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Since I have a 20 month old kiddo, this is an issue that has been near and dear to my heart (or lap) for a while now. The question is, should you buy an airline ticket for your under-two-year-old, or save some cash (or miles) and have them ride in your lap for the duration of the flight? For those who don’t know, in general you can have your under-two-year-old fly in your lap on a domestic flight 100% for free. On international flights, it is typically 10% of the going fare. Some airlines charge you 10% of the highest fare, and some 10% of a lower fare. Either way, that can actually be a pretty substantial cost. I have heard of “lap children” costing thousands of dollars when flying internationally, even though they are only being charged 10%. That aside, it is still clearly cheaper not to buy a seat for your little one than to actually buy a seat. Thus, many parents opt to not buy a seat and either a) Hold their baby/child for the duration of the flight, b) Passively hope that they get lucky and score an extra unoccupied seat next to them, or c) Act entitled to an extra seat for their baby and force others to play airline musical chairs accordingly.
A couple weeks ago, thegasguru alerted me to an interesting thread going on in the Delta forum on Flyertalk. You can read the thread for yourself here, but essentially it is about a mother who did not purchase an extra seat for her “lap infant”, but basically acted like she was entitled to two seats when she boarded the plane. She placed the baby in the seat she had reserved for herself next to two strangers (which by the way will be a whole other post – airlines don’t always require that the young child and parents sit next to each other!) and left the vicinity of the baby. I’m not sure where she went, but the couple sitting next to the baby alerted the flight attendant that the child was not theirs, and the flight attendant replied that they were working to shuffle people around in order for the baby and the mother to have two seats next to each other. At the time, the flight attendant did not know the mother had purchased only one seat. Eventually the flight attendant found out the mother had only purchased one seat, but was still able to get the mother two seats together – one paid and one “buy one get one free” for the baby, as it was termed on Flyertalk. It was a very full flight, and the poster believes that the only empty seat went to the “lap infant”.
This thread got me thinking not only about whether or not children under two should have their own seat to being with, but also what the policies should be in the event that they do not have their own seat but there are open seats available on the plane. Should someone have to move from their reserved seat in order for a parent and baby to take advantage of an available empty seat? In a perfect world I think it makes sense that an available seat would be given to a parent with a “lap child”. However, if that means that someone is having to give up the seat that they selected and reserved in order for that to be accomplished, then my feelings become a bit more mixed. I don’t like the idea that because a parent chooses to not reserve a seat for their baby, that someone else must give up something they wanted (like their selected seat) to accommodate them. I think that if you choose not to purchase a seat for your child, that you better be 100% prepared to not have a seat for your child. It should be a pleasant surprise if you end up in a “buy one get one” situation, but it certainly should not be expected or demanded……at least not in my book.
Which brings me back to the overarching issue – should all passengers on an aircraft be required to have their own seat? There is no doubt it is safer for infants and toddlers to be strapped in their carseat while on a plane. The one time I flew with C as a lap child, I was terrified the whole time we would hit unexpected turbulence and she would go flying out of my arms. My flight was only 40 minutes long, and it was still very difficult to have a good grip on her the whole time. It would be impossible on a longer flight to hold her tight the entire time. There is also no question that it is easier to travel with a young child when you have the extra room that the additional seat gives you. Even if you do hold your child for part of the flight, it is still helpful to not be confined entirely to a single tiny airline seat. While I was flying with C in my lap I was lucky enough to have no one in the seat next to me, however I kept thinking how miserable it would have been for whoever was in the next seat had it been occupied. A 20-month-old toddler doesn’t care if they “leak over” into the adjacent seat, or if their toy goes flying and hits the person next to them. We do our best to teach manners, but with an under-two-year-old there are some things you just can’t totally control. At least when a baby is in their own seat, there is a smaller chance of you impeding on another passenger’s already limited space.
One of the main reasons I became
obsessive extremely interested in earning miles and points was because of the need to have Little C travel to visit family members. For us, that meant we now needed three seats. For some families that means they need four, five, six, or even more seats. It doesn’t take advanced mathematical skills to realize that the expense of multiple seats can add up quickly. It makes financial sense to me to try and save where you can and have the under-two-year-old sit in your lap. However, for us, we decided that it was best for everyone involved if C had her own seat (with the exception of that one short trip). As a result, I became very serious about earning miles and points so that our family could afford to obtain three seats – luckily for us, my points obsession has allowed us to do just that.
What is your stance on “lap children”? What do you think the protocol should be if a parent is flying with a “lap child” and there are other open seats on the plane? What if it requires re-arranging other passengers in order for two of those seats to be next to each other? I would love to hear your take on this – I know this is a topic that people have definite opinions on!