While most parents accept that they won’t sleep well on a long-haul flight in economy, young children without sleep are less forgiving. Luckily, using a seat extender in flight (when allowed) helps children sleep comfortably on long-haul flights. Best news? You can save your cash or miles to fly business class another time. Here are three options for how to transform your child’s economy seat into — or close to — a lie-flat bed when traveling long-haul using a child seat extender.
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Sleeper seats are a dedicated row of three seats in economy class where the armrests are put up, and a mattress goes over the seats to create a small lie-flat bed. They’ve made a child seat extender for you!
A few airlines have started using sleeper seats — most notably Air New Zealand, which first launched the Skycouch product in 2010. Air New Zealand’s Skycouch has become a go-to option for families traveling long-haul to and from New Zealand. Families love that the Skycouch has an extended seat belt to go around you and your child safely, plus a mattress, fitted sheet, and pillow put atop the seats.
Thomas Cook became the first UK airline to offer sleeper seats when it launched in May this year in economy on its A330s. The main difference with the Thompson Cook product is that only one person is allowed on the sleeper seat at a time, so it is not as family-friendly as the Skycouch option that allows two passengers to lay down together.
Lufthansa began trialing sleeper seats in economy class in November 2020 as well.
Child seat extenders
Even though most airlines do not provide a sleeper seat option, your children are not doomed to having restless legs. Over the past two years, we’ve taken to using child seat extenders to transform our childrens’ seats into a lie-flat bed in economy class. The types most common are inflatable cushions such as the Planepal or a fixed product such as the Bedbox by Stokke.
Remember that children should always have their seat belts on while using them. Being in the window seat or the middle of the center block of seats is best to be out of the way and avoid blocking anyone else trying to exit. Additionally, double-check whether your carrier allows these items.
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Marianne Perez de Fransius, CEO of Bébé Voyage frequently flies ultra-long-haul flights (12-hours plus) in economy class with her 5-year-old son and swears by using a Bedbox. The Bedbox by Stokke is a child’s carry-on suitcase with a pull strap that children over three can ride on through the airport. ‘In the Bedbox, we always pack his pajamas, his favorite stuffed animal, a small sheet to lay over the Bedbox mattress (or use as a tent if they’re not turning off the cabin lights), and his monkey travel pillow,’ Marianne told Triplepassport.
Bedbox designed the “bed” function for kids up to around 7 with a small mattress. The mattress has Velcro sides that lay atop the top part of the box when opened. Like with any comfort items, you need to check whether your airline accepts them. My 4-year-old frequently flies with it.
Inflatable child seat extender
Inflatable seat cushions are another child seat extender option for helping your child spread out with a smaller price tag than a Bedbox. The downside of the full-size cushion is that you lose your storage space. My 2-year-old slept well on a recent flight from London to Boston using a Planepal inflatable mattress.
While not precisely lie-flat, many parents swear by bringing car seats on board so that their children can sleep more comfortably on planes. Dad Carlos Trillo frequently travels between Spain, Japan, and the United States with his 2-year-old and 4-year-old. “The children travel more comfortably in their car seats because they are used to traveling and sleeping in them,” Carlos told Triplepassport. “Also, they don’t try to stand up or move, and they sleep for most of the trip.”
While their small bodies fit more easily into an economy seat than an adult’s, children still struggle to get comfortable in economy class just like their parents. Use some of these ideas like checking with your airline’s policies first to help your little ones get comfortable on your long-haul journey while saving your miles for a family business-class redemption.
all photos exclusive copyright Kathleen Porter Kristiansen