The Basics

Flying With Infants

This may not concern most of you, but I know some runners who turn destination marathons into family vacations and many of those families have young children. I thought it might help to share my recent experience when we left last week to come to Greece so that you might be better informed about how the process works.

First of all, whether you fly on a paid or an award ticket, it is free to take a child on the airplane as a lap child (if under the age of 2) – BUT ONLY FOR DOMESTIC FLIGHTS! So, domestically, you can take them and sit them on your lap for no charge. However, you do need to call the airline to tell them the age and name of the child before the flight. Your ticket will need to show that you have a lap child before you can board. It just helps to do it ahead of time rather than at the gate. Also, some planes only have certain rows or one side of the plane that is fitted with one extra oxygen mask than there are seats. Putting the child on your reservation ahead of time helps to minimize delays on full flights if you are in a seat that does not have an extra oxygen mask (otherwise, they will have to start moving passengers around). For domestic flights, it is just that easy and it costs nothing.

International travel is something altogether different. The basic rule is that you pay 10% of the fare at time of ticketing plus any taxes. Typically, this will not be that pricey unless you are booking a complex routing or are flying business/first class. In my case, the fare was around $1860 (because I was flying a one-way and they are more expensive) and taxes were around $20. So, the cost for my son to fly in my wife’s lap was $188. With United, it is really easy. When you are booking award travel, just check that you are flying with a lap infant and it will give you the entire price you pay right at the end. Just pay it and done!

Now, that is how it is supposed to work. But what I found is that sometimes United does not pass along the infant ticket (yes, they need that ticketing number to be allowed on the plane) to their partners with award travel. So, when we got to Chicago, I had to check at the Lufthansa counter because they wouldn’t give me my ticket for Chicago – Dusseldorf in Rochester. It turns out, they had no record of my son being on the flight. They wanted to charge me the walk-up fare for the ticket (10% of it anyway) which, since there was only a first class seat left, meant they wanted me to pay over $1100 for my 9 month old son to sit in a lap! Fortunately, they were very nice and were trying to help – it was just what their computer was spitting out so they had to go with it if we couldn’t find his ticket. I had the original receipt with me (ALWAYS PRINT THAT OUT!) and was able to give them the ticket number for his ticket as it was ticketed with United and they wrote him a ticket. Problem solved! That was really something that I didn’t appreciate, though. It is not my job to have to be the mediator between United and Lufthansa on a ticket which should have processed through. However, it worked out so it was not a big deal. Lesson learned: Always print out your receipts of travel and make sure before the boarding process begins that your infant is already showing on your ticket. We had no problem in Rochester, it was just Lufthansa had not received the proper information to ticket him.

For our return next month, we are flying with Delta. They do not ticket the infant right away, you have to call them and they get the amount from their rate department and then you pay over the phone (or at the airport). Since we are flying business class home, his ticket was going to be quite a bit higher – $368. It seems so silly to pay more for our little guy to sit on a lap that I paid for all of us in taxes for the whole trip, but that is how it works! Well, I called Delta back in August to get the ticket and was told they would send me a receipt I would take to the airport to pay. After two months and not having received anything, I called back in again only to find that they never started the process. This new rep was very helpful, called the appropriate department and took my credit card number and told me I would receive the ticket by November 1 (which happened to be the day I was leaving, but a family member was departing a week later to visit with us so they could bring it). Bewarewith Delta, you have to have an actual paper ticket for an infant – e-tickets do not work! November 1st came but the ticket did not, so I called them before I left to find out when it went out only to be told that it had never been ticketed!!! At this point, I was really not happy. They said I could go to any Delta counter to do it, but I was not going to be near one until our departure and I did not want to wait until the last minute. Fortunately, a relative was able to go to the airport for me to get it done, but it took over an hour and two mistakes before it could get printed. I am a loyal Delta elite flyer but was very unhappy about the whole process (and told them so). It is ridiculous that they cannot do an infant ticket the same way United does (or theoretically does:)). Hopefully, we will be fine!

So, to sum up, here is what you need to do with an infant in lap for an international flight:

  • If you cannot ticket the infant online, call the airline and make sure it gets done
  • Do it right away. The infant fare is based on the ticket price in the cabin you are flying in at the time of purchase (time of purchase for the infant ticket, that is). It is best to do it right away so that you don’t end up paying a ridiculous amount because the lower fares sold out
  • Print everything so that you have proof of ticketing and numbers in case of problems.

Every airline is different – do your homework and figure out what is required. Some airlines even allow you to take a checked bag for the infant! Familiarize yourself with the infant process before you fly.

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.