Car Seat vs. Infant In Lap: Cost vs. Worth

The information from the FAA and AAP was updated on February 18th, 2014.


Should I Use A Car Seat On An Airplane For My Child Under 2?

I get asked this question a lot because people know that before Kati was 2 years old, we still bought her a ticket. The reason for this extra expense was the result of several weeks of research on the topic of airplane safety. The reason I have not written an article about this up until this point is because I don’t like to write controversial things on this blog. But I am finally going to answer this question so you know why I make the choices I do regarding infant air travel.

traveling with an infant

Travis and I figured out that Katienne did not like to be held while traveling for long periods. I wish we would have figured this out before our 7 hour bus ride from Budapest to Krakow (on which Kati proceeded to scream for all 7 hours). But after that we always bought her a separate seat so she could be in her car seat. Then we started planning for our trip from Hungary to the United States, and I was faced with the decision of paying several hundred dollars more for her to have a seat, or paying $100 for her to sit on my lap. But something was really starting to get to me, money issues aside. I kept thinking about the strict car seat regulations in every country, and it just didn’t make sense to me that the same thing didn’t apply for airplane rides. So I started researching.

The FAA Child Safety website uses very strong language in regard to this topic:

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination. The FAA is giving you the information you need to make informed decisions about your family’s travel plans.”

I also came across recommendations like this from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“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.”

I should tell you that I’m not the AAP’s number one fan since I’m a breastfeeding support person. Let’s just say there are things we disagree about. In retrospect, I didn’t take this warning as seriously as I should have, but I wasn’t done researching yet.

Then I came upon an article that described the outcome of a plane accident where the mother survived, but her 23-month-old child died. That was it for me. I don’t know how I would deal with being safe, and my child no longer living, because I did not want to pay the extra six to eight hundred dollars (yes that is how much we pay each time we make a cross-atlantic trip for our small daughter to have her own seat).

It’s a safety issue. I understand that parents don’t want to pay more money, but isn’t safety and peace of mind worth it? If you wouldn’t feel comfortable having your baby in the car without a car seat while traveling 40 mph, why do you feel comfortable flying through the air at 500 mph without one? Because the airlines want you to think it is safe! They even have those “handy” straps that allow you to strap the baby onto your strap, but what they don’t tell you is that those straps are not approved for use with an infant or child (would you put your infant in a small lap belt in the back of your car? I hope not). In all likelihood, they are probably extension straps for adults who are too big to fit into a standard airplane seatbelt. Airlines don’t want to lose any money, and they get more when you pay for two people to fly in one seat. Plus, they don’t want to discourage parents from flying with young infants because you have to pay for a seat for them. Even though airline workers generally have a reputation of being irritated with traveling families, they still want your money.

When you do travel with a car seat, you need to make sure it is FAA approved, and that it is a 5-point-harness. For more information on air friendly car seats, I have written this post.

You know my life philosophy involves spending the least amount of money possible, but in this instance I feel very strongly that money is not the deciding factor. If Travis and I ever have another child, we will be forking over the extra money each and every time we fly, because we feel like there is no other option for our family.

10 thoughts on “Car Seat vs. Infant In Lap: Cost vs. Worth

  1. The one time I flew with Alton when he was under two, the airline talked me out of buying him his own seat. The flight out was okay, but the flight back was hell on Earth and I will ALWAYS ALWAYS buy a small child their own seat from now on.

    1. Thanks for sharing Jen, sorry that you had such a bad experience!! It is really bizarre to me that the airline talked you out of buying him his own seat, but I have heard that it happens quite often… some things will always confuse me.

  2. I am guessing the reason they would talk you out of it, is that they have discounted infant tickets, and they’re hoping that if you hold the baby on your lap, they will be able to sell the seat for full price. Just a hunch, though. 🙂 Great article, thanks! What we did when we had just one child is reserve a window seat and aisle seat, because most people will not take a seat in between 2 people if they don’t have to. It worked when we did it, and we were able to use our car seat. But I don’t know if it’s really worth the risk of it not working, though. If we had the extra money, we would have just paid for the seat right away.

    1. Yeah, we have had that work out in the past (buying the two outside seats and leaving the middle), but I don’t risk it anymore because there have been some times when our flight was absolutely full!! Thanks for the comment!! 😀

    1. Hi Karlee, I do not have a copy of the manual on me because we are away from home, but I can tell you that the best thing to do is to lift up the cover, and underneath the two foam cushions you will find two sets of plastic clamps that keep the seatbelt in place. We use those with the airplane seat belt. It causes the seat to be slightly higher on one side where the seat belt buckle is, but none of our kids have seemed to mind that. I would also say that on certain airlines you have to put the seat in the reclined position or your baby will be leaning forward because of the angle of the airline seat. Remember that you should keep your child rear facing as long as possible, including when flying. If you are flying internationally you migh that’ve to show the flight attendants that the seat is safe for airline use (the marathon says that right in the side in red). They also might tell you that it is not safe for the baby to fly rear facing. Issues sits not true. Just tell them you already put your baby in and do not want to move them. This seems to go off better than arguing about their knowledge of airplane car seat safety (speaking from personal experience). Hope that helps. Please feel free to comment again with any further questions. Happy travels, Kristin

    1. Thanks for this resource Stephy!! I love the Car Seat Lady’s website. It is super helpful and that is actually where I personally go for safety advice about my kids.

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