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 our daughter’s car seat onboard.
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, so we figured we would be able to handle holding our daughter for four hours.
But we were in for a rude awakening. 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. And our daughter, who has always had an independent streak, 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 taking the car seat on our flight. After that trip, my husband and I decided that we would always buy an extra seat, no matter how short or long the flight.
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 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.
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 onto the plane. 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 on the plane helps them feel comfortable.
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. 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.
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