So, we took our first airplane trip with Charlie this week to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Connecticut. I had a business meeting in Boston on Thursday, so that was a good excuse to come and see them.
I decided not to get Charlie a seat on the plane, but to go infant-in-lap, which is free, because I’m cheap like that. With a single, one-hour flight (no connections), I just couldn’t see spending $300 or 25,000 frequent flyer miles so that he could have his own seat. Especially when this travel option will only be open to us for a few more months. He tolerated the flight up fairly well, for a boy who isn’t keen on the idea of sitting still in our laps for an hour. We’ll see how he does on the flight back tomorrow.
Traveling with an infant does not fit well with my attempts to travel lighter. We brought his pack-n-play, so that he would have a place to sleep, so that’s a good, bulky 25 extra pounds right there. The one place that we tried to economize on the packing was the car seat. This turned out to be a bad plan, which is the main reason that I am writing this post.
Rather than bring along a car seat, we decided to rent one along with our rental car. I figured that this would save us the hassle of lugging the car seat through two airports, plus would provide the convenience of having the seat ready-to-go upon arrival at our destination. It wasn’t cheap — almost $50 to rent the seat for 4 days — but I figured it would be worth it, especially since the trip wasn’t costing us much, otherwise.
So, I was a little surprised when we arrived at the rental lot to find no seat in our car. The guy at the counter in the terminal had called ahead to the lot about the seat, but apparently they hadn’t actually done anything about it. So, Becky went inside to find our seat while I loaded the rest of our luggage. A few minutes later, she came back with a car rental guy carrying the car seat. He informed us that he couldn’t install it; this was not allowed by company policy.
While I vaguely understand the lawyerly reasoning behind this policy, it is completely insane. Installing car seats is not a particularly easy task, which is why most of them are improperly installed. (I have seen this in several surveys, but am too tired to go looking right now.) Asking weary travelers to install an unfamiliar seat in an unfamiliar vehicle is practically begging to have the seats installed improperly, perhaps leading to the injury or death of a child. Training rental company employees to properly install car seats would take maybe two hours per employee. Isn’t the safety of children worth that? I visited the Blacksburg Police Department about three times to have my car seat installation inspected during the first year of Charlie’s life. The first time, I had done a lousy job. By second and third times, though, I had figured it out. (I went back the third time because we had a new model of car seat.)
Moreover, if the rental car company employees were installing the seats, the company would have the incentive to buy higher-quality, easier-to-install seats. What I got for my $50 was a Cosco seat. We went to Walmart on Friday to pick up some supplies and saw virtually the same seat on sale for $50. I’m willing to concede that any seat that meets regulatory requirements is adequately safe, if properly installed. But I can tell you that the difference between the $50 Cosco seat and our $200 Britax seat is ease-of-installation. The Britax goes in and adjusts like a dream; the Cosco seat is more like a nightmare with straps that refuse to cinch down no matter how hard you pull on them.
I don’t know if all car rental companies have this same insane policy — we rented our car from Alamo — but I am not planning to find out. (I’m happy to listen if someone knows of a rental company that will install a car seat for you, though.) Next time, we’ll take our own seat.