Saturday 25 February 2017

Flying: Hey baby, get your own seat!

Gemma O'Doherty

There was a time when you could expect a bit of leeway on a flight if you had a baby in tow. But the days of air stewards fluttering their eyelids and coo-cooing at the sight of junior stepping on board are by and large a thing of the past.

Nowadays, when airlines see a traveller in nappies, they see dosh.

Some have become so penny-pinching when it comes to their youngest passengers, they charge them twice as much as their parents.

New research by travelsuper market.com has revealed that infant ticket prices for low-cost airlines have increased by 33pc since last year, and argues that it could be cheaper to book an actual seat for a baby, instead of paying for them to sit on your knee.

Ryanair, for example, which offers flights from €9.99 one way, charges under-twos €20 on the same flights each way -- a 100pc price difference -- for the privilege of sitting on a parent's lap for the flight.

The airline does not allow individual seats to be purchased for under-twos, depriving families of the extra baggage allowance.

EasyJet and Jet2 apply similar rules and charges. Aer Lingus passengers can buy a seat for an infant, but are still charged a flat rate of €20 per child under two one way if the child sits on an adult lap.

The research also found that parents are stung again when they land in their destination, with some car-hire firms charging €100 a week for a car seat or booster. Many airlines, including Aer Lingus and BA, will allow you to put your car seat in the hold for free. Ryanair charges €20 return to take one.

Travelsupermarket advises parents to book, where airlines allow, an adult seat for their toddler because they will also avail of the extra hand-luggage allowance as well as the additional seat.

Not only is buying a separate seat likely to be a cheaper option, it's also thought to be safer, too. Research suggests that infants are more secure in their own seat, providing they are contained in a car seat (referred to as child restraint system or CRS by airlines.)

A 2004 study by the US National Transportation Safety Board found that lap-held children lack adequate protection in the event of turbulence or a crash. It points to a deadly crash of an overloaded plane in Montana in 2009, which killed all 14 people on board including seven children. The children's remains were found far from the plane, suggesting that they weren't properly restrained.

One carrier that put parents' noses out of joint recently was Malaysia Airlines, which took an unprecedented step of banning babies from the first-class cabin after complaints from other passengers about noise.

But some airlines still do their best to keep their youngest customers happy. Dutch carrier KLM provides baby meals, play packages and emergency nappies for toddlers and even lays on sky cots and sleeping bags when they need a snooze. Then again, this is an airline that was once reputed to give crew 'ovulation leave' to produce babies of their own!

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