Airline Ticketing Policies for Traveling With a Baby

Mother with her baby boy in an aircraft

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Flying with a baby often means hauling along a car seat and a stroller and tons of other baggage for baby. But if you're undaunted and planning to fly with a baby, it's important to check with the carrier to understand all the rules that traveling with a small child entails. It's a lot faster than taking a long road trip with a baby, but traveling by air is fraught with issues, and you don't want this particular situation to be one of them.

General Rules

The rules among airlines for traveling with a baby can vary by airline, and the rules can change frequently, but there are overall general guidelines regarding tickets for babies.

  • Babies age two and under can fly free on domestic U.S. flights with one paying passenger as long as they sit in the passenger's lap.
  • It is safer for a child to ride in a car seat in the plane, and if you prefer that option, you'll need to pay full fare for a seat for the baby regardless of age. The car seat must be government-approved, with labeling that says it is approved for vehicles and aircraft. You might get lucky and get a discount on this seat, but don't assume that.
  • You'll have to supply proof of age of the baby; a birth certificate is a good way to do this.
  • Infants under the age of two can travel with an accompanying passenger who is at least 16 years old, depending on the airline, regardless of whether the infant is a lap child or has a paid seat.
  • All children two and older must have their own seat.
  • The maximum number of infants per adult passenger is two, with a maximum of one lap baby (infant without a paid seat) per adult. In some countries, such as Canada, regulations permit only one infant per paying passenger 16 years old or older, regardless of whether the infant is a lap baby or in a paid seat. So if you are flying outside the United States, check the rules of your destination country.
  • If an infant not occupying a paid seat turns two after travel has begun, there is a wide range of policies. Some airlines will provide a seat without charging airfare, while others require you to pay for a seat for the child after he has turned two. Some airlines might require you to pay for an entire trip if the child turns two during your travels, and it may work out to buy tickets per direction so that you only have to pay for a ticket one way; this tends to only work for domestic flights.
  • Infants are usually allowed to travel without medical approval as long as they are at least seven days old.
  • Most airlines allow you to check a collapsible stroller at the gate and pick it up as you exit the plane. It is a good idea to check on this before you arrive at the airport, however.

Infant Fares

Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, and Virgin America do not offer infant fares, so if you are flying on one of these carriers, you will have to pay a full fare for your baby if you decide to use a car seat during flight.

Southwest Airlines offers what it calls affordable infant fares for children under two years when they sit in an approved car seat. The fares are not available on the carrier's website; parents must call 800-435-9792 to book infant fares.

American Airlines offers domestic and international infant fares. International infant fares are discounted 90 percent. Parents must call 800-433-7300 to book the fares; it cannot be done on the website. 

Hawaiian Airlines charges full adult fares for infants flying on domestic flights and offers a special child fare for international flights; call 800-367-5320 for these tickets.

International Flights

For those taking an infant on an international flight as a lap child, airlines have different requirements. Infants traveling without a seat on international destinations are charged 10 percent of the adult fare. Lap infants on international JetBlue flights are required to pay applicable fees and taxes and must be issued a ticket displaying the collection of those fees and taxes. On Alaska Airlines, lap infants are charged fees when traveling from an international location into the United States.

Questions to Ask

Beyond the main issue of airfare and car seats, there are several questions that you might want to ask when you are booking your flight. You might like to know if the car seat you are bringing on for the baby counts as a carry-on for you and about pre-boarding and diaper-changing facilities.