Should You Travel With an Airplane Seat Extender for Your Child?
Like most parents, I'm always looking for new products that will make parenting a bit easier, especially when it comes to traveling with my two children who are both under 4 years old. One of my "tricks" to traveling with two small kids is to sometimes travel with airplane seat extenders so my kids rest better on the plane.
For me, these seat extenders, sometimes called "comfort devices" or "bed boxes", are very helpful in magically turning an economy seat into a business class lie-flat bed for kids (wouldn't that be nice for adults!) by placing the item on the floor in front of your child's seat for their little legs.
Have Airlines Approved These Products?
Some airlines have specific policies regarding comfort devices or seat extenders but, in all cases, the final decision will always rest with the crew. I was allowed to use the items on the six flights across three airlines that I flew during this product test. However, these flights were in Europe, and US based airlines anecdotally and even per written policies have more restrictions on use, though some US-based travelers do use them. We include some links below to each product and which airlines have accepted them. Your experience may not be the same as mine, and you should always check with your airline before investing the money and carry-on space in bringing one.
All that said, these are probably most worth the trouble for long-haul flights, perhaps on international carriers that look more favorably on the products.
First of all, there are two products by Stokke (the company that now owns the brand JetKids): a Ridebox and a Bedbox. I accidentally ordered the Ridebox at first, thinking I had found a bargain online. In fact, the Ridebox is a separate product from the Bedbox that looks exactly the same but is only the child ride-on suitcase (like a Trunki) without the seat extender or bed built in. Now you know.
Once that was squared away and we ordered another one, the Bedbox is a child's carry-on suitcase with a pull strap that children over 3 can ride on through the airport. The "bed" function is designed for kids up to around 7 and is a small mattress with Velcro sides that lay atop the top part of the box when opened. Of the three I tried, this was the easiest because it didn't involve any pumps and the instructions were easy. (I am not someone who is good at figuring out mechanical things.) The mattress does take up a good part of the suitcase. Here are more TPG picks for the best luggage for children if that is your main goal.
Assessment: My almost 4-year-old adores the Bedbox and it has become our go-to item for travel due to the ride-on function and has saved me from traveling with a stroller when traveling with just him. Things get a bit trickier when pushing a stroller with the baby and pulling the older child on the Bedbox, but it is doable. As for the sleeping functionality, it worked well and seemed less invasive than the inflatable items because it could easily be put away. Like with any of these items, you need to check whether your airline accepts them.
Upsides: This is a multiple use product, has a more stable and higher ride-on feature than a Trunki, came with cute stickers to customize it, encourages him to have his own luggage, enabled me to take two trips without a stroller and perhaps most importantly, my son adores it.
Downsides: It's pricy ($199), does not fit a lot of items if the mattress is in it, the mattress is white and thus something else to clean, it's cumbersome to carry and not foolproof with a child riding on it -- my son did fall off and hurt his ankle (he may not have been holding on). Also, the strap broke on our fourth use when I was pulling my almost-4-year-old.
Claiming to be the original inflatable cushion for kids, the Fly Tot was developed by two traveling moms in 2013.
Assessment: The unwieldy foot pump was a nightmare to use once my son got a hold of it, plus it took up a large amount of space. Once inflated, the cushion was a sturdier and a thicker plastic than I expected and very comfortable for my son. The cushion can be used two ways and inflated to different heights. I put a blanket over the footrest and was not questioned on British Airways, who officially does not allow inflatable footrests.
Upsides: There's a sturdy cushion, it was comfortable for my child, easy to deflate, can fit in my duffle bag carry-on, is easy to wipe clean, did not deflate during long haul flight, is less expensive than the Bedbox at $79 and potentially could be great with another pump.
Downsides: The unwieldy foot pump made it virtually a non-starter for me with the kids, it did not wrap up well or come with its own bag and took up a lot of space in my carry-on.
Allowed onboard? Some airlines have officially approved the Fly Tot, including Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Etihad. As always, double check with your carriers.
PlanePal is an item I have been using for a few years, so I'm most more familiar with it. While similar to the Fly Tot, the PlanePal also has a few differences.
Assessment: The PlanePal comes with a discrete pump that I can inflate without anyone noticing and quickly hide the inflated cushion under a blanket with my kids' legs on it. The cushion itself is not very sturdy and flips around a lot. It is better in a non-bulkhead seat squished between two economy seats.
Upsides: It comes with a carrier bag, discrete pump, doesn't take up much space in a carry-on, folds down
Downsides: After a few uses, the pump started a high-pitch whistle during use, the cushion itself feels flimsy, seems to deflate more than Fly Tot during long haul flight and it is difficult to find for sale.
Allowed on board? See the list of 41 airlines approved on a "best endeavors basis" on the Plane Pal website.
Having a seat extender for my young children has been a game changer for long haul travel and has helped them sleep comfortably without having to always spend enough miles for them to fly in business class or a SkyCouch or sleeper seat just to lay down. Remember that children should always have their seat belt on while using them, being in the window seat is best to be out of the way and follow all instructions for use and securing them properly. Have you used a child seat extender? Have you had any airlines raise issues with using one?