I flew cross-country with my 5-month-old son on my lap. Next time, I'm paying full price for him to have his own seat.
- I took a trip from New York to California with my son when he was 5 months old.
- Because he was so young, we opted not to buy him his own seat.
When I took my then-5-month-old son on his first cross-country trip in 2022, I tried to prepare for every eventuality, from blowouts to boredom.
But during the trip — from California to New York with a stop in Chicago — it became apparent that I'd made one major omission: getting my son his own seat.
At just shy of 17 pounds, it had seemed ridiculous that he would need his own seat. Additionally, it felt like an unnecessary expense when the airline, United, allowed him to sit on my lap for free.
However, when it came time to breastfeed him on the flight, I realized my error. There simply wasn't enough space.
Feeding him was almost impossible
Many people had told me that feeding him would ease the pressure on his ears during takeoff and landing — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends breastfeeding on flights for this reason, too. Additionally, one of the flights was over four hours long, and I knew he'd need milk to keep him fed and hydrated during that stretch of time.
But I was next to a stranger and my economy seat was so small that it was almost impossible to feed my son across my body. I held onto his feet so he wouldn't touch the person next to me, and I sat diagonally so we could both fit. It was awkward and uncomfortable. My row-mate was understanding, but the internet has taught me not everyone is so gracious when it comes to children on flights.
The problem could have been avoided if I'd pumped and bottle-fed him, but I didn't want to go that route, especially when I anticipated he'd want the comfort of breastfeeding in an unknown, potentially stressful environment.
And sure, ideally there'd be a nursing room on a plane — imagine! — or seats would be big enough to accommodate breastfeeding moms, as well as other people who need more space. But short of that, I wished I'd bought him his own seat so we could get the space we needed for everyone to be as comfortable as possible.
When I contacted United Airlines about my experience, a spokesperson said they welcome nursing mothers on board and directed me to its resources for flying with children. According to the website, I was also welcome to feed my son in the plane's bathroom.
We flew again when he was 11 months old and this time, we paid for the extra seat
On our second lengthy trip — an overnight flight from New York to London — we bought my son his own seat. While airlines typically don't require children under the age of 2 to have their own seats, for us, it made even more sense than during our earlier trip: My son had obviously grown and breastfeeding was going to be even more of a challenge.
The additional cost was not insignificant. We flew with British Airways and a seat for a child under 2 costs 75% of an adult fare. If he'd sat on my lap instead, we still would have had to pay, but it would have cost 10% of an adult ticket. (A seat on the United Airlines domestic flight six months prior would have cost the same as an adult fare, the airline said.)
Plane tickets are only getting more expensive, but having the extra seat was ultimately much more comfortable for my family and fellow passengers. So, for me, the cost was worth it.
For short flights I would consider keeping him on my lap, but for long flights, booking him his own seat just made sense. I won't make the same mistake again.
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