Traveling with a Lap Child

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Traveling with a lap child has been a new adventure for me over the past 18 months. I absolutely love the fact that my daughter can fly for free until the age of 2. Although, I know it is somewhat of a controversial issue with safety and what not, I have decided that I am comfortable with my child on my lap. And the intention of this post is to not hit on that controversial issue, but the in’s and out’s of a lap child!

So here are some FAQs on traveling with a lap child:

  1. Until what age can a child fly as a lap child and not have to pay for the flight? Up until their 2nd birthday. This means the day they turn 2 years old they are required to have their own seat on the plane.
  2. What identification is required for a lap child? For a lap child, a copy of their birth certificate or immunization form is required. While many airlines do not check, you are technically required to bring it with you. If an agent does ask for proof and you do not have it, they could possibly require that you purchase a seat for the child, even if they clearly look under 2. If you hear someone telling you that proof is not required, that is NOT true! They are 100% incorrect, although 9 times out of 10 you will not be asked for proof. From my experience and from talking to other moms, Southwest Airlines always asks for proof and other airlines hardly ask. If you are flying international, then the passport states their age, so no other identification is needed. Here are some of the important rules from the individual domestic airlines:
    1. Southwest
      • One child over 14 days old and under two (2) years of age, not occupying a seat, may be carried free of charge when traveling with an adult (12 years of age or older).
      • A birth certificate is required to validate the age of all infants under age two.
      • If you choose to travel with your infant on your lap (at no additional charge) the infant will not need a boarding pass; however, you will need to obtain a Boarding Verification Document (BVD) for the infant. The BVD will allow the infant to board the aircraft. BVDs are available at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter on the day of travel. In order to complete your BVD, the Customer Service Agent will need to verify that your infant has not reached his/her second birthday, so be sure to bring along a copy of your infant’s birth certificate.
    2. JetBlue
      • A child between the ages of three days old until their second birthday is considered a lap child and does not need to pay for a seat. If the child has their second birthday between the outbound and return flight, a seat will need to be purchased for the return flight.
      • Customers traveling with a lap child could be asked for proof of age, such as a passport, birth certificate (copies are acceptable for domestic travel) or an immunization record when the infant’s age is questionable. Infants between three and 14 days old must also have, in the form of a letter, their doctor’s approval to travel.
      • Infants must be traveling with an adult customer at least 14 years or older, and the infant must sit on the adult’s lap during takeoff and landing.
      • A lap child may bring one diaper bag and one stroller and car seat. They do not qualify for the checked baggage allowance.
    3. Spirit
      • From 7 days old until its second birthday (age 7 days to 24 months), a child is considered a lap child and does not need a paid seat; however, customers may opt to buy a seat for the infant if they prefer. If a child has their second birthday between the outbound and return flight, a seat will need to be purchased for the return flight.
      • Spirit reserves the right to request documented proof of age for any traveler 2 years old or younger. Please be prepared to provide documentation (birth certificate, passport, etc.) upon request.
      • Only one lap child is allowed per customer 15 years of age or older.
    4. Frontier Airlines
      • An infant is allowed to travel free of charge on the lap of an adult from seven days old until his or her second birthday.
      • Only one infant per paying adult is allowed to travel as a lap child. If one adult is traveling with two infants, the first infant may travel as a lap child, but a ticket for a reserved seat must be purchased for the second infant to use with an approved car seat.
    5. American Airlines:
      • Infants under two years of age may be held in an adult’s lap at no charge.
      • When one adult travels with two infants, the adult passenger may only hold one infant. An additional seat must be purchased for the 2nd infant.
      • No baggage allowance, however, the following items are allowed over and above the carry-on allowance for the adult traveling with an infant: Approved safety seat for lap or ticketed child (may also be checked), Umbrella stroller for lap or ticketed child, Diaper bag for lap or ticketed child.
      • You may be required to present proof of age (such as a birth certificate) at the airport for any children under the age of 18 who are traveling with you.
    6. United
      • Children under the age of two traveling within the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with a parent or with an adult 18 years or older can travel on the adult’s lap free of charge. If there are two or more children under the age of two traveling with the same adult, only one of the children may travel as a lap child.
    7. Delta:
      • Infants and children less than 2 years old may travel for free within the U.S. if an adult (18 years or older) holds the infant in arms or places the infant in an FAA-approved child restraint during take off and landing.
    8. US Airways
      • A passenger younger than 2 years (24 months) is considered an infant. We will accept an infant as young as 2 days old. Infants must be accompanied by a person 16 years or older or by the infant’s parent (any age) in the same cabin. The infant must be included in the reservation even if he or she is traveling in lap.
      • We recommend that you travel with a birth certificate if your child is younger than 2.
    9. Virgin America
      • Virgin America considers an infant to be a guest under the age of 2 and proof of age may be requested.
      • If you wish to bring an infant onboard, you must be at least 15 years old and we may request proof of your age as well.
  3. If there is an empty seat on the plane, can my child take that open seat? Children are required to sit with their parents, so if you do not have to play musical chairs with the entire plane, then yes, a lap child can occupy an empty seat. Typically the gate agent is able to tell you whether or not it is possible. I personally find Southwest Airlines the easiest with this since there is no assigned seating. This means if there is a seat available it absolutely is yours since you can board the plane prior to half the flight boards with family boarding (or early if you snag an A boarding pass). Knowing whether or not  you have a seat to occupy prior to boarding is huge as that can allow you to take on a car seat instead of gate checking it. If you do not have a car seat for your lap child, you will still need to have them sit on your lap for take off and landing.
  4. Can my child fly as a lap child if they are over two? Technically no. With that being said, not all airlines ask for proof. If you’ve flown that airline in the past though and have entered your childs birthday than they have it on record. I am not advocating this though as you run a fine line and could potentially have to purchase a ridiculously expensive ticket at the airport.
  5. Can a lap child check luggage for free if I have status or a credit card that gives free checked luggage? A lap child does not get the benefit of being able to check luggage under his or her name. For example, if you have American Airlines Gold status you are entitled to one complimentary checked bag per passenger booked on the same itinerary. This means that both you and your significant other can check a bag for free, but your child does not get the benefit. The same goes for Southwest were all passengers get two free checked bags. This benefit does not apply for lap child, only if the child is flying on ticket with their own seat. However, lap children are allowed an extra carry on such as a diaper bag.

Comments

  1. One important note, though, regarding international travel. You do pay 10% of the airfare + some of the taxes for lap infants. Same holds true for both revenue and award travel.
    Also, worth noticing is that larger planes may have bassinets available on longer flights, and those should be requested well in advance.

    • @BOSFlyer – That is correct. This post is geared towards domestic travel. I’ll be putting together a post on international travel at some point hopefully soon. And while I haven’t used a bassinet yet, I’ve heard they are decent.

  2. what if I am travelling on a award-ticket with an infant (3 months old)? I had my award-ticket booked even before the baby was born?

    Thanks for sharing your experience !!!!

  3. In our experience, we were allowed to check a car seat bag for free for our daughter when she sat in our laps on AA, UA, and US. We also stuffed extra diapers and clothes in the bag, partly as padding to protect the car seat and partly just to take advantage of the bag having lots of extra room. Not sure if you would still be able to take advantage of this or not, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

  4. And on a related note, ALWAYS take an umbrella stroller when you travel, up to the time your child is about five or six. I cannot say enough about my wife insisting we take it for our 4 1/2 year old daughter when traveling two weeks ago. Thanks to a maintenance delay, we would up having to really hustle to make our connections in IAH and DEN. Trying to drag or carry a tired toddler through the various terminals would have been horrific, but plopping her in the stroller made it manageable. And it is a free gate check item for the major airlines.

  5. @2thepoints,
    Call up the airline and tell them you’ll be traveling with a lap infant. You’ll provide the little one’s name and your itinerary will be updated.
    Last time we flew on Alitalia, and a paper ticket was issued.
    Finally, don’t forget to apply for US Passport for your kid if travelling out of the country. It may take up to two months for processing.

  6. @BOSFlyer
    Thanks for your reply, we will be travelling out of country. How much $/points did Alitalia charged (in terms of %)

  7. @2thepoints – it’s 10% of standard fare + taxes. Altogether it was around $150. You can estimate the cost on ITA Matrix. You cannot pay for lap infant ticket with points/miles.
    @dealswelike – we’ve used bassinets on both LH and AZ, and they are just like comparing Mercedes to a Fiat. Moreover, on LH they can put two bassinets in the middle section, so two families can sit there, each having an isle access.
    On AZ the bassinet is attached to the middle of the center section, so you are blocked by other passengers on both sides.

  8. We will be traveling with our 1 year old for the first time. It says, A lap child may bring one diaper bag and one stroller and car seat. Does that mean I can bring all these items with me on the plane and I don’t need to check these items to be put under the plane.

    • @Emily – While you can bring all of these items with you to the gate, you will not be able to bring your stroller on the aircraft and it will be gate checked. If you purchased your own seat for your child you can absolutely bring your car seat on board for your child to sit in, as long as it is TSA approved. If you did not purchase your child their own seat, you’ll have to ask the gate counter if there is an extra seat on the plane for your child. If so and they let you then your child might be able to be lucky and get his/her own seat. If not, you will need to gate check your car seat which means put it under the plane.

      • But I can bring an extra carry on such as a diaper bag for her? Do you have any tips on how to secure or properly tag our childs items? I’m a little worried about damage to the stroller and car seat. We will be flying JetBlue.

        • @Emily – Typically when it comes to kids they aren’t counting bags. But, I personally would travel with as little as possible as carrying a bunch of bags, strollers, car seats and a child is a lot!

          I just used regular luggage tags to tag my items. For the stroller and car seat we had a bag for both. This one for the car seat: http://www.amazon.com/J-L-Childress-Ultimate-Seat-Travel/dp/B004BCT784 and I cannot find the one online for the stroller but will update once I find. Many strollers sell a padded bag specifically made for that stroller as well.

  9. I travelled with JetBlue when my son was 7 months old. I carried my purse and diaper bag. The car seat and stroller were checked at the gate. I put luggage tags on both and a ticket agent also came and checked them in with bright orange tags at both departure destinations. They sought me out both times. JetBlue was wonderful to fly with.

  10. Question we have a 9month old and we had to pay a fee
    For her that $100 for the ticket is is also allowed a luggage bag like
    I’m and the husband ?

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