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Home for the Holidays: A Tough Flight with a Toddler

There are some nice touches in TPE airport
There are some nice touches in TPE airport

Never take a 23 month year old as a lap infant. That’s what we learned on our flight from Taipei to Hong Kong, quite possibly the worst flight we’ve ever taken with M! In the light of day, it wasn’t that bad but at the time it was a lot of stress.

First, a note. I’ve read on many baby-oriented travel websites some version of the argument: “You should always book your child a seat it’s safer etc. etc. etc.” Now I definitely agree that it is safer and it is always better to have an extra seat for your child.

On the other hand, I am cheap, and I have a lot of…um…frugal friends who never bought a seat for their child until they had to, and all of them said it was fine. So I decided to take it on a case by case basis. I really only ever considered buying M her own seat on economy flights, I figured there was enough room in the longroom premium cabins we fly in (and those flights indeed worked out). I’m not the only one who struggles with shelling out the dough for a lap infant.

It can get pretty tight with a toddler on your lap
It can get pretty tight with a toddler on your lap

Our Previous Decisions about Taking a Lap Infant

Here are the economy flights I had to decide for M in her 2 years as an eligible lap infant.

Roundtrip flight to Washington, D.C., 3 months old: This was an easy decision, all she wanted to do was burrow into us all the time so I saw no need to buy her a seat – this flight was no problem whatsoever.

A lap infant at 3 months is much easier than 23 months, in my opinion!
A lap infant at 3 months is much easier than 23 months, in my opinion!

Roundtrip flight to Charlotte, NC, 9 months old: Again, this decision was fairly easy. She still wasn’t mobile, still wanted to sleep all the time, and was still easily satisfied when drinking milk. Not buying her a seat was an easy decision and again it worked out fine.

Roundtrip flight to Charlotte, NC, 15 months old: Still had no problem taking her on our laps at this age. She actually took her first steps on this trip, but before then she hadn’t walked and was okay hanging out on our laps for hours at a time. She also was still a big fan of milk, so I made the decision to take her as a lap infant. This flight was a little rougher than her previous flights, though still manageable.

Oneway flight from Taipei to Hong Kong, 23 months old: I actually changed the flights I had booked while we were still in Taipei. At this point I had seen how curious and excited M had been on our flights to Taiwan, so I knew what I was in for. I was deciding between spending 4500 Avios (technically 4050) and keeping her on our lap – I chose the latter. MISTAKE. And the subject of the rest of this post.

Oneway flight from Chicago O’Hare to Boston, 23 months old: I bought her a seat since I figured we’d be tired from a long flight from Hong Kong, we’d need the space, and there was zero probability there’d be empty seats on the plane on the Saturday after New Year’s. Good choice.

A Few Quick Thoughts on Taipei Taoyuan Airport

We ended up using the Grand Hyatt transfer to get to the airport. We couldn’t get any relatives to drive us so we couldn’t use our rented car seat and I wasn’t comfortable taking a 45 minute drive on the highway without one. Though it cost twice as much as a taxi (2400 NT or $80), using the transfer service was the safest and most efficient way to get to the airport. The hotel took care of getting a car seat (it was a nice and comfortable one too, Cosco) and the car even had complimentary Wi-Fi.

Quick shot from the car of Terminal 1
Quick shot from the car of Terminal 1

When we got to TPE, it dawned on me that it is a really nice airport. I mean, the duty free store has a restaurant and a computer with free internet. Lovely. Beyond that, it’s well designed and very aesthetically pleasing. And I didn’t even get to visit the Hello Kitty check in section!

Go to the right for family security (no queue!)
Go to the right for family security (no queue!)

But what really impressed me about the airport was its family friendliness. There is a separate line for families that was completely empty which really made security a lot less stressful. The airport also didn’t feel overcrowded and was very stroller accessible.

Most importantly, they had these super sweet recliners at the gate!

Taking a break before the flight
Taking a break before the flight

From check in to boarding, I just found TPE to be a very well run airport. Maybe we got lucky, but that was my experience!

Starting the Flight Off Right

So I’ve noticed something ever since we started taking M traveling with us. Even though we are always among the first to board, it feels like time flies before we start pushing back. To be honest, for awhile I thought it was because we were in premium cabins – drinking champagne, playing with in flight entertainment, and testing seat recline controls takes a lot of time!

But I’ve come to realize that it now seems like such a short time from boarding to pushback because we are parents. You have to settle all your bags. You have to pull out all your toys. You have to get all your books ready. You have to disinfect the chair if you are feeling clean. Make a diaper change if you need to. All this while trying to keep a toddler from getting their head bashed in by a roller suitcase lumbering down the aisle.

Things deteriorated pretty quickly on the plane...
Things deteriorated pretty quickly on the plane…

Well, for some reason, on this flight we were even slower getting settled than usual. I was still fumbling in the overhead bin when a nice flight attendant kindly asked me to fasten my seatbelt. I sat down and did so, but M was getting fussy.

“Where are her toys?”

“Oh, they’re in the diaper bag.”

I got up and went back to the overhead bin, and my search started getting more and more frantic as I realized the diaper bag wasn’t there. As my panic was reaching its peak, the flight attendant asked me again, this time more firmly, to take my seat. I took my seat, sweaty and stressed, thinking, “we’re not even pushing back yet!”

Except we were! Honestly I was floored the time had flown by so quickly. I had actually been standing while the plane had started its pushback. Parenthood, I tell you, is like a time machine – you arrive in the future way sooner than expected.

Stickers only go so far (these are awesome though you can restick them multiple times!)
Stickers only go so far (these are awesome though you can restick them multiple times!)

Well, at this point I was in full blown panic, M was on the border of a major meltdown (she hates the lap infant belt), and Jess was like, “You left it in the terminal!? You lost it!??!”

Anyway…a terrible start to the flight. Let’s just say that I ended up finding the diaper bag (I had put it into another overhead bin) – I just didn’t find it until AFTER they had called back to TPE to ask them to look for it. As terms of embarrassment goes, this wasn’t as bad as running across the tarmac, but it was pretty close.

A Crazy Lap Toddler

In my defense, when we booked the flight it wasn’t even 2/3 full. And the flight was on an A340 so there are over 250 economy seats! There were also 8 seats available on miles so I figured the flight was empty. I also had this brilliant idea about seat selection. I picked two seats across the aisle from one another. The seat in the middle section had an empty seat next to it but the two other seats full – I figured nobody would pick that middle seat unless they had to. Which they did, because the plane ended up being full! BACKFIRE.

I chose the circled seats but it didn't work out as I had hoped
I chose the circled seats but it didn’t work out as I had hoped

We decided to stay in our seats across the aisle so she could walk back and forth. That ended up being okay, because when M was squirming only one of us would have to deal with her at a time. It honestly was very tough to entertain her – we used stickers, her headphones, books, everything we could think of, but she was just super bored. And it was only a two hour flight!

We did get served a meal which helped to break up the flight. I was pretty impressed, it was just a rice box but a) it was pretty tasty and b) they managed to service the entire flight in such a short period of time. Cathay is a great airline with great service no matter what class you’re flying in.

This lunch was a nice surprise on our flight
This lunch was a nice surprise on our flight

Overall, I think the stress of “losing” the diaper bag was the worst aspect of the flight, but I still would probably never take a child over the age of 20 months as a lap child again, at least during peak travel season. The worst part is the fact that the kid is just too big, no matter how hard she tried and we tried it was impossible for M not to kick the person in front of her. I felt so bad and so embarrassed and so stupid for not buying that extra seat. But alas, what was done was done.

But this flight overall just felt like we were counting down the minutes until we landed. No inflight entertainment (okay I snuck in one episode of Silicon Valley) and no rest whatsoever. Thank goodness for the duty free magazine – M kept wanting to search it for Hello Kitty products!

Final Thoughts

If you fly enough with your kids, you’re going to end up having a rough flight. This one wasn’t even that bad, but definitely the worst we’ve ever taken with M. I should never have cheaped out and skipped out on a seat for her – she’s just too big to sit in our laps in economy. Lesson learned!

Once again, toddler headphones saved the day. But she's way too big for our laps in coach!
Once again, toddler headphones saved the day. But she’s way too big for our laps in coach!

Other Posts in this Series


United Domestic First and LAX Star Alliance Lounge

EVA Royal Laurel Class Review

Using Public Transportation in Taiwan with a Toddler

Visiting the Taipei Zoo

Eating in Taipei

Grand Hyatt Taipei King Suite Review

A Tough Flight with a Toddler

Public Transportation in Hong Kong with a Toddler

Typical Hong Kong Tourist Activities

Hong Kong Disneyland with a Toddler

Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less

5 thoughts on “Home for the Holidays: A Tough Flight with a Toddler

  1. Dude! for 4050 avios?!? That’s like forty bucks! What were you thinking?!? And that is coming from a dad who NEVER pays for a lap child:)

    1. It’s not even forty bucks with the transfer bonus. sigh.

      The cheapness runs deep, haha! Never again though – lesson learned

  2. Glad you survived and lived to tell the tale! We quit doing the lap baby thing for anything longer than about 2 hours at the 1 year birthday with both kids (and we often bought a seat for my older child even earlier than that because she hated being held for long). Toddlers are just too big and too squirmy. Yeah, it’s expensive, but thank goodness for miles to make it more doable! Can’t put a price on your sanity. 😉

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