be at the bulkhead (now regretting) in the middle row. I had heard about the oxygen mask limitations before but was assured by the man who was upgrading our seats that all of us in those 3 seats would be fine.

    Have you ever flown this type of flight with your twins and were you all allowed to sit in the middle row? I’m considering changing my seat to be behind my husband that was I have under seat storage and don’t run the risk of being moved at check in far away from him.

    Thank you!

    • While we have never figured out specific configurations by airplane model, we have been split up multiple times by the face mask rule and have never found an airplane configuration that offers 2 more masks than there are seats. All of our flights have had 1 more mask than there are seats. If you are flying 2 lap children with 3 other passengers where there are only 3 seats, you run a high risk of getting split up at check in and/or boarding as there will only be 4 masks in an emergency. It would be better to change early if possible rather than scramble on the day of the flight.

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