Why An Extra Plane Seat for Your Baby is Worth the Money

A child under 2 years old can fly on your lap for free—which can feel like a great excuse to travel with a baby for no additional cost. But believe me when I tell you: Buy the extra plane seat.

By Irina Gonzalez

Plenty parents know that traveling with kids does not often come cheap. Before having kids, my husband and I traveled a few times a year and still had money left to save for our retirement and pay off our credit card debt. After our son was born, we were excited to travel with him—but certainly worried about the cost of adding a third person to our itinerary.

Thankfully, I discovered that one of the best parts of having a young child is that many of the usual costs of travel are cheap or even free. For instance, my husband and I love going to museums. Thankfully, most museums don’t charge for kids age 3 and under. Of course, children’s menus in restaurants are cheaper, too. And we wouldn’t have to worry about getting a bigger hotel room since our baby could simply sleep in a travel crib next to our bed (which is typically provided for free if you call ahead).

Even better, airlines don’t require you to buy a plane ticket for a child under 2 years old—which meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about the extra cost of flying somewhere. But then we flew with our then-1-year-old, and I am now here to tell you: Buy the extra plane seat.

Flying with Young Kids is Hard Enough

Before I flew with my son, I asked for advice from every parent I knew. My son was born at the end of March 2020—at the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic—so I didn’t know how much we would get to travel with him during the early years when we wouldn’t have to worry about buying an extra plane seat for him. But then my husband got a job in Colorado and, suddenly, we were moving 1,608 miles away.

As I researched, I quickly found out that flying with young kids is…difficult, to say the least. Parents told me horror stories of babies that wriggled the entire flight or those that couldn’t be soothed so they screamed during takeoff and landing. There was one story of a parent who tripped on her kid’s vomit during a layover—and another where the parent didn’t bring a change of clothes for herself, so she ended up smelling not-so-great for the duration of the flight after her daughter had a blow-out. Plus many more horror stories of flying with babies and toddlers.

I knew that we wouldn’t be able to prepare for everything that could happen on a cross-country flight with a 1-year-old. But I listened and absorbed these stories—and then made myself a list of things I could pack to prevent what I was sure would be an inevitable disaster.

Other than the extra warm clothing we needed in our new home since we were moving from warm Florida to snowy Denver, my list included anything I could think of that my son might need. I had an extra pacifier, a couple of books, a favorite toy and a new toy, shelf-stable milk, lots of snacks, a change of clothes for both of us (yes, I learned from those vomit stories!), and an iPad with downloaded episodes of Cocomelon.

The one thing I just couldn’t figure out how to manage was the car seat. Do I gate-check it? Do I sell it and buy a new one when we land? Do I bring it on the plane with me? Finally, after weighing all of my options, I decided that purchasing the extra plane seat for my son and his car seat would be worth the money.

Budgeting to Make Life Easier

When it comes to travel, there are a lot of costs that could quickly add up: Plane tickets, hotels, food, attractions, and renting any gear you need to travel with young kids. But also when it comes to travel, there are many things that we parents need to consider.

For me, the biggest question comes down to the financial cost of something versus the emotional and physical cost.

Traveling is expensive, but there are many ways to save on costs. However, when it came down to whether or not to buy the extra plane seat for my son or simply travel with him in my lap, I decided that budgeting for the third plane seat would be worthwhile.

Spending that extra money allowed us to bring his car seat without worrying about needing to rent or buy a new one once we arrived at our destination. Not only that, though. After flying with my 1-year-old in his car seat in his plane seat, I can tell you this: Spend the money! Not only did the extra plane seat mean that we kept him safe but it dramatically eased the plane trip for us.

Budgeting for the extra plane seat not only allowed us to save on the financial cost of figuring out possibly getting a new car seat once we landed, but it also saved us a lot when it came to the emotional cost of traveling with a young child. Because my son already knew that his car seat meant “travel” and that he would be there for a while, he was pretty calm. So while I worried about how he would handle his first flight, it turned out that having the familiar environment of his car seat ended up easing his stress—and mine.

Creating a budget is crucial when traveling with kids while trying not to blow your entire savings account. I would just recommend that you add that extra plane seat to the budget even if your child is young enough that you don’t have to pay.

Let’s face it: Parenting and traveling are hard enough. When we go somewhere new, we want to discover the world and show our children something joyous and magical.

Although it added an extra cost to our travel, I’m glad we bought the extra plane seat. It may have cost more money but it also saved us a lot of hassle and stress. And when it comes to flying with babies and toddlers, I’ll do almost anything if it makes the experience a bit less stressful.