Flying with kids? Psych out your fellow passengers with open seating

Instagram shot from the air between Baltimore and Portland last week.

A friend of mine who used to work for another airline likes to make snide comments when I say something about flying Southwest, referring to their seating policy as "cattle call."

But after flying without the kids this past weekend -- and preparing to fly with them in a few weeks -- I made some observations (purely unscientific, of course) and decided that I much prefer flying with open seating when I’ve got the kids.


Here's my psychoanalysis of the situation.

As a parent flying with kids, I feel it's my responsibility to get checked in as soon as possible, so I can get us on the plane as quickly as possible so that our fellow passengers can decide for themselves whether they want to sit by us. (Since Southwest does family boarding after the A group, I endeavor to be as early in the A group as possible.)


In this scenario, if a person gets stuck sitting near my kids, they can really only blame themselves for not checking in sooner -- not the universe for doing them some sort of seating-karma "wrong" -- and the end result is usually that they’re a little bit more tolerant. If they’d picked out a lovely window seat assignment on another airline and then, oh look, we picked seats right by them off the computer, their frustration is directed outward rather than inward, and that means a lower patience threshold.

Don’t get me wrong. My with-kids flight isn’t for five more weeks, and I am plotting like crazy everything I can do to keep them quiet, happy, patient and bearable for the duration. I’ve got my responsibilities to take on here, too, and I most certainly am. But every bit of goodwill from fellow passengers helps.

Open seating isn’t perfect, though. On my flight yesterday, nearly 50 of us were continuing on the same plane, and several families relocated from the back of the plane to the front of the plane. A guy who was settled in a couple of rows ahead of me since the first leg, who’d already looked pretty grumpy, upgraded his expression to peeved with shades of fear when there were suddenly about six kids surrounding him. (The rest of the flight? It wasn’t quiet, but the kids and the parents all did their best, and the youngest blew kisses to everyone while getting off the plane, which was pretty cute.)

So am I crazy here? Do you prefer to have a seat assignment or let the passengers fall where they may? I’m just crossing my fingers that our 4-year-old and 6-month-old will listen to reason (for the former) and white noise (for the latter) when we fly in July.

Incidentally, I was looking through some pictures from this trip today and thought that I looked somehow different than usual, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It eventually dawned on me: I looked rested after three totally uninterrupted nights of sleep.