My husband and I discuss our airline seating options every time we book a flight with baby about which is better: bulkhead seats with more leg room and a bassinet, or a an aisle seat/row with an empty seat(s) next to us. It really depends on the trip, but either way, we call ahead and request the seats that we want. Some airlines take requests in advance (like Etihad), while others make you wait to request bulkhead seats at the gate (like Delta). This also assumes flying cattle class, as we usually do.
On our trip this past weekend from Chicago O’Hare to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo (25+ hours with a stop-over in Washington, DC and Dakar), we requested bulkhead seats on South African Airways/ United, although we were told that bulkhead seats with bassinets can only be requested on their airline for babies under 6 months old. Luckily, both flights were less than 75% full and we ended up on both flights with 1-2 extra seats where we had extra playing space for Veda, plus a space where I comfortably laid her while she slept much of the flight.
The benefits of a bulkhead seat with bassinet include:
* Having the extra leg room
* Extra space for playroom on the floor in front of you if you have an older busy infant or toddler
* Extra sleeping/ safe space for baby in the bassinet (although at 13 months and 31″ long, our baby no longer fits in the bassinet).
Even if baby is sleeping on me or my husband in a wrap, chances are there will be times when baby is awake. It is really convenient to have the bassinet (especially for younger infants) as a safe place to put baby when, for example, I have needed to grab the diaper bag above for a diaper change, or enjoy my incredibly delicious airline meal. The only drawback we’ve found of bulkhead is that you can’t lift the armrests to make one big family space or to lay down across several seats with baby.
The benefits of requesting to be in a seat in a row with empty seats around you include:
* Ability to lift up all the arm rests and lay down with baby, which makes for a much more comfortable and restful flight.
* Having one extra seat provides extra space for stuff, baby toys, setting baby (carefully with supervision), etc.
* If traveling with a car seat, many airlines will allow use of the car seat in an empty seat next to you without purchasing a full-fare ticket on a flight that is not full.
If it is not a full flight, I have been lucky enough to get a middle section (four seats) all to myself and baby. but this seems increasingly rare.
For some reason, I seem to be better accommodated, in general, as a traveling mother with a baby on international carriers such as Etihad and Emirates, rather than U.S. carriers such as Delta, United, and American Airlines. In general, I seem to be able to call ahead and request a bassinet or aisle seat on international carriers more frequently, while I have frequently but seated in a middle seat in nose-bleed seats as I watch a young man in a suit enjoy the bulkhead with bassinet capabilities on Delta flights. I’m convinced that U.S. culture just does not value families/ children as most other cultures in the world, which is reflected through my flying experiences on different carriers.
Sometimes it can be tricky deciding what to request depending on your own baby playing/ sleeping objectives and preferences, the number of parents/ children flying with you, and whether or not the airline will accommodate your seating preferences in advance or if you will need to take your chances. For us, it worked to try several different seating arrangements and still prefer bulkhead or aisle/ row with empty seat depending on the flight, etc.