Flying With a Toddler: Free Airplane Seat Vs Paid Seat

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Flying with a toddler? It’s worth noting that for our last two flight bookings it has been cheaper to book my 20-month old mini-explorer his own seat on the plane rather than have him travel on my lap. How crazy is that?!

Is it worth buying an airplane seat for a toddler under the age of two?

Children under the age of two don’t have to pay for a flight, but you normally have to pay taxes.  Most airlines, like easyJet – the airline these experiences relate to, charge a simple flat fee.

The option to have a bit of extra space and to pay a bit less seems like a no brainer, right? We figured that Nova would be unlikely to sit still in his seat for the whole flight and would end up on our laps at some point, but at least we’d be able to spread out and shove various parenting paraphernalia (so.much.stuff) on the spare seat.

Koochi, Car Seat, Toddler Seat, Havana, Review

Is it *really* worth it though?

However, it’s not quite as easy and appealing as it seems. Well, at least in our experience with easyJet any way.

Firstly to book a seat for a child aged under two you have to ring to make the booking. Yup, that’s right, it’s 2017 but you can’t book online like you normally would. We decided to cut them some slack and figured it was because they’d have to ask important questions or brief us on some sort of special protocol.

No, it appears it’s just to be annoying and to perhaps put you off. For the first trip in question it took so long for them to answer the phone that we gave up. The price was only marginally cheaper so we decided to preserve our precious time by booking online in less than five-minutes.

For the second trip it was loads cheaper, so we persevered. Let’s just say that the person on the phone didn’t have the best conversational skills, at least not in English anyway. There were long pauses, like really awkward pauses that led me to ask if he was still on the line. I spelt out all of the names at least twice and yet when the confirmation email arrived there were at least two errors, meaning that I had to phone back to endure that pain again.

Mini explorer milestone cards

^^Shop Mini-Explorer Milestone Cards^^

Oh and no, they didn’t ask me any special questions or brief me on anything. In fact, when I asked about the procedures specified on their very own website they didn’t have a clue and said I should just read the site. Oh so helpful.

In case you’re wondering, their rules say that a child aged under the age of two in their own plane seat must be securely fastened into a age-appropriate car seat for take off and landing. That means taking your car seat onto the plane, rather than checking it in.

Infants sitting in their own seat will need to use a car seat for take-off and landing, and any time when asked by the crew. We don’t have car seats on board so you will need to bring your own. It’s your responsibility to make sure the seat is suitable for your child. Only forward facing seats are allowed on board and the crew must be able to secure it safely to the aircraft seat. If you don’t intend to use your car seat on board please check it into the hold at the Bag Drop desks.

That was fine with us because we were taking our car seat on the trip anyway – we don’t take the car hire car seat gamble anymore. Our toddler also likes a nap in his car seat so we thought it might buy us a few moments of peace while up in the sky.

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Airport Hassle

Trying to get a car seat through airport security is a mission. We already arrive three hours before any flight now because of the need to check-in luggage on our family travels (we miss the hand luggage only days!) and for any meltdowns/snack stops/potty breaks (or quite possibly all of the above). However, even with that buffer the car seat fiasco nearly caused us to miss our flight.

The check-in staff on the way out raised their eyebrows in disbelief and questioned us again and again that we really were taking it on the flight. When we explained why, their own policy seemed to be a complete surprise to them. On the way back it was even more of a hassle, with a supervisor called over, who then phoned through to another airport team. After half an hour the supervisor gave up and said we could try to get through security and see what happened. Er, thanks.

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So here’s what happens when you try to take a car seat through airport security: it doesn’t fit through the bag machine, so it has to be scanned and checked by hand. You will be questioned a million and one times about why you’re taking it on a plane, which is even harder to answer when the team speak another language. Cue lots of hand gestures and pointing to the policy screenshot on your phone. More often than not they’ll call their colleagues over from the other conveyors to have a good gawp, prod and chat about this supposedly unique situation.

Oh and the fact that you’re pregnant won’t make a difference. Don’t expect a helping hand. You’ll still have to heave it up and down onto various surfaces so they can inspect it. And of course, I should add that often airport trolleys aren’t allowed through the security barrier so you’ll also have to carry it down the various hallways and up/down any stairs.

Once you get it through security you’ll have to race to your gate to be met by the same quizzical looks as you hand over your boarding pass. You’ll then need to carry it up the stairs/down the tunnel onto the plane and fit it yourself. On our flight out the flight attendants told us that they had no idea how to fit the seat and that they’d never heard of their own policy/guidelines. They also commented on the seat seeming large, even though it’s for his age group. Their policy simply states it should be an age-appropriate seat.

On the way back we had the polar opposite experience with the flight attendant offering to help us fit it and wanting to check it was secure before the flight went.

So would I bother next time?

Yes and no. Nova will be two by the time we fly again so this scenario won’t really apply to him. However, if the price saving was steep enough I’d book my soon-to-be-here second mini-explorer their own seat.

However, I wouldn’t take the car seat on the flight. The hassle is just so not worth it my opinion. Instead, I think I’d have the toddler on my lap for take-off and landing (like you would if you hadn’t booked them a seat) and then just use the extra seat for them to sit on during the flight or for a bit of space. I haven’t actually tried this method, but don’t see why it wouldn’t be allowed.

Been through something similar? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Pin for later…

Flying with a toddler

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Comments (7)

  • B Shekhar 3 years ago Reply

    I like that even though you and your husband decided to post photos that show your faces, you have not posted your child’s photos where their faces show.

    From someone who tries to maintain their privacy very strongly, you’re doing the parenting right! Not that you need any validation.

    Taylor Hearts Travel 3 years ago Reply

    Thanks so much. That’s really kind of you to say so. I’ve written about our photo choices here in case you’re interested and haven’t seen the post

  • […] Flying With a Toddler: Free Airplane Seat Vs Paid Seat […]

  • Jay 4 years ago Reply

    We bought Kids Fly Safe…it’s FAA certified, small and essentially turns the airplane seatbelt into a harness. It worked great for takeoff and landing.

    Taylor Hearts Travel 4 years ago Reply

    That’s good to know, thanks. :)

  • Monica 4 years ago Reply

    Yes! The exact same thing happened to us too. Surely we’re not the only people to have ever tried to take a car seat on the plane and booked a seat for a child under two!? So annoying. We were flying with easyJet for our flights too.

    Taylor Hearts Travel 4 years ago Reply

    Ugh, so annoying indeed. I can’t believe they can’t even understand their own policies?!

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