Should ‘Lap Children’ Get Their Own Plane Seat?

Traveler Editor at Large Christopher Elliott is the magazine’s consumer advocate and ombudsman. Over the past 15 years he has helped countless readers fix their trips.

Here’s his latest advice:

Reader Question: Can kids still travel on a parent’s lap for free?

Chris’s Answer: They can, but maybe a better question is, should they?

Kids under two, referred to as “lap children” in airlinespeak, can fly without a ticket when they’re accompanied by a guardian.

But if you’re on a full flight, you won’t be able to strap Junior into a car safety seat, which is the safest place for your baby on the plane.

“Think about it,” says Eileen Ogintz, author of the Kid’s Guide series of books. “Even the coffee urns are secured on a plane. Why wouldn’t you buy your baby a seat?”

So why doesn’t the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration require—instead of just recommending—child safety seats? It considered doing so in 2005 but decided not to, arguing that cash-conscious parents would choose to drive instead, which is statistically a more dangerous method of travel.

Christopher Elliott is National Geographic Traveler’s consumer advocate and pens the “Problem Solved” column for the magazine (this exchange appeared in the February/March 2014 issue). Follow his story on Twitter @elliottdotorg.

Do you have a burning travel question? Share it with us in the comments section below for a chance to appear in Traveler magazine: