Air Travel with Your Infant

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a newbie parent like the prospect of a transcontinental flight with a newborn. To maximize your infant’s portability and your sanity, those of us with experience in “parenting while traveling” at CheapAir have put together this three part series on how to guarantee a stress-free flight.

Air Travel with Your Infant

Once you’ve mastered planning, read Part 2, Packing and Navigating the Airport and Part 3, In-Flight Coping Techniques to cover all your infant travel bases. Up first, how to research and book the best flight for your new family.

1. Do your homework.

Know that not all airlines are created equal in the kid-friendliness department.When you’re shopping around, ask questions. Visit different airline’s websites. Be aware of your own travel style and what sort of amenities and services are necessary for you. As the parent, your comfort is as important as your child’s. Many airlines are charging fees for amenities that used to be free. The last thing you want to do is be surprised on arrival at the airport as you’re hit with charges you had not planned to pay.

Airlines allow you to check most strollers free of charge on domestic flights but they should be collapsible if at all possible – please don’t plan to check a charming pram a la Kate Middleton or Mary Poppins. If portability is your main concern, go small on the stroller question. On the other hand, some families like to load one parent up with the luggage and the other with the baby. If this is your preference, a mid-size stroller will hold up better.

Car seats also fly free of charge. A word to the wise – car seats are treated just like any other piece of luggage. The baggage handlers are not concerned that you paid $600 for a state-of-the-art Kushy Tushy Baby car seat. If you care about dings and scratches, you should bring a car seat cover (Southwest will sell you one for $15). You will also have to pay to check your travel crib. The airlines consider it just another piece of checked baggage and negotiation is not an option. We’ll talk more later on how to pack to minimize your airline fees.

Some airlines no longer offer pre-boarding for families. This is not necessarily a disaster (more about this later). There are airlines that position themselves as family-friendly (hello JetBlue!) – others not so much. At CheapAir, your personal travel advisor can help answer any questions you might have about specific policies if the airline’s website doesn’t offer enough information once you have booked.

2. Choose your travel time wisely.

Early flights tend to go out on-time and on-schedule. As the day progresses, there are always problems in the aviation game. Situations come up. There may be another flight with mechanical difficulties. An earlier flight may have been overbooked. A couple of flight attendants could have just called out sick with that nasty flu that’s been going around. It’s basically a numbers game. There is just a greater likelihood that some other logistical snafu can cause your flight to be delayed if you choose a flight later in the day. If you can be on one of the earliest flights out on a particular day, there is a much better chance you’ll find yourself in your destination city on time rather than marooned in an airport with a cranky infant and even crankier airline personnel.

In addition, your little one’s sleep routine should not be discounted in favor of a cheaper flight (trust us on this one). One way or another – you will pay if he or she doesn’t rest on a flight. If you have a baby who sleeps well (a good test is whether or not he or she can sleep in a carrier or sling), you can probably both get some shut-eye on an overnight/red-eye (good to know for transcontinental or international flights, in particular). If at all possible, shorter flights should coincide with approximate nap times to keep your child to his sleeping schedule.

3. Think carefully about buying your baby a seat (or not).

This might be the single-most important decision you will make. We over here at CheapAir are always in favor of saving money, but if it’s in the budget, it may not be a bad idea to splurge for a seat. In this scenario, your baby can sit in the car seat he or she is already accustomed to (a bit more of the routine that often soothes junior in an unfamiliar situation). Unfortunately, there are no longer discounted seats for infants on domestic flights, so you will pay a full fare for this added comfort. And worst-case scenario, your child will want to be in your arms the whole flight anyway.

If you’re on a budget, the lap infant route is still the best way to go. Until your child is two-years-old, he or she can sit on your lap free of charge for all major carriers on domestic travel schedules. This sounds daunting, I know. But even though it seems terrifying to travel with a tiny baby, most little ones are actually pretty portable until they are a bit more mobile. Parents with toddlers know what we mean.

One more important point worth mentioning: please do not assume that you will have an empty center seat between your partner and yourself in which to spread out with your little bambino and all of his gear if you decide to travel with a lap infant. It used to be pretty much standard operating procedure that airlines would situate families in their own aisle – a little cocoon to save them and the other baby-free passengers a lot of headaches on long flights. There are even urban family travel myths out there supporting these scenarios (perpetuated by well-meaning, yet slightly delusional bloggers to this day). One of our favorites is the one in which the family of four was upgraded to an empty first class cabin where they were treated to delicious meals, a visit from the Captain and luxurious service. These days due to rising fuel costs and budget cuts, airlines are running fewer flights and they usually run at capacity. You’re simply not going to get upgraded to first class barring some sort of aviation miracle. Frequent flyers, road warriors and single folks traveling sans kiddos get any exceedingly rare and highly coveted first class seats. Not saying you won’t luck out occasionally with an empty center seat, but don’t bank on it.

Air Travel with Your Infant

Hope this was helpful. Once you’ve booked your flight, you should review Part 2, “Packing and Navigating the Airport with your Newborn” and Part 3, In-Flight Coping Techniques for the definitive CheapAir roundup on infant travel. Please feel free to comment and ask any questions you might have. You can also email us at Ask@CheapAir.com. We love hearing from our readers and customers.

16 Comments

    1. Hi Ankit, Children 2 years old and under (24 months) are considered lap children and do not require you purchase a separate ticket (seat) for them. Unfortunately, 25 months old is just a hair over the age where you can take advantage of the child flying free. There are no discounts for seated children as far as I know on any U.S. airlines. I am not 100% certain for all international air carriers.

  1. Newbie parents flying for the first time from Thailand back home to Canada with a 15 month old. Recommended airlines to check or avoid? This would be October 2017.

    1. Hi Kerri, Great question. No one size fits all answer for you. In general, most of the Asian airlines get high marks across the board on basic customer service (which is probably the best metric to evaluate), much better service standards than a lot of the legacy air carriers. Asiana offers a lot of standard in-flight, family-friendly entertainment (this recent HuffPo article breaks it down nicely: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/april-mccormick/the-worlds-most-familyfri_b_9432892.html). Hard to offer specific airline recommendations without knowing exactly where in Canada you’re flying (to see if service is provided), but a general rule of thumb is that most of the Asian airlines are attentive and put service at a premium.

  2. I have an infant who would fly sitting in my lap which im reading is free…however, when I chose my flight it was $118. When I added the lap child it jumped to 338…..am I missing something here lol please help me understand, I’m a first time flyer.

    1. Hello, 14 months old is considered a “lap infant” but if you purchased her a seat she cannot fly for free. Lap infants only travel free when they sit in your lap for the flights.

  3. At least some airlines do offer discounted fairs for infants with reserved seats. It’s an option on united’s website when booking and they charge half the price. It’s also advertised on southwest’s website – “affordable infant fares” – but I’m guessing you have to call to get that fare.

  4. I heard infants under 2 are free unless traveling outside the country. We are flying from the U.S to Costa Rica in August. Do I need to purchase my baby a ticket as well?

    1. Hi Mandie, Unless you want a reserved seat for your baby, yes. Children under 2 fly as “lap infants” which means they have to fly on your lap for the duration of the flight. If you want to have your baby in a car seat on the flight you’ll still need to purchase a full fare ticket.

  5. I am going to be traveling with a 3.5 month lap child as well as an 8 and 11 year old. I was recently told that because I am traveling with other children Delta may make me purchase a ticket for my infant. Have you hear of this before? Any truth to it?

    1. Hi Cassidy, We’ve not heard of this. If your child is going to be sitting on your lap, you should be good to go.

  6. Not sure that airfare for an infant should be referred to as a “splurge.” While it does increase travel expenses significantly, purchasing a seat to use a government-approved child safety restraint system is the safest option for children. It’s interesting that passengers are repeatedly instructed to stow away loose items from their laps prior to takeoff and landing–but no concern is shown over infants that could instantly become projectiles during severe turbulence or other dangerous situations. Sure, statistically speaking, flying is much safer than driving. However, accidents do occur and parents are putting their children and other passengers at risk by choosing the lap seat option.

    Child safety is nonnegotiable. Thus, infant seat costs should be considered a necessary expense when saving up towards a travel budget. Or at the very least, parents can try to book flights that may not be as busy and request to use an empty seat for their car seat/harness.

    Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommend a separate seat for infants regardless of age. See sources below.

    https://www.faa.gov/passengers/fly_children/
    http://thecarseatlady.com/airplanes/
    https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/pages/travel-safety-tips.aspx

  7. I would love to see CHEAPAIR do a follow up to this article and all articles regarding airlines and child seats. Airlines have different policies regarding infants and toddlers and it is confusing for parents.

    1. Hi Nelson, This is a great idea! Maybe we can do a roundup on policies for an upcoming post. We’ll let you know when it is live!

Post a Comment