Should I Buy a Seat on the Plane for My Child?

It’s a question I get asked a lot: When should I really start buying a seat on the plane for my child?

Flying with little ones under the age of 2, as stressful as it may be, does have one big advantage: it’s free! But when is it time to bite the bullet and pay for that extra seat, even if it may not be required? 15 months? 20 months? There’s got to be an ideal number, right??

When to buy a seat on the plane for your child (baby or toddler) #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Budget Travel | Flying with Baby | Flying with a Toddler | Child Fare | Airline Rules for Kids | Plane Travel Tips

The truth is, there is no “right age”. Whether or not it’s a good idea to buy that extra plane seat for your child will depend on a combination of factors, and ultimately it ends up being a case-by-case decision. A little “cost/benefit analysis”, if you will.

We got Evelyn her own seat for the first time at 15 months old. We could have suffered through without, but Matt had earned the companion pass with Southwest (which lets you add an additional seat to your ticket for free), so we took advantage of a test run without having to shell out the extra money for it.

Would it be worth it? Would Evelyn really sit in her own seat for the whole flight? Or would she just be squirming her way out within 15 minutes?

Let me tell you guys, it was amazing. Like, life-altering, game-changing amazing. Evelyn sat still and watched cartoons. She took a mid-air nap. I got to read a book. It was pure insanity. I’d gotten so used to playing servant to Evelyn on the plane, I had no idea what to even do with myself!

When to buy a seat on the plane for your child (baby or toddler) #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Budget Travel | Flying with Baby | Flying with a Toddler | Child Fare | Airline Rules for Kids | Plane Travel Tips

Now, I get it. We didn’t have to pay for the extra child seat, so it was a much easier decision for us. There’s really only one negative when it comes to deciding if an extra seat is right for you: that big ol’ stack of cash you’ll be throwing down to pay for it. Paying so much for something that’s not necessarily required can be a hard pill to swallow.

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So how do you know when it’s really worth it (or necessary) to buy a seat on the plane for a 1 year old? Here’s a few things to consider:

When it’s a Long-Haul Flight

Anything over 3-4 hours definitely deserves some special consideration here. It’s not just about the child’s comfort, it’s yours too! Sitting with a baby on your lap for a long time is exhausting, and if your kid is anything like mine, they’ll never be able to truly get comfortable.

You probably have your own idea about what cost is “worth it”, but for me (generally) I’d say that for every hour of travel time, I’d be willing to spend up to $100 for a round-trip child’s ticket. So for example, if a 5 hour flight there and back was <$500, I might go for it.

When Your Child is Closer to 2

Stating the obvious here, but a 14 month old will behave a lot differently on your lap than a 20 month old. Parents will know when this change happens: you know, the one where your baby suddenly looks and acts like a toddler. It doesn’t come at the same time for every child, and it most certainly doesn’t hold off til the age of 2. In my opinion, any age past 18 months warrants serious consideration for a child to have their own seat on the plane, but again that need will also depend on other factors like cost, length of trip, etc.

When to buy a seat on the plane for your child (baby or toddler) #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Budget Travel | Flying with Baby | Flying with a Toddler | Child Fare | Airline Rules for Kids | Plane Travel Tips

When Your Child is Super Active

This goes along with the age of the child. We all need our space, and some kids may be calm enough to sit still on your lap for a couple hours. Others will have the urge to get off your lap immediately and want to play on the airplane floor (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything ?). If your kid falls in the latter, giving them their own comfortable seat to spread out in will at the very least help pacify them for some of the flight.

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Plus, having a carseat on board can be a game changer in and of itself for some kids. When we started getting Evelyn her own seat, she was already used to being strapped into the carseat for long road trips. That familiarity helped her understand that, just like in the car, she would need to be buckled in and stay in one spot for awhile. Sure she still has times when she wants out now, but for the most part she’s able to get comfortable, have her toys on her lap, and even fall asleep sometimes!

When You’re Traveling Solo

I’ve not really had to experience this one yet, but here’s what I do know: when Matt & I fly together, I can deal with Evelyn on my lap if I have to. Mostly that’s because I know that if she spills out of my arms and into the seat next to me, it will be onto him and not some stranger. But if I were by myself? I can’t imagine how I’d contain Evelyn to our one tiny economy seat. Unless you’re flying alone with a baby who will sleep in your arms the whole time, I’d highly recommend booking a second child seat (for everyone’s sanity).

When to buy a seat on the plane for your child (baby or toddler) #familytravel #traveltips // Family Travel | Travel with Kids | Budget Travel | Flying with Baby | Flying with a Toddler | Child Fare | Airline Rules for Kids | Plane Travel Tips

When It’s (Practically) Free

No doubt, with airfare probably being one of the biggest expenditures for your trip, it’s awfully hard to justify a cost that may not be necessary. That’s why I recommend offsetting those costs with a few free flights! There are a ton of frequent flyer and credit card reward programs out there just waiting to be taken advantage of, and I did a whole post about some of our favorites here. Using a travel rewards credit card for your everyday purchases is a great way to turn money you’re already spending into free plane tickets. And being able to subsidize your travel costs this way will make the cost of booking that extra seat just slightly less painful.

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Free Printable Family Travel Packing Lists and Planning Worksheets

Do you think there’s an age at where children definitely need their own seat on the plane? How do you decide?

PS. Did you know some airlines offer a special child fare for little ones in their own seat? You won’t be able to find it online, but a quick call to the airline could save you some cash. It never hurts to ask!

Read Next: Flying with Baby: Essential Travel Gear

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