How to turn economy seats to lie-flat beds for kids

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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, there are ways to help children sleep comfortably on long-haul flights without having to spend enough miles for them to fly in business class just to lay down. Here are three options for transforming your child’s economy seat in to — or close  to — a lie-flat bed when travelling long-haul.

Related: How the British Airways child seat saved my family more than £10,000

Sleeper seats

Sleeper seats are a dedicated row of three seats in economy where the armrests are put up and a mattress goes over the seats to create a small lie-flat bed.

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 travelling long-haul to and from New Zealand. Families love that the Skycouch has an extended seat belt to safely go around you and your child plus a mattress, fitted sheet and pillow put atop the seats. You can read a full review of Emily McNutt‘s solo experience on a Skycouch here.

Air New Zealand Skycouch (Photo by Emily McNutt / The Points Guy)
Air New Zealand Skycouch. (Photo by Emily McNutt / The Points Guy)

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.

Image via Thomas Cook Airlines UK
(Photo courtesy of Thomas Cook Airlines UK)

Seat extenders

If your airline doesn’t provide a sleeper seat option, that does not mean that your children are destined to have their restless legs kicking the seat in front. Over the past two years, we’ve taken to using seat extenders to transform our childrens’ seats into a lie-flat bed in economy. 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 belt 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 items are allowed by your carrier.

A few different types of child seat extenders we tested (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy)

Bedbox

Marianne Perez de Fransius, CEO of Bébé Voyage frequently flies ultra long haul flights (12-hours plus) in economy with her 5 year old son and swears by using a Bedbox. The Bedbox is a child’s carry-on suitcase with a pull strap that children over 3 can ride on through the airport. ‘In the Bedbox, we always pack his pyjamas, 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 TPG UK.

The “bed” function is designed for kids up to around 7 and is a small mattress with 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.

My 4-year old using a BedBox (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Inflatable seat extender

Inflatable seat cushions are another 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.

My 2-year-old using an inflatable cushion to sleep. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy)

Car seats

While not exactly lie-flat, many parents swear by bringing car seats on board so that their children can sleep more comfortably on planes. Dad Carlos Trillo travels frequently 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 travelling and sleeping in them”, Carlos told TPG UK. “Also, they don’t try to stand up or move and they sleep for most of the trip.”

For the car seat policies of 23 airlines, read this article.

Summer Hull
Toddler in a car seat on board (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

While their small bodies fit more easily into an economy seat than an adult’s, children still struggle to get comfortable in economy 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.

Featured image by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy.

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