Family Vacation Tips

Can Kids Fly Free

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 24, 2015 8:43:37 PM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

airplane-5Any child under the age of 24 months can fly for "Free". Airlines and travel agents use the industry word "LAPCHILD" to describe a baby or toddler flying seated in their parent's lap. Parents are still required to pay for any taxes associated with a "free" seat for their child. Some airlines may also charge a small fee which usually runs around 10% of the cost of an adult ticket. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets the standards for airline safety in the United States. The FAA does recommend that all children fly seated in an approved child safety seat, BUT... it does not MANDATE the use of child safety seats for babies on airplanes. The word "mandate" is an important one here. Because the FAA does not mandate the use of a safety seat, airlines WILL allow children UNDER the age of 2 to fly "FREE" seated in the lap of an adult.

As a travel industry professional I am often asked my opinion on the matter.  Let me start by saying most airlines cut sales commissions to travel agents back in the 1990's. Whether you buy and airline ticket for your baby or not has no economic effect on my income. Speaking as a travel agent, it doesn't matter to me either way whether you buy an extra plane ticket or not. Some travel agents who still do book just plain airline tickets do charge fees per ticket. Vacationkids does not sell plain airline tickets. We sell airline tickets as part of vacation packages, we do not make commissions on air tickets and we do not charge service fees. The opinions I express here have no bearing on my earnings.

Speaking as the mother of three kids and a former pediatric nurse, I am whole heartedly believe ALL babies and children should be seated in an airline approved car safety seat buckled into their very own airline seat. I HAVE PERSONALLY experienced turbulence at 30,000 feet. Luckily I always keep my seat belt fastened in flight but fellow passengers had to be taken off the aircraft on stretchers when we finally landed. Turbulence can happen without any warning and can catch you off guard. It is my humble opinion that the most loving parent in the world cannot hold and protect a child seated in their lap against the g-forces of a jet flying over 500 mph and suddenly hits turbulence in the sky. That said, as a mom, I too have had many challenges balancing our family's checkbook so I do understand both sides of this story.

Some parents may read this and think, my child is really small fo their age. If it saves us money we'll tell a "white lie" so that we don't have to pay for an extra seat. You may or may not get away with this idea. If you are flying internationally, all passengers must have a valid passport. Every passort is viewed at airport check in.  The TSA requres all ages on ALL passenger air tickets must match their passports exactly. Of course with domestic flights there is no checking of passports but if a gate agent is suspicious of your child's age, you may be asked to prove it with a copy of their birth certificate or pay full, LAST MINUTE prices (which are very expensive). 

Bear this in mind if you are legitimately flying free with a lapchild and your kid happens to be very big looking for their age. Even though you are fully in the right, discretion is in the eye of airport security and the airline gate agent. It's best to be prepared just in case.

A major consideration here too is time in the air. If you are flying more than three hours, having a seat for your child may really help your sanity. On a long flight, you'll both be more comfortable. In addition, your child will be allowed the same baggage considerations. Although many airlines do charge for luggage, many still allow 1 free carry on bag and one item of a personal nature.  This often comes in handy with all the gear you need to schlep when traveling with little ones.

In some families moms & dads may share differing opinions when it comes to free seats or buying an airline ticket for their child. We don't like to see families divided so here are a list of compromises that may

Fly Off Season - Young families with non school age kids or homeschoolers can take advantage of huge vacation deals and discounts by traveling during early May, Sept, Oct or Early Dec or Jan when other kids are in school. Compared to travel during Summertime, holiday or Spring break weeks, the cost difference can often pay for an airline seat for your baby.

Time Your Flights -When you fly off season airplanes are not always full. Often if flights are not full, airlines may allow parents some options. They may allow parents to use their child's safety seat on board and not pay for an extra ticket. The other option is they may seat parents next to empty seats to give lap children and their grown ups a little extra space without the extra charge. Remember, this is often a last minute arrangement and totally up to the good graces of the airline and airport check in staff. Parents can call 24 hours prior to departure and inquire about possibilities.

Shop Around- Instead of flying into a major tourist airport or flying a major airline, compare the cost of a charter airline or flying into a smaller airport. Often good deals can be found that can offset the cost of an additional ticket for your baby.

Vacationkids travel agents can always price a baby vacation for you either way. We can price your baby as a lapchild or price them with their own airline seat. Please know it often will take us a bit longer to get exact pricing for a lapchild. Lapchild fess and charges are NOT listed in all our reservations systems. Often we need to call and confirm with individual airlines.

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Topics: family vacations, Baby Vacations, Affordable Family Vacations

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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