Flying with Babies: To buy a seat or not

First point of the day: Both the little ones slept through the night last night.  BOTH OF THEM.

In other news, we recently took our kids into a flying tube and confined them for a number of hours.  Sounds super fun.  But hey, we got from point A to point B without needing a map and with the (hilariously low) possibility of taking a nap.  We flew domestically in the United States, so at least our flight was relatively short (4 ish hours).   With ticket prices not being cheap, it’s at least worth a discussion about if it’s worth it to buy your baby a seat of their own or have them fly for free as a lap child.  Our littlest two kids were just under 3 years (35 months) and 10 months on this trip.  Here’s was our plan:

Cell phone 1877

Buy that baby a seat.  Use a car seat.

Do it.  Seriously, I will not fly without babies in a car seat in their own bought seat.  I know, it’s free for a baby to fly domestically if they are under two years old.  I won’t do it.  The biggest reason is safety.  Do you know what you are supposed to do with your lap child in an emergency or really rough turbulence?  You are supposed to PUT THEM ON THE FLOOR at your feet so they aren’t a dangerous projectile to other passengers.


I can’t stomach that idea.  The problem with holding your child in an airplane is that in rough enough conditions, you physically cannot keep a hold of them.  A baby’s head hitting the upper deck during turbulence isn’t worth to me.  And putting them on the floor?  Oh hell no.

The other advantage of a baby or toddler in a car seat is that they are used to being in a car seat.  Mine are in a car seat in our car nearly every day, they have slept there, played there, looked out the window there and are comfortable already.  It’s a norm you can bring to a less normal situation.  And they are contained.  I mean, sure, contained for safety but also contained for less frustration for parent and child because the child is NOT expecting to get down and play too often.

If you know the flight isn’t full, you can take the decent chance that a seat will be open for your baby.  Buy a window and an aisle seat and hope no one needs the middle seat.  Bring the car seat all the way to the gate and if there is room, the flight crew should let you use the seat on the flight.  If there isn’t room on the plane, you can gate check the car seat.

But how do you schlep that car seat to the plane?  I know lots of car seats are nice and light and easier to transport, but most of those are still bulky.  We use a Diono Radian for both of our little ones.  It’s super slim and fits beautifully in a plane seat.  It’s easy to install in the plane making things even easier (ask for a seat extender from your flight attendant). But it’s heavy.  Like TWENTY FIVE pounds heavy.  That sucker is made out of steel.  I am not carrying that thing, even with the carrying strap it has.  Because heavy.  My husband carried it one year and that was the last time that is going to happen.

Instead, I strap the car seat to the luggage.  Deep in comments for a product that straps car seats to luggage I found a parent who shared this trick:

  1. Put your the LATCH strap through the back in the front-facing position.  In our Radian, this opening is more to the back rather than the bottom of the seat.
  2. Attach a 2-inch O-ring to the LATCH clips.
  3. Snuggle the seat up to the front of your carry-on roller suitcase and pull the top tether through the top suitcase handle.
  4. Pull those LATCH strap + O-rings combo to the back of your carry-on, on the side with the luggage handle, pull the strap through it.
  5. Attach your top tether to one of the O-rings.  If things don’t quite pull around together, a few carabiner clips (99 cents at Home Depot) will do the trick to extend your strap.
  6. Pull it all tight with your top tether adjustments.
  7. Tilt roller bag and pull behind you!

With this arrangement, we could pull our two heavy Radians through the airport, unclip the rig for security by unclipping one of the O-rings, clip it back to ride them to the gate and then all the way down the plane’s aisles to the seat.  When I put the car seats in the plane, I just shoved the strap and clip behind the seat.  The plane’s seatbelts worked perfectly in the forward-facing position without a seat extender needed.  We did not ride either kid rear facing in the plane, a decision we made after reading a lot of varying viewpoints.  Do what you feel is best for your family.

The suitcase rigging worked well for us, even if it’s not particularly elegant nor would I trust our older roller luggage pieces to hold the car seats with the kids IN them.  But it got us through the airports without too much effort.  We also brought an umbrella stroller and a sling for kid-containment.  In all we brought three pieces of luggage, a larger checked bag and two roller bags with the car seats strapped to them, a toddler backpack that almost three year old carried himself, a diaper bag, and the two older boys each had a backpack.  For six people, that’s not too shabby!

Being able to stick the littles into a car seat on the plane was a huge help to us.   Heck, they even slept for (small) portions of the ride!


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