As I was flying from Charlotte, NC to Phoenix, AZ last week, I was seated behind a couple and their son, probably around 18 months old. While he certainly didn’t look like the child in the picture (do they ever?), he was actually pretty well behaved the entire flight. The parents had a tablet with games and shows as well as snacks and kept him well-entertained. I could see, however, that by the end of the flight, all three were frazzled and I was reminded why I always bought my son his own seat on our flights, even when he was young enough to be a “lap child.”
- More room. I’m not just talking about the more room because of the extra seat, we also had more storage as well because we now had one more seat in front of us to store a bag under. This way, my son had his bag full of goodies and I had my own bag where I could keep my own entertainment as well as more stuff for him. Of course, having the extra seat also meant that he had more room to climb around as he got restless. In addition, it gave him a place of his own. Watching the couple in front of me, I quickly remembered that if one is going to put the tray table down to set the tablet on, there is no room left for the child! There’s even less room if the person in front of you decides to lean their chair back.
- Car seat. My son’s regular car seat was FAA-approved so I was able to strap it into the seat next to the window. Having his car seat seemed like a small thing until I realized the many advantages. He was familiar and comfortable with it. Because he was used to being strapped in it in the car, he quickly got used to being strapped in it in the airplane so didn’t make a fuss about having to sit. He also fell asleep in it just as he would in the car. In addition, it had his regular toys strapped to it so he could play with those. Finally, it had a little tray where I could set snacks and other toys to keep him occupied.
- Hands free. Since he now was safely seated in his own seat, I now had my hands free to do other things, especially once he was asleep. I could use my laptop, read a book or a magazine, or whatever other activity I had brought along. Of course, it wasn’t without interruptions, but while he was occupied with his activity or taking a nap, I could do my own thing. It also kept my hands free to take care of him. I could make a bottle, fill a sippy, get out a snack, or get out another toy or activity for him easily.
- Safety. This probably should have been the first thing I mentioned, but, fortunately, it’s rare that I’ve had to think about that on an airplane. I have had to do it, though. I’ve had a landing that we had to brace for (we ended up landing safely). If my son hadn’t had his own seat and car seat, I would have been instructed to wrap him in a blanket and put him at my feet. REALLY? How is that safe? I’ve also had flights that were very turbulent. How well can one hold on to a squirming child when the airplane suddenly drops? I never had to find out because my son was safely strapped in just as I was. Even the FAA, flight attendants, and the NTSB say that children should have their own seat (Forbes, 04/2013; YahooNews 09/2013; NTSB webpage)
Flying is expensive and I know it’s difficult to pay for a seat when the child could fly for free or a very small fee. However, while free, I wouldn’t say it’s without a cost. Our trips were relatively hassle and stress-free by purchasing our son his often discounted (some airlines do charge less for a child) seat. Even more important, our son was probably safer in his own seat and what price would I pay for that? It’s priceless.