September 2nd, 2012
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Rafi may be just 13 months old, but he’s one well-traveled infant with 33 flight segments and some 40,000 flown miles in his trip log since he was 2.5 months old when we took him on his first airplane trip to Miami. Gotta take advantage while he still flies free! (Don’t forget to bring a birth certificate or a passport to prove they’re under 2).
I thought we had it down to a science at this point. We fly with his Chicco Keyfit 30 rear-facing carseat, the Uppa Baby Vista stroller frame, and the Chicco car seat adapter. (I’ve posted good sales for all of those items in the past). Each piece is under 20 pounds and falls within the guidelines of every airline to be able to be gate-checked. We started off when he was born with a Bugaboo and a Graco Snugride, but ditched those long ago as they were so inferior to our current combination that it was laughable.
Rafi is an excellent traveler and falls asleep very well in his carseat.
We used to bring the car seat latch base along in checked luggage but of late we stopped doing that as it just adds bulk to the plethora of items you need to travel with a baby and isn’t any safer than just buckling in the car seat. Granted that it is slightly more convenient to just snap the car seat into the latch base in your rental car, but not convenient to make it worth shlepping along the base.
We check the actual Uppa Baby stroller seat into a floppy luggage bag as it serves no use in the airport. We do bring it along as these days Rafi prefers to take walks or to eat off his snack tray in the stroller seat rather than in the car seat. Remember that you can check such a bag for free as an infant exception item.
The one nice thing about going through airport security with a baby? You and your whole family are allowed to use the metal detector lane rather then be subject to the virtual strip search that are being deployed at more and more checkpoints.
In coach on planes with a 3-3 configuration I’ll book us a window and aisle seat with an empty middle. Nobody has ever taken the middle seat yet, and if they did I’m sure they’d be happy to trade for one of our seats. At the gate I just ask the agent if the middle seat is still open for us to put the carseat in and have always been able to do that.
On a regional jet, aka Barbie’s dream jet, with a 1-2 configuration, I’ll typically book the 2 seats and then ask the gate agent if there is another seat open for me so that there can be a seat for the carseat next to my wife. Never had a problem with this strategy either, though I have learned that on United’s Embraer jets only rows 3, 7, 11, 16, and 19 are equipped with an extra oxygen mask and parents with lap children must sit in those rows.
We flew with Rafi in BusinessFirst on a United 767 to Hawaii when he was 4 months old in the bulkhead. There were no extra seats but he played on the floor and didn’t cry even once. We did have bassinet seats but he did want to be in the tiny bassinet for more than a few minutes.
We flew to Argentina in First class on an AA 777 and after some reluctance they did give him use of an empty seat and he proceeded to sleep in his car seat for the whole way down. On the return there were no extra seats, but the AA first class suite actually has a big seat and a little seat and that suited our purposes. For that international trip we used BA Avios to pay only 15,000 miles for Rafi’s ticket instead of 10% of the full fare or $1,000 when using AA miles or when paying at the airport.
Last week we flew on Cathay Pacific in first class from JFK to Vancouver and in business class on the return. We had flown on Cathay Pacific last year on our round-the-world adventure in first class and they became my favorite airline, so I figured this would be a great way to try them out again on a flight that doesn’t require flying across the world.
I had always assumed that every airline would accept our FAA approved carseat, but boy was I wrong on that.
For this trip we actually used Avios to purchase 3 seats (thanks BMI for the free trip ) so that Rafi would be guaranteed his own seat. On the Cathay 777 in First class there is basically a 4 person section and a 2 person section. There was 1 person in the other section and there were just the 3 of us in the 4 person section. Much to our chagrin though the flight attendants informed us that Cathay Pacific does not abide by FAA regulations and does not allow rear-facing car seats to be used in any class. They actually tried to convince us to set up the carseat to be forward facing, but it’s simply not designed to do that and would have been downright dangerous, though technically would have been fine by their rulebook. Well, there went any chance of having a nice peaceful flight. The lead flight attendant consulted with the captain and the only compromise they would agree to was to hold Rafi during takeoff/landing, allow him to be in the carseat during the flight, but we would have to wake him up and hold him every time the seatbelt light came on. Apparently they feel that holding a child during turbulence is safer than being buckled in a 5 point harness.
But everything with Asian carriers are strictly by the book and nobody is willing to do anything to bend any rules, so the only acceptable option was to hold Rafi during takeoff/landing and then try to secure him in a regular plane seat. We had our own personal flight attendant in First and she really did try her hardest to accommodate us. She made an elaborate bed with pillows on all sides to try to secure Rafi from rolling off the bed. At home of course we don’t use pillows or a blanket in Rafi’s crib, but here they were needed to secure him from falling down. Unfortunately the buckle did practically nothing as it could not be made tight enough for him, but Cathay is fine with that in turbulence and wouldn’t make us wake him up even though he would be totally unsecured, so long as wasn’t in that 5 point harness during turbulence…
At any rate I just stayed up for the 5 hour flight and checked on Rafi every few minutes to make sure he was OK and indeed he slept on the flat bed for the entire flight.
Had we had a forward facing carseat we would’ve been able to secure him in that in First Class. I was about to go out and buy one for the return trip but I started doing some research on their website and it turns out that in business class you can’t even have a forward facing carseat. On some planes you can’t even have a forward facing carseat in coach.
On the return trip we went through the same rigmarole, except that now it was 10:50pm PDT/1:50am EDT and Rafi was not happy about being held. He cried before takeoff but fell asleep as the wheels went up. In business the service isn’t nearly as personal as in first and the seat though still lie-flat is much smaller and less secure. I used our pillows to try to secure the bed for Rafi but it was far from ideal and we had to constantly check on him.
I started researching the subject even more. I learned that despite the fact that the FAA requires US based airlines to accept FAA approved carseats, you actually can’t have any carseats in Delta’s new lie-flat BusinessElite seating on their 777 aircraft. Lots of other foreign carries also will not allow carseats and parents of small children should definitely try to avoid them.
Lesson learned from this trip: Always check those carseat policies before buying a ticket! Had we done that I would have gladly given up flying on a world class airline and stuck with a US carrier like American or United that allows carseats without any issues. The Cathay trip may have been 7th heaven when we were pre-child but now it was anything but.
I’ll talk more about Cathay business class vs. first class and all about Vancouver in an upcoming trip notes post.
Pretty soon we’ll be shopping for a convertible carseat. Have any recommendations? Are there any that are better for travel or are they all monstrosities?
Have any other travel tips or lessons learned from your travels? Post ‘em in the comments! Learn anything useful in this post? I’d love to hear that as well.
As for me, all I can say is Gd bless my awesome wife for putting up with my travel addiction!
Cathay Pacific First Class
Cathay Pacific Business Class
Rafi’s flight paths since birth.