Why I am Glad My Toddler is Too Old to be a Lap Infant

Jan 31, 2012

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Fellow BoardingArea blogger, Delta Gold Flyer, reached out to me to see if I would be interested in doing a joint post about lap infants.  He has a post up today about lap children, and since it is an issue that impacts virtually every traveling family, I told him I would do a post at the same time to share my thoughts.  So, consider this BoardingArea Lap Infant Day.  😉

In case you weren’t following every single post on Mommy Points around Christmas time last year (and who can blame you?!), a few days before Christmas my little toddler turned two years old.  We had a great party complete with ponies in the backyard.  It was a blast.  However, I know that for many frequent flyers a child’s 2nd birthday is also met with some sadness that their little one can no longer qualify as a “lap infant”.  Lap children must be under two years old, and they fly free domestically and typically for 10% of the fare when flying internationally.  Which can still be quite a hefty price, especially in First or Business class.  However, the day they turn two that “fly free” option disappears forever.

Most of us are in the miles and points game because we want travel that we otherwise couldn’t afford.  For some that means an economy domestic ticket to see grandma in Omaha, and for others it means an around-the-world journey in a First Class suite.  Both are equally worthy travel goals, and both can be accomplished with miles and points.  So, it makes sense that many in the miles and points world choose to fly with their little ones as lap children for as long as possible.  Simply put, it’s cheaper.  Whether your currency is miles or points – they both stretch further when you don’t have to obtain a paid seat for your baby.  I totally understand it – I have dealt with that temptation for two years.  In fact, I even gave into the temptation once for a short flight from Houston to Corpus.  However, that was the one and only time I flew with my kiddo as a lap child.

Trust me, I am all about saving money and stretching miles and points as far as they will go, but I am not in favor of lap children.  First of all, there is just barely enough room in an airline seat for one person.  Add a baby and all the baby gear to that scenario, and it isn’t that pretty.  It’s doable, but it really isn’t pleasant.  I love babies, but even I am not thrilled at the idea of sitting next to a lap baby on a long flight.  However, that is really just a secondary reason.  The real reason I am not a fan of lap infants is that it just isn’t the safest way to travel.  Sure, air travel in general is thankfully very safe, but traveling with a baby in your lap is a bit like rolling the dice.  You are betting on a smooth and uneventful flight.  Most of the time you will win that bet, but after rolling the dice once, I realized it wasn’t a gamble I wanted to make again.  While logistically I lucked out and there was no one sitting next to us on the flight, I was still very worried that we would hit some unstable air, and C would be injured because she was unrestrained.

Here is a picture taken that day – after the plane had landed.  She fell asleep and I still would not put her in the open seat next to us.  I was too afraid to let go.

My flight was less than an hour in length, and even on that short flight it was virtually impossible to keep a solid grip on her the whole time.  I can’t imagine even trying to keep a solid hold on her for hours upon hours on a longer flight.  Of course, in the event of severe turbulence or an emergency landing, even my tight grip may not be enough.  I posted about this issue several months ago, and a link in one of the comments was to a National Transportation Safety Board Brief written by Jan Lohr, a retired flight attendant who was on United Flight 232 that had an emergency landing in 1989.  In that brief, she advocated that all passengers, regardless of age, be required to be in their own seat with a safety restraint.  A 22 month old lap child named Evan was killed in that emergency landing.  One hundred and eleven people died on that flight while one hundred and eighty one people survived.  While no one will ever know for sure, it is quite possible he would have survived had he been in a restraint.  I recommend giving that brief a read, though I will warn you it is a bit heart-breaking.  If you want even more info on the fate of the four lap children on that flight, read this article.

I’m a pretty realistic person.  I know that there is some risk in most everything that you do, and that choosing to travel with your child does come with some inherent risk.  Heck, just going to the grocery store can be a risky proposition.  However, as a parent I try to make every decision knowing that I did the best I could with the cards that were dealt to me.  I know that if or when something goes wrong, I did the best thing that I knew to do in that situation.  In other words, I have to be able to live with myself.  After reading that brief and experiencing flying with a lap infant once, I knew I couldn’t do it again.  I could not live with myself if something happened to my daughter on a flight that could have been avoided if she were restrained.  That decision will obviously vary from family to family based on resources, but for me it was a clear choice.

Now that she has turned two, I am happy that the temptation to fly her for free is gone.  If you still have a little one under two, I totally understand if you choose to fly with them as a lap infant.  I did it, too.  Flying is a very safe way to travel, and the odds are certainly in your favor.  Heck, you may even be able to land an unused seat on the plane for free.  However, at least give strong consideration to getting your infant a seat.  Most everyone who reads this blog earns miles and points.  Consider using some of those miles to get a seat for your little one.  Not only will you have more room on the plane for your family, but your kiddo will be safer, too.  If you want to check out the FAA recommendations for keeping your child as safe as possible on flights, go here.

Those are my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours!  Thanks again to Delta Gold Flyer for giving another prospective on his site as well.

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