Flying with Under-2s: Lap or Ticket?

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Hawaii with a 10 month old - worth buying a ticket?

Dec 2007

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. KM

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 them 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 (which you probably will anyway being pregnant!), and be the last people to get on the plane. Enjoy your trip and congrats on the new baby! Melissa

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 Children. You can browse it at Waddle and Swaddle in Berkeley. Enjoy! Travelin' mamma

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... Fran

-- 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.'' Melinda

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. R.K.

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 another bonus!) 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, you won't 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! bon voyage

Trip to the midwest with an 18-month-old

May 2002

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. Quinlan

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). Anonymous

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 say.

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! Happy Trails! Kathleen

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). Fiona Hamer

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. Kathryn

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, too.

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 plane.

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. Gwynne

I'll never understand why airlines say your carry-on bag might go flying in turbulence, but somehow your baby is going to stay put.

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 CA weather).

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. Donna

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. Marianne

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! Heidi

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 (800-274- 8440) for $29.95. Heidi

Trip to Germany with 19-mo-old: Buy a ticket?

Dec 1999

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 appreciated.Thank you!

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!

April 1999

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 we used.

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 to you.

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 can.

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.