To Seat or Not To Seat???

We’re a month away from our next trip – visiting family in California – and it will be our young one’s first trip since he turned two! The logistics are all sorted out, and now we’re on to the anticipation stage.

The two-year-old milestone gets me thinking about one of the first questions we had planning our first plane ride (also to California) – to buy a seat or not? Airlines don’t require it until your little one is two. Notice on our first post – isn’t it interesting how we think of all the milestones in relation to when they turned two?

A friend with three kids strongly recommended splurging on the seat, said it was worth its weight in gold. With some very low fares, we took her advice. And I think we have done the opposite ever since. Let’s look at some pros and cons, shall we?

Buying a seat:


  • Planes get hot, kids are heaters, have a place to put them down
  • Bring the car seat on the plane, strap the child down (More on traveling with car seats another day, more daunting than traveling with kids in my opinion)
  • Safety that comes with strapping them down. But. They actually have to be in their seats for that to work, and its very common to see a little one on the roam. Don’t buy the seat for safety if you’re going to be holding them, obviously.
  • Another note on safety – the regular plane seat belts don’t hold the wee ones all that tightly, and they are easy to disconnect. You may find that you need a car seat because of the size of your kid or their propensity to escape. Otherwise, hold on to them. On longer flights, especially internationally, some airlines give you a lap child seat belt that connects to your own.
  • On a three by three plane, you get the row to yourself


  • Costs more
  • The littler they are, the less likely you can properly sit them in a seat, unless…
  • Car seats. Not always fun to lug on a plane
  • As we are experiencing in our upcoming trip, where we have two child seats, you don’t fit in a row and are split up. Terror!

Lap child:


  • Cheaper (Not always free. Internationally you generally have to pay some taxes and fees that amount to about 10% of a full fare. Within the US, generally the only cost is effort)
  • Kids are little, they cuddle well…
  • Lap naps are the best
  • Cheaper = more trips
  • Cheaper!


  • You’re going to have to keep them occupied, but you were probably going to have to anyway. Bonding time isn’t a con.

I’m a HUGE fan of the built-in discounts that come with traveling with kids. And none looms larger than the huge discount on airfare. You’ll miss it when they turn two. Of course, if money is no object, or you are using miles… just don’t be surprised if they end up on your lap anyway.

12 thoughts on “To Seat or Not To Seat???

  1. One more con to having them sit in your lap is safety. As a former flight attendant I have seen some pretty horrific videos of what can happen to lap babies… that said, we have yet to travel with a car seat.

    My question for you is what do you do when you’re traveling in the states and you know your going to need a car seat – do you suck it up and bring it along or rent one?

    • I’m assuming that you’re talking about in terms of a crash?

      When we’re traveling in the states, like our trip in a month, we bring our car seats and check them. We still don’t bring them on the plane. Jeremy will have more about that in another post. We tried renting one once because it was a really quick one. The car seat was clean, in great condition and all but I just don’t usually care to spend the extra $20+ per day (for two car seats). It makes better money sense to bring ours along. We have status with Star Alliance so we never have to pay for anything we check. I will be doing a more in-depth post about that kind of stuff at some point too. I’m fairly certain that on a lot of airlines, even without status, allow a car seat or stroller to be checked but I’m going to look into it further :-)

  2. I never thought about checking it – great idea. Now that A. is out of her bucket and in a real car seat, I couldn’t imagine lugging it through the airport – that thing is big and heavy!! UUGGHH! What a hassle.

    The videos were mostly of RTO’s (rejected take offs) and turbulence. If the plane’s going down I’m not sure a car seat would make a difference.

    • So glad to help!! That’s why we’re here :-) Lugging them through the airport is more of a hassle than I’m interested in AND getting through security can be stressful enough with kids without adding more stuff to have to carry through!

    • Of course! I neglected an obvious PRO of a seat. I’ll update the list accordingly. I’ve never had any problems myself, with many a lap ride (mine is the preferred lap for in flight naps and I wouldn’t have it any other way, except when I have to go the bathroom). I will have to seek out some stats, because I’m guessing the fact that lap children are still allowed means that the risk is low as long as you’re careful.

      Another tip when checking a car seat – if you have a spare (we have a second set for my parents) use that. They get dirty and banged around a bit. Also, the rental seats are pretty cheap in quality but not in price. If you felt compelled to buy a cheap one just for travel you’d probably pay for it in a couple of trips. I prefer using one I’m comfortable with for safety, fit and ease of use.

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  4. Here are some personal stats from a former flight attendant.
    I flew for 9 months and the fewest number of flights I ever had in a week was 5. With that said I NEVER experienced a RTO. As for extreme turbulence (when I say extreme turbulence I mean turbulence so bad it throws you around like a rag doll and lifts the 300+ beverage cart off the ground) I only experienced that 3 times. So it’s pretty safe to say you won’t come across these scenarios.

    You are absolutely right about using the car seat. If you’re main concern is safety and that’s why you’re bringing your car seat, than you better have your kiddo strapped for the length of the flight. Car seats don’t do any good empty and unbuckled.

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