Flying with a lap infant? Here’s what to know

Flying with a lap infant? Here’s what to know

Families can save money on domestic air travel with small children by having them fly as “lap infants.” While this practice has some debate about its safety, most parents appreciate the savings and find their small children often want to be held tightly by their parents anyway.

Deciding when and how to travel with a baby can be challenging. Here are the rules that apply when flying with a lap infant, plus helpful hints that will make flying easier for everyone involved.

Lap Infant Rules

To qualify for flying with a lap infant, your child must be under two years old same as the lap child age American Airlines. Once they turn two, that free ticket goes away forever.

If you’re planning a vacation and your child is nearing their second birthday, moving the date could save money (though flying with an infant and toddler on a lap differs in terms of logistics).

If your trip spans your child’s second and subsequent birthdays, only the outbound flight will be free.

On the return flight, you must purchase a seat for your now-2-year-old at an infant fare (exception: British Airways will give you the same seat at the same price if your child turns 2 during the journey).

Relevant: FAA travelers guide to flying with children

FAA Travel Advisory Circular

TSA Guidelines for Traveling With Infants

Do you wonder if your lap infant can take advantage of empty seats and lap spaces?

flying with a lap infant empty seat

Every passenger fantasizes about having an empty seat next to them, but for parents flying with a lap infant, this becomes even more valuable. If there’s room in the next row and nobody else is, congratulations – you just scored a free seat for your kid without having to shell out any additional money!

Before boarding the flight, make sure you speak to the gate agents and inquire if another passenger will be sitting next to you. If space is available on board, they might help locate a new seat assignment with an empty spot next to it.

If you think an empty seat might be available next to you and have an FAA-approved car seat, bring it with you to the gate. Even if there’s no availability, gate-check your seat for no fee and it will be waiting when you land.

Have the car seat ready for your under-2-year-old in case there’s an empty seat next to you.

Luggage Allowance for flying with a Lap Infant

Infants flying on paid tickets have the same baggage allowance as adults on paid tickets, however, this does not apply when your under-2-year-old is flying free in your lap.

On most U.S. domestic airlines, children who do not occupy a paid seat are not granted a checked baggage allowance. Their luggage will be checked with their parents’ and any extra fees charged by the airline may apply.

Families can easily check car seats without incurring an extra fee. Strollers may come on board or be gate-checked depending on size at no additional charge and won’t count against your baggage allowance regardless of whether your child is flying as a lap infant or paying for their flight.

Most airlines allow you to bring a diaper bag on board in addition to the airline’s regular carry-on allowance (with the exception of Alaska Airlines, which does not extend this generous policy for lap infants).

Southwest Airlines is a favorite among families due to its generous luggage requirements. All passengers with paid tickets get two complimentary bags per person, making checking bags with no fee an incredible convenience. Parents know how much extra stuff needs to be packed when traveling with children, so knowing you can check bags without incurring a fee makes a world of difference when planning your journey.

Traveling with More than One Lap Infant

Father holding his baby daughter during flight on an airplane going on vacations. Baby girl drinking formula milk from the bottle. Air travel with baby, child, and family concept.

The strict rule is one lap infant per adult.

As a solo adult traveling alone and having two or more children under age two with you, you must purchase a ticket for each child (and receive a gold medal upon completion of your journey).

Two adults traveling together (or an older teen with an adult) can have two lap children accompany them, which is ideal for parents of twins or kids born close together.

Be prepared if the flight attendant tells you that you cannot sit next to each other in a row due to limited oxygen mask space. On most aircraft, only one lap infant is permitted per row.

Lap infants are strictly prohibited in emergency exit rows or those directly adjacent to or behind them. On some aircraft, there may be additional rows that prohibit lap infants.

If you’re traveling with an infant and the aircraft offers bassinets, be sure to book that row if available. These typically come standard on international flights but might also be available on domestic flights with aircraft that have been configured internationally.

Passenger discounts on international flights for lap infants

Most international flights allow children under 2 to travel as lap children, though with one important distinction – usually at an additional cost.

On a revenue ticket, you are typically required to cover taxes and fees for your lap infant in addition to up to 10% of the fare. While this may not seem like much at first glance, it can add up quickly.

For instance, when I took my then-3-year-old and 11-month-old to London, the paid children’s fare was only $376 round trip.

Had I chosen not to purchase a seat for my baby and have him fly as an infant on my lap, the taxes and fees would still have cost around $150. For just over $200 more, however, I was able to secure him his own seat on these seven-hour flights – saving both my back and sanity in the process!

When adding a lap infant to an airline ticket using miles, the amount charged varies significantly and depends on which airline you select.

Aeroplan has long offered a flat cost for lap infant award tickets that used to range from $50-$125; however, their program is set to get even better with the introduction of their new program: Lap infant ticket awards will now only cost 25 Canadian dollars ($18.64) or 2,500 miles!

Some airlines, like Cathay Pacific, charge up to 25% of the adult fare plus taxes and fees.

In a premium cabin, that fee could easily run up to four figures just to hold your baby in your lap. (Air Canada has had some system issues where they’ve been waiving the fee at times.)

Most airlines charge you 10% of the adult fare when booking an international ticket, or British Airways charges 10% plus taxes and fees for miles redeemed plus fees. Since ticket prices fluctuate, make sure your child is added as a lap infant at the lowest available rate — which may be when you first book your ticket.

When flying with a lap infant to somewhere nearby, such as Mexico or the Caribbean, JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska are great options because they don’t charge an additional percentage of adult fares for international flights with lap infants – just taxes.

Contrast this with United Airlines, which charges 10% of the fare for lap infants plus taxes and fees even to Mexico (though not Canada).

Where Lap Infants Cannot Sit

In addition to emergency exit rows or those immediately before or behind them, some seats are off-limits to infants – particularly those who have an assigned seat with a car seat installed.

Unfortunately, airbags can sometimes be installed in some lap belts. You might find this in business- or first-class seats or the first row of economy seating; however, these aren’t set-in-stone rules – it depends on which airline and aircraft you board.

On United Airlines, child safety seats or restraint systems are not allowed in United Polaris business class on 767, 777, and 787 aircraft.

Tips for Flying with a Baby

Bring ID for TSA flying with child identification
Most airlines require proof of age for your lap infant when checking in.

Documents necessary for international travel after your baby’s birth include a birth certificate, passport, or sometimes hospital or immunization records. Most airlines won’t ask you for this information unless your infant looks like an older toddler who could have already passed their second birthday. Nonetheless, if you plan to travel internationally after your infant arrives, they’ll need their own passport anyway.

If you arrive at the airport counter without documentation for your baby, airlines could theoretically require you to purchase a regular seat for them. Not only are same-day flights expensive but there’s also always the risk that seats may be sold out.

Southwest is known for requiring proof of age for everyone – even newborns! So be sure to keep your documents with you at all times; carry a copy in your luggage or save a picture on your phone in case there are any issues later on.

Time can play havoc with your baby’s sleep patterns

Babies usually sleep a lot, just not always when you expect them to.

When booking flights for your baby or toddler, try to time them around their sleep schedules. Longer flights may need to be close to their bedtime or an overnight red-eye flight may provide better chances for them to rest for part of the journey. For shorter day flights, aim for times that coincide with regular naps in order to maximize naps during transit.

However, an overtired baby may struggle to fall asleep on a plane, particularly if they’re in an unfamiliar environment. If you feel there’s no chance for them to sleep through the night on board your flight, there is nothing wrong with taking that daytime flight as rested and prepared as possible.

Change Diapers Before Boarding

Changing diapers in an airplane bathroom can be a hassle, and delays on the runway could put you behind schedule. Therefore, it’s wise to do a quick change before boarding in order to reduce how many changes you need to do while on a flight.

Feed during Takeoff and Landing

Have you ever experienced how your ears pop on a plane, then yawn or chew to make the sensation go away? Well, babies haven’t mastered this art yet of equalizing their own ear pressure yet, making takeoff and landing particularly uncomfortable for them.

Feeding them during this period can help relieve pressure, as the sucking motion they make will help their ears adjust to the new environment.

Pack Extra Earplugs

No matter what you do, babies will cry on flights. To make it less painful for those around you, bring and distribute extra earplugs if desired. Parents often opt to make small goodie bags as a gesture of friendship toward other passengers in an effort to gain their sympathy and understanding.

Don’t feel obligated to do this; it is simply an option if it helps reduce your anxiety about the trip.

Decide On Seating Options Before Boarding

Prior to taking your baby out on board, it’s essential to plan and determine the most comfortable place for them to sit. Think about whether or not they prefer snuggling up with someone or are more contented in a car seat.

Your child’s seating arrangement is ultimately up to the parent and child. Just remember that if you want them in a car seat next to you, then booking an airplane seat for them is necessary.

Related: 6 Tips for Selecting the Ideal Airplane Seat Every Time

Minimum Age to Fly

Airlines have different minimum ages for flying. Some allow you to theoretically take your baby onboard the day they are born, while others require at least a week or two old. Furthermore, some airlines will require parents with young children to present a doctor’s note giving them permission.

Beyond the regulations set by an airline or your doctor, how young is too young to fly?

Candice Dye, a pediatrician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, recommends waiting until your baby is between two and three months old before starting breastfeeding.

“Since they have already received vaccinations at this point,” she explained, “even if they do get sick after the flight, they may require less invasive care.”

Yes, there are times when flying with newborn babies is unavoidable – such as after adoption or to visit family or for work purposes.

When making travel plans for your child, it’s essential to take into account their immunization status. If possible, wait until after at least some of their immunizations have been completed before taking them away, if possible.

Bottom Line

Although spending an extra few hours in the air might not always be the most comfortable way to fly (for adults), it can certainly help keep travel expenses low.

Many babies prefer sitting on their parent’s laps, especially if the mom is nursing anyway, so buying a seat may prove unnecessary.

However, until your child turns two years old, the final decision rests with you — and this equation may change as babies mature from lap infants to lap toddlers.

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