Reasons To Use A Car Seat For Plane Travel

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Once upon a time, when I was still a fairly new mom, my husband and I took a flight from Seattle to Minneapolis with my step-son and my infant daughter. We were traveling to my niece’s wedding. And since my daughter was under a year old, we decided to take advantage of the “infants fly free” policy that almost all airlines have, rather than take use daughter’s car seat for plane travel.

We bought three tickets and planned to take turns having our daughter sit on our laps. On paper it looked like it would be a relatively short flight. Four hours, non-stop. We had been on much longer flights than that before our daughter was born. We figured we would be able to handle holding our daughter for four hours.

This post was updated on March 22, 2020.

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My son at the Denver airport (July 2014)

Flying with a lap infant versus taking a car seat for plane travel

But we were in for a rude awakening. Traveling with a baby without a car seat for plane travel was tough! The whole flight through, we were cramped in and stressed out. There was no room to move around, as one of us was always having to hold our daughter.

As for our daughter, who has always had an independent streak, she did not enjoy being limited in her movement and seating. She squirmed and fussed for the majority of the flight. We were miserable and tired, and instead of a relaxing flight, it turned out to be a test of endurance and patience.

We regretted not using the car seat for plane travel. After that trip, my husband and I decided that we would always buy an extra seat, no matter how short or long the flight.

My squirmy daughter at the Bangkok airport (July 2012)

Taking our car seat for plane travel

Our next trip as a family was to Southeast Asia when our daughter was 22 months old. This time around, we bought a seat for her, and even brought her Graco infant car seat on board.

It was heaven. She had her own space to eat, read her books, or watch on the iPad. And the familiarity of the car seat made the act of flying on a strange plane not so strange for her. My husband and I were able to enjoy the flight, watch movies, sleep, or read a book, without having to attend to our fussy daughter.

Car seat for plane travel
My daughter resting comfortably in her car seat (July 2012)

Paying a premium for your sanity

As a parent, you quickly realize that sanity and convenience do not come cheap. In our case, it meant an extra $1,200 coming out of our pocket.  But to us, it was worth it.  During that first flight, we definitely saved money by not paying for the extra seat and not bringing a car seat for plane travel.

But the cost in discomfort and stress was worth far more than what we had saved. And the second time around, even though it cost us a fourth more than what we would have normally paid, the peace of mind and rest gained greatly outweighed the cost.

Not every parent has the same experience as us, because not every child is like ours. We had friends who flew to Istanbul with their infant child on their laps, and he was perfectly fine.  

But I know that my children prefer their own space, and would not have been okay with sitting on our laps for an extended period of time. For my kids, being in their car seat for plane travel helps them feel comfortable.

travel tips - picture of plane wing
Looking out the window on the plane (April 2016)

Other reasons to bring a car seat for plane travel

Besides the comfort of both you and your baby, there are reasons why it’s a good idea to fly with a car seat. The primary reason is for safety. When you fly with a lap infant, it’s difficult to fully secure your child. So if you experience severe turbulence, your baby may fall and risk injury.

Putting your baby in a car seat allows you to safely secure your baby during turbulent weather. Your baby is strapped into the car seat, and the car seat is buckled into the plane seat.

Another reason is that it allows your baby to be well supported when they fly. Having your infant on your lap requires constant adjustment and shifting.

The final reason is that this is just a temporary situation. Once your kids are older, you will no longer need to carry a car seat for plane travel. They will be able to sit in the plane seats on their own. As parents to young babies, it’s easy to assume that this stage will last forever. But sooner than you know, your babies will be big! Might as well keep them safe while they’re young.

Taking the car seat along on flights (July 2014)

Finding what works for your family

What I say to first time parents who ask me about overseas flights with their kids is to really think about what’s important for them.  Do a bit of research on the FAA guidelines for flying with children.

And then ask yourself the following questions. Can you handle several hours of discomfort and inconvenience so that you can spend more money on the actual trip? Or would you rather be more thrifty on the trip so that you can have a peaceful flight with your children? We chose the latter, and have never looked back.

Now our four person family has grown to five, and our family trips have gotten more expensive. Yet I still continue to buy the extra seat for my baby. To me, my sanity is a premium that I am more than willing to pay.

Do you prefer to taking a car seat for plane travel, or flying with your baby on your lap? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Why We Always Use A Car Seat For Plane Travel | The Wandering Daughter

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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