Which flight ? Which Seat ?

Which flightIt goes without saying that if a typical family needs to put some planning into selecting the right flight and the right seats on that flight, we need to put in even better planning for our kids. Doesn’t it ?

Of course it does. We need to give more considerations to things like the change from the normal routine, noises, crowds or the total sum of all of these. Those, however, are reasons for smart planning. They’re not a reason to give up on the idea. Here are some things to consider.

Which airport ? It isn’t all downside if your local airport is a small one. In fact the reverse is true. Start your search by looking at where you might be able to fly from one of the smaller airports. They have some advantages. Not the least of these is that smaller airports have smaller crowds and bigger airports have bigger crowds ! The other useful thing is that low-cost airlines tend to use smaller airports since that keeps their operating costs lower. This means that the optimum choice is probably from small airport to small airport. (Remember, you’re planning a round-trip.) There is a downside and that may be the limited choice of destinations.

Non-stop flights or connecting flights ? There’s a reason why non-stop flights tend to be more expensive but it has very little to do with the airline’s costs.

The reason why the non-stops become more expensive is that they are more desirable and the airlines can command a higher price for them. More desirable ? Of course. Even an adult, with no issues, traveling alone and with lots of time on their hands is better served with a non-stop flight.

Issues with connecting flights start with having two take-offs and two landings. If you child has sensitive ears (either noise or possible sensitivity to cabin air-pressure changes that happen most at those times), then you really are better served with only one take-off and only one landing. (Watch for a future post about how to help children with these problems.)

Then there is timing. If the first flight is long delayed and the second flight leaves on time, it leaves without you and you’re faced with a potentially extremely long and unplanned delay at the intermediate airport. If the delay to the first flight isn’t quite that bad, it may still be enough to turn a leisurely stroll between gates into a crazy scramble. How well does your child cope with crazy scrambles ?
Of course, if the connection involves going from one terminal to another, you possibly end up with two lots of security clearance and the lines and crowds associated with that.

There are two exceptions to the don’t-do-connecting-flights thing.

The first of those is that, if you live a very considerable distance from a major airport and your only choice is one of those small airports, you may not be able to get to many places without a connection. The choice may be made for you. Before settling for connecting flights, give some consideration to the feasibility of driving to a bigger airport in order to get non-stop service even if it is quite a distance. Next, if that just won’t work, look for flights that have a good amount of time for the connection so that you have the best chance of avoiding that crazy scramble.

The other exception is for very long haul journeys. If the journey is long enough, sitting still for too long may be an issue for your child. In this circumstance, you need to balance your considerations. Which will be the bigger problem for your child ? The long time sitting in place or all of the other considerations above ? You are the expert when it comes to your child. Only you know which will cause the more distress.

Time of day. The standard advice to all passengers is usually to take the first flight of the day. The reason for this is that your plane will have arrived at the airport the night before and is less likely to be delayed. If you take a later flight, the chances are that your plane is coming from somewhere else and any delays to that incoming flight automatically become a delay to your flight.

We, however, may have other considerations beyond that. How is your child throughout the day ? If they tire later in the day and have more problems as the day goes on, then that first flight is probably for you. If, on the other hand, your child is a slow-starter and actually copes somewhat better after a bit of time, be guided by that. The more so if that first flight is very early and may necessitate getting up well before your child’s regular schedule. When would you need to get up in order to catch a 6 am flight ? Again, the golden rule is to use your knowledge of your child’s individual needs, issues and strengths and plan accordingly.

Which seat ? While every child has different needs, it is a pretty safe assumption that you don’t want them in an aisle seat. There is too much activity in the aisle at boarding, disembarkation and even during the flight. Window seats are a different matter. Granted there isn’t much to be seen at 30,000 feet but, when there is something to be seen, will that help as a useful distraction or will it feed sensory overload ? Your knowledge of your child and their individuality should, again, be your guide.

It probably will also make sense to be seated towards the front of the plane. You will, of course, ask for priority/early boarding and that means that there is no difference, at that time, between front and back. However, when it comes to getting off the plane, the further forward you are, the quicker you’ll get off. It may pay to be away from the wings on account of engine noise but, in reality, the differences are generally minor.

Seating configuration for your family is worth a little attention. Obviously this will depend on how many people involved. You would probably like them all to be together. It may just help to think of some unusual seating patterns.

For instance, a family consisting of two parents, one child on the spectrum and one typically-developing child, when flying on a 3-aisle-3 configuration, might plan to have 3 together plus the middle seat of the row in front. This may help if your spectrum child may be likely to kick the seat in front. Good sensory input for your child may not be so much fun for the person sitting in front. Given the variation in family composition and the many different airplane configurations, it is impossible to go through every scenario. Hopefully, this illustration will help you to consider what may work for you.

How do you know which seat is which and where they are on the plane ? There had to be an app for it, didn’t there ? Actually, there is a very good one, by TripAdvisor, and it’s available as an app and on a website. The website is seatguru.com and if you search for seat guru, you’ll find the app. This will show you which plane flies your route and how it is laid out. It also contains useful information about seats that don’t recline or that have other inconvenient “issues”.

Once you’ve found the perfect seats on the perfectly timed non-stop flight, be sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time. The airline has the right to reassign those seats if you check-in too late. This can and does happen on flights that are fully booked.

Plan well and enjoy your flight !


  1. […] a previous post (Which flight? Which Seat?), we suggested that it might be wise to reserve your seats with a family member seated directly in […]

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