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Flying with Under-2s: Lap or Ticket?
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Flying with Under-2s: Lap or Ticket?
We have an opportunity to go to Hawaii in March. My daughter
will be 10 months old, and I will be 5 months pregnant, my
husband will also be traveling with us. We have considered
purchasing a seat for our daughter but the tickets are very
expensive. We are wondering what it is really like to fly with
a 10 month old, and would it really be worth getting that extra
seat. She is a pretty easy going baby, but very active.
I have flown cross-country several times with my now 13 month old (both
solo & w/
my husband) and I have never purchased a seat for her. I always get an
aisle seat &
middle seat so one of us can get up and let the baby have one of the
seats to play in.
We get a couple of fun new toys (or borrow from a friend) and introduce
throughout the flight to keep her entertained. Most importantly though
is to pack your
carry-ons as light as possible, wear slip-on shoes and pull-on pants
probably will anyway being pregnant!), and be the last people to get on
Enjoy your trip and congrats on the new baby!
I would say don't spend the money for a seat -- at least my
daughter wouldn't sit in it anyway. There will be two of you so
you can take turns keeping your baby occuppied. In fact, your
husband should be the point person and give you a break since
at least whenever I flew pregnant I felt awful. You should
check out a book: Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for
Planning Trips with Babies, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age
You can browse it at Waddle and Swaddle in Berkeley.
I vote for buying the seat. It's nicer for you, nicer for
the other passengers, and most important of all -- safer for
your child. I have never understood why the airlines require
that my hundred-dollar bag must go under the seat during
takeoff and landing, and my aged, decrepit body must be seat-
belted in place, but it's OK for a priceless precious child to be held
on the lap (as long as they're under two). Of course, it's the
same people who believe ziplock bags are needed in order to prevent
passengers from being harmed by shampoo, so, I guess I should
not question their wisdom...
My personal experience has been that we need that 3rd seat, no
matter how expensive or how short the trip. We need it to give
the baby room to squirm around, play on the seat and even the
floor and to get our own hands free to eat, to shuffle luggage,
etc. Most importantly, it means you can put the baby between the
two of you so that you don't drive the people sitting next to you
insane! I have friends who just took a 12 month old to Hawaii and
didn't buy the seat on the way there--and ended up buying it for
the way back!
buy the kid a seat!
Here is a great website to read It convinced us to splurge for
the ticket. Keep in mind a lot of airlines will sell an under
2 ticket for 1/2 price.
Why should I buy a separate seat for my child when he can fly
on my lap for free?:
- Safety: Turbulence, sudden stops and emergency landings
present a huge risk to the lap child. First, in severe
turbulence, it is unlikely that the parent would be able to
hold on to their child. It is very likely that the child would
be tossed around the passenger cabin and sustain serious
injuries or even be killed. Second, in emergency landings,
parents of lap children are instructed to wrap their child in
blankets and place the child at their feet. Children have died
in survivable landings when they were thrown through the cabin.
Unrestrained children also pose a hazard to other passengers -
when a 20 lb child is thrown through the cabin in an accident,
he would have a force of 1000 lbs (at only 50 mph, much more at
higher speeds) when striking another person or object. Third,
parents who are able to hold on to their children in a sudden
stop or collision will very likely end up using that child as
a ''human air bag''. Children have actually been ''crushed to
death'' by the parent on whose lap they were sitting.
From the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on
Restraint Use on Aircraft: ''Occupant protection policies for
children younger than 2 years on aircraft are inconsistent with
all other national policies on safe transportation. Children
younger than 2 years are not required to be restrained or
secured on aircraft during takeoff, landing, and conditions of
turbulence. They are permitted to be held on the lap of an
adult. Preventable injuries and deaths have occurred in
children younger than 2 years who were unrestrained in
aircraft during survivable crashes and conditions of
turbulence. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a
mandatory federal requirement for restraint use for children on
aircraft. The Academy further recommends that parents ensure
that a seat is available for all children during aircraft
transport and follow current recommendations for restraint use
for all children. Physicians play a significant role in
counseling families, advocating for public policy mandates, and
encouraging technologic research that will improve protection
of children in aircraft.''
My advice (and you may not like it) it to always get a
seat/ticket for your baby. Aside from being more convenient (do
you want to spend hours holding your baby, when you aren't
walking up and down the aisles, 5 months pregnant?), it is much
safer for everyone - baby and other passengers - if everyone is
strapped in properly during take-off, landing, and turbulence.
Yes, it is expensive. Adding a person to your family is always
more expensive. If you can't afford seats for everyone, you
can't afford for the family to fly.
The flight to Hawaii is 5-hrs, so I would definitely recommend
getting a seat for your little one (even if it's not required)
because if your flight is a full flight, you may want to have a
whole row of seats to yourself. Good luck with the traveling
part of the trip, once you land, you'll be in paradise. (On a
side note, Hawaii has made it illegal to smoke at the airport,
restaurants, and other ''public places'' as of Nov. 2006 so that's
wish I were going too
It will be a tiring flight if you get her a seat or not. You still will
have to carry her, hold
her if she is crying, so I say save the money. I flew several times
with my daughter
throughout her young life and it's always tiring, but you will get
through it without
trouble. Getting her a seat is not going to stop her from being
demanding or get her
to sleep more than she would on your lap. In 14 months, when she is 2,
have a choice and you'll have to get her a ticket. Use the money for a
nice dinner in
Hawaii before you get super busy with 2 munchkins!
Trip to the midwest with an 18-month-old
We are planning a non-stop plane trip to the midwest (@ a 5 hour
flight)and would like to get some current opinions/suggestions
about whether or not to have our active 18 month old in our laps
or in his own seat.
We are also curious about any experiences with a ''baby b'air''
child-travel belt that attaches to the parents seatbelt. Thanks
for your thoughts!
We have a 3 yr old who we have taken to Maryland every year to
see the in-laws and have always gotten a ticket for him. It is
more relaxing for both of us and more importantly gives you more
room for all the stuff even if your kid is in your lap. I know
that it is more expensive, but the ticket is half-price and with
such a long flight well worth it. (We now have another 8 mo.
old and are getting him a seat also.) Good luck and bring lots
of books and toys and don't forget the Tylenol(?)/Motrin before
you take off and land for your kid's ears.
That's an easy one: if you can afford to buy a seat for your
child, then definitely do. Most airlines offer half-price seats
for children under two. (I also found out that babies can earn
frequent flier miles!) It will be a more pleasant flight for all
of you, plus it's safer (you can bring a car seat and fasten the
child in for takeoff, landing, and turbulence).
We have almost always bought a ticket for our daughter for long
trips back East. Every once in a while you don't need it since
the plane isn't crowded, but the times you do need it you will be
VERY grateful that you spent the extra money. Guess we also
thought of it as a safety issue. Having our daughter in a carseat
(at least some of the time) in her own seat is bound to be more
safe than just holding her in your lap.
We have a Baby B'Air and I'd be happy to let you borrow it for
your trip if you want to check it out. We bought it so our
daughter could use that when she wasn't in the carseat. Please
note that FAA regulations state that you are not supposed to use
the Baby B'Air during takeoff or landing. Guess they are worried
it will be attached to your seatbelt and you will have trouble
getting out in an accident(?), seems crazy but that's what they
Good tips on the website for traveling and toys to bring, too.
Our best bet was a trip to Long's to buy a bag of small plastic
animals, small MagnaDoodle type thing, books. Bring them out one
by one and act as if they are the most exciting thing in the
world. Also improvise, snacks, walks up and down the aisle,
pushing the window cover up and down. Loads of fun to be had!
Having their own seat is always the most comfortable way for
parents to travel with a child - not that they'll necessarily
stay in it. Going on a lap is much cheaper, of course, and the
trip does end eventually. My biggest embarassment was getting
on a plane with my toddler when I was seven months pregnant - I
couldn't even get the tray table down without her on my lap, let
alone with her! Somehow I'd forgotten this when I was making
the booking. Luckily I had a very friendly neighbour who let my
child share the seat (that she'd paid for) with her four year
old (both kids fitted easily and had a great time).
We just flew San Francisco to Boston over Easter with my 6 year
old and my 18 month old. Phew! We saved some money but swore to
get the little one her own seat next time. She was a real
squirmer and turned into a collapsing wet noodle on the floor,
crying loudly, whenever the flight attendant wanted her on our
lap! Plus, try having a kid on your lap with the tray table
down, trying to have a meal or drink! She did sleep on my lap
during the movie (while my legs went to sleep!). My husband
moved back to another empty seat, left me with the kids and had
a nice nap! Go figure. In short, get her her own seat.
I would strongly urge you to get your child a separate ticket.
You, your partner, your child and your fellow passengers will
all be happier.
When my son was the same age, we flew with him from the Bay Area
to L.A., and he was so much happier in his own seat (with lots
of toys and juice). My husband had toyed with saving the money.
But I had insisted that we buy a separate ticket because of an
experience I had had years before, which I'll get to in a minute.
A workmate of my husband's flew with his wife and toddler
daughter to Hawaii and decided to go the bargain route, with the
baby in a lap. It was a disaster. She was crying and screaming,
and even though he had opted against a separate ticket to save
money, he quickly realized it wasn't worth it. He asked the
flight attendant if he could go ahead and purchase a seat for
his daughter, but the flight was booked, as was their return
flight. So he and his wife cringed, knowing that not only would
they all have to endure the discomfort for the rest of the trip,
but also they would have a whole return trip to get through,
Once, when I was on a flight from the East Coast, a screaming
toddler kept me from sleeping. The boy was in his father's lap.
I wasn't yet a parent, myself, but it was so obvious to me that
the boy was uncomfortable being held. He kept trying to get out
of his father's arms and then would just scream bloody murder.
He kept it up the whole five-hour flight. I was so tired, and I
was so mad at those parents. I still had a whole day's work to
get through, and I had counted on being able to sleep on the
The other point about babies and toddlers having their own plane
seats is that you can use your own carseat (check to make sure
it meets airline regulations; many do). So, to your child, it's
familiar and similar to riding in the car.
I'll never understand why airlines say your carry-on bag might
go flying in turbulence, but somehow your baby is going to stay
We always bought a ticket for our child, and several times
flight attendants actually said things to me like, ''You know,
she could just sit on your lap.'' They also sometimes seemed less
than happy about the time it took me to install the car seat and
get my baby into it. And yet there seemed to be all the time
necessary for making sure those carry-on bags were safely stowed
under the seats. Once I asked a flight attendant why she was
suggesting I hold my daughter but not allowing me to hold a
carry-on bag; she didn't answer.
Rent the movie ''Fearless'' and I think you'll quickly see how
impossible it is to hold an infant on your lap during turbulence.
Mom with a Mission
I feel most comfortable travelling by plane with my daughter
(now 18 months old) if she has her own ticket, and her own
seat. At this age, tickets are usually half-price (unless you
get super-cheapies on Southwest, then it's full-fare), and I
like doing it for several reasons.
1) it is safer for them to be in their carseat on the plane
than on your lap
2) it is better for long flights to have somewhere for them to
go other than your lap! Especially if they fall asleep--
actually gives you a break.
3) she is comfortable in her carseat, it's familiar, and
therefore makes being on the plane more of a familiar experience.
4) since she has her own seat, we also get to use that carry--
on space (a reason I do *not* like bulkhead seats!) for her
diaper bag, *and* we get to check a bag just for her (important
for long trips, especially if the weather will be different than
We have flown 4 times, I think, since she was born, and only one
of those times was my husband with me (that was the longest
flight), so a lot of this is also coming from a ''travelling
*alone* with your kid'' perspective.
Hope this helps.
We have always used a car seat when flying, and we flew about 6
times by the time our son turned 2 and required his own seat.
When I gritted my teeth over paying so much money for the seat I
recall that flight in the mid-90's where the plane dropped some
altitude quite rapidly and lots of people got head injuries from
not having there seat belt fastened. Their heads hit the ceiling
above them. But most remarkably, an infant flew from its
caretaker's hand and was caught by someone something like 6 rows
back! So, hearing this story, would anyone ever consider just
holding their child in their arms just to save a couple of
hundred dollars? Surprisingly people do, but I wouldn't chance
it. I've seen that restraint that you mentioned offered in the
Next Step catalog, and I have always been curious about it.
Good luck in your search for a satisfactory solution. I still
think the car seat is the safest route.
When our daughter was about a year old we took a trip and
decided that was the last lap-trip we would ever take. There is
so little space on planes that we decided it was well worth
paying the extra money so she (and we!) could have her own space
and room to wiggle, sleep, draw, whatever.
Also, just last week when purchasing tickets to NY I inquired
with United about using a ''tether'' during the times when my
daughter is on my lap. Apparently, these straps, which I first
saw at Day One in SF, and heard about from friends from Europe
(where the airlines actually supply the straps) are not allowed
on airplanes in the US, at least not on United. But they do
seem like a good idea; maybe call your airline and get a ''second
opinion''. But you won't regret buying a seat!
More info about the airplane lap straps: The product is called
Baby B'Air, and it is FAA approved for the ''cruise'' part of air
travel, but not for takeoff or landing, or for travel in taxis.
It's available at Day One in SF if you want to go look at it
(not sure of their price), or at www.onestepahead.com (800-274-
8440) for $29.95.
I plan to fly with my 19 month old round trip from
Germany to Vancouver in January. The debate now is
whether or not to buy a seat for him. Am I just being
a penny pincher? *That is what my husband says.
My rational is that our baby never sits still anyway.
I would hate to buy a seat when most of our flight is
spent walking up and down the aisles.
Any experiences or, most probably horror stories,
about flying alone with baby "on lap" would be
I can't imagine NOT buying a seat for a child on a flight that long.
First, even just for take-off and landing, the child is much safer in
a car seat. Second, my experience on planes is that if the child has
their regular car seat to sit in, and is conditioned to staying in it in
the car, they do much less wandering around on the plane, and even sleep
part of the time!!!! So buy the seat and take your car seat. That way you
will have the car seat for trips in Germany, as well.
I've heard that a car seat may be a good idea not only for the plane
(whether it is used or not) but, for when you get to Germany, for
taxis, etc. that are not equipped with seats!!
Here's a trick we used. We would get a frequent flier ticket for our
baby and then see if there was an extra seat on board. When there is,
you can usually get that for your baby. When there wasn't, we used
the ticket. If we were able to complete the whole trip without using it,
we would then trade the ticket in for a future flight. If you have
frequent flier miles, check to see if this would work for you!
My wife and I travelled a lot, too much, with our son when he was around a year.
We found that 2 or 3 hours was about our limit with him on our laps. The trouble
is that at that age he was too energetic to want to sit still, and too young to be
interested in puzzles, books, stickers etc. The upshot was that when we took long
trips (certainly six or more hours) we always got him his own seat. That way he
could climb up and down and have a bit more space to play. We did once bring a
car seat with us for him to sit in, but it proved more trouble than it was worth
because it positioned him perfectly to kick the seat in front, and when he got sick
of it and wanted to run there was no place to put it. FYI, all of the airlines we
flew in Asia had infant seatbelts that loop through your seatbelt, and then buckle
over the child. So your son would have to sit on your lap during take off and landing,
but it would be safe. I haven't seen this on American carriers, but I'm sure they must
be able to provide similar things if you request them. You might call ahead. Also,
seats for children under two are, or were a year ago, half price on all of the airlines
There are also, I'm told, angelic children who are happy to be held for hours.
In the end, our son spends most of his plane time playing on the floor, and an extra seat
is both a jungle-gym and more floor space. Good luck! Dominic
I just bought tickets on United for a SF-DC trip . We purchased a
seat for our 1 year old, the cost is half price for a child under 2
years old. There is no requirement to buy a seat for a child under 2.
If you do buy a seat, you must bring a child car seat. If you do not
buy a seat, you can bring the car seat on the plane and take your
chances on finding an empty seat (ie NOT an exit row seat.) If there
is not empty seat, they will check the car seat at the plane door.
The flights I have made to Hawaii have been pretty full, I would
guess that if you do not buy a seat for your baby you will be sitting
for 5+ hours with a baby on your lap and a stranger in the seat next
SunTrips will NOT have any empty seats and the seats are teeny and
incredibly close together. If you afford it at all buy an extra seat!!
In response to the person planning a trip to Kauai with a baby. We
go once a year and I have never been on a flight there or back that
had any empty seats and we supposedly go during off season (April or
October). I've bought a ticket for my second daughter (10 months
old) on the 4 trips we've taken since she was born. I used
the 'child in my lap' option for my older daughter until she was 2.
My opinion changed with my second child because of the increasing
number of news stories on passengers injured because of in-flight air
turbulance and/or severe altitude drops. It's probably a very remote
risk but bothered me enough to budget in a fourth ticket for the
baby. I'm horrified at the thought of not being able to hold on to
her if such a thing ever occurred. As far as an actual crash, I'm a
believer that everyone's a goner if that happens so my safety
concerns are really violent turbulance. Another benefit is that the
baby seems to sleep and ride so much easier in the car seat that it's
a less stressful trip for mom and dad. As a side note, United's
policy is that you can not sit with your child in a Baby Bjorn or
sling because of the possibility that you would crush the child in an
accident. At least that was the policy 4 years ago when I tried it
with my first child, I thought it would be safer than me just holding
her with my arms. The 2 year window where this is a decision is so
short, my advice is to just pay the extra money and be as safe as you
This is a great time to fly with a baby. Don't worry about it! The
airlines let you preboard, etc, so things are easy. If you're worried
about safety, you should know that some airlines have a special,
separate seat belt that you can attach to your own and put around
baby. You can't put your own seat belt around both of you. But not
all the airlines have these. If I had it to do over again, I would
have found some kind of safety strap to bring on my own, just in case
they didn't have one.
I flew on some very long flights with my daughter when she was
between 3 months and 14 months old, and sometimes the no-seat
business was a drag, but that was after 12 hours and without a
partner to share the lap-sitting and baby-juggling. You'll probably
have few problems on a shorter trip like Hawaii, especially if there
are two of you together--baby can stretch out and at the very least
you can take turns holding him or her.
Of course, your experience will depend partly on how rambunctious
your kid is in general. Good luck!
Here's a trick I've used. I've gotten a frequent flyer ticket for my
child under 2 and then at the airport waited to see if there were any
extra empty seats on the plane. If not, I'd hand in the ticket and get
my boarding pass. If there were, I wouldn't use the frequent flyer
ticket but would exchange it on my return for the next time I needed to fly
(and I think it has to be within 1 year). I always assumed that if I had the
frequent flier ticket, there was a seat that was booked and if I didn't cash
in the ticket it would be empty, but with overbooking these days, that's
probably not necessarily true. Another advantage to this trick: If there's a
seat on the departing plane, I didn't use my ticket. But it was still
available to use if I needed it on the return. (But I don't think you're
able to trade in a ticket that was half-used.) If you want to try this, I
recommend you talk with the airline first about the frequent flier tickets;
I did this years ago and am not sure if it still works.
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