Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lap child vs. purchased seat for an infant

In my first few posts, I'll cover a couple of crucial decision points that come up over and over when traveling with our kids.

One of the biggest ones, at least during the first two years? Whether to purchase a seat for an infant.

Most (all?) airlines do not require children under age 2 to sit in their own seat -- but, of course, if you want to buy a seat for an under-2-year-old, they will happily take your money! When I was pregnant with Littles, I was adamant that we'd always buy a seat for her. In the event of a plane crash or even just severe turbulence, it's undeniably safer for small children to be in their own seat, strapped into an appropriate restraint device (such as a car seat).

Hubby said that that was crazy. In the event of a plane crash... well, a car seat probably isn't going to do a whole lot of good. And obviously, it's a lot more expensive to purchase an extra seat every time you fly, in the off chance that you happen to be in a plane crash.

As with so many parenting-related decisions, we've moved from two extremes to a position of compromise.

With Littles, up till about 6 months of age, we generally did not purchase a seat for her. She spent a lot of time in my lap nursing anyway, and was reasonably content to cuddle with Hubby or me when she wasn't eating, so there was less of a need for her to have her own seat.

She started crawling around 6 months of age. Past that point, traveling with her as a lap child was miserable. We flew with her right when she was first starting to crawl, and then didn't fly again until she was 10 months old. It was just a short hop from San Francisco to Los Angeles (about 1 hour), so we figured she didn't need her own seat. Big mistake. All she wanted to do was get down and crawl, and restraining her was very difficult. That was the last time she flew as a lap child.

Noob didn't fly at all until he was nearly 6 months old. But once we started flying with him, we quickly determined that he, too, needed his own seat. Even though he wasn't mobile at that point, he has never been the type of child to drift off in our arms: From his earliest days, he's always liked his space while falling asleep. So he had a hard time settling down to sleep in our arms, which meant we had a cranky, overtired baby to deal with -- no fun, especially on an airplane! He got his own seat starting at 9 months of age, and everyone was much happier.

I think the decision to buy an extra seat depends a lot on the child. I've seen friends whose kids are perfectly happy hanging out in their laps. Frankly, I'm amazed by them! But that type of child will probably do quite well as a lap child, even into the toddler years.

And, well, it's not always financially feasible to purchase an additional seat for an under-2-year-old. You can certainly survive a flight with a lap child, even if said child is one of my wiggly kids.

But I wouldn't automatically dismiss the idea of purchasing an additional seat. I think it's worth seriously considering in the following circumstances in particular:

  • With an older baby or toddler, especially if they're wiggly like mine!
  • For an overnight (red-eye) flight. I can't imagine having to hold even the most placid of babies while trying to sleep myself.
  • When one parent is traveling alone. Even if the baby ends up in your lap the entire time, it's nice to guarantee that you won't have strangers on either side of you, and have some extra room to spread out.
  • For longer flights. Obviously, it's easier to survive a 1-hour flight with an unhappy lap child vs. a 10-hour flight.
  • If safety is your primary concern. There is great information on lap child safety (or lack thereof) here and here.

Hopefully that gives you some things to think about when deciding whether or not to purchase a seat for your infant!

Littles and me on the ground at SFO -- August 2007 (6 weeks old)

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