Lap Child, Travel Tips

In the air


5 Reasons to fly with a lap child on your next flight

Want to visit family on the other side of the country?  Making the most of your family vacation starts with stretching your travel budget, and that’s where you’re likely to debate the lap child option.  You have until your child’s second birthday before that option disappears.  The question is whether or not the lap child causes so much stress that the cost savings aren’t worth it by the time you land.

We brought our daughter on three flights as a lap child before she turned nine months old, including an international roundtrip that made three stops in each direction.  And we have two roundtrip flights to Hawaii and New Orleans booked before she turns two.

Only you can decide whether your family can handle the lap child experience. 

If you’re still on the fence, here are five reasons why flying with a lap child could be relatively stress-free.

1/Not a real safety issue

Lap seating isn’t a serious safety concern.  Is it better to hold your child in your lap or pay to buckle them into a car seat next to you?  Obviously, the latter is safer, but think of it this way:  aren’t you putting your child in danger each time you get up from your seat for a diaper change? No matter how you fly, you are going to spend a few minutes in the air with your child out of her seat, and just like in life, something could happen.  Frankly, I think getting to the airport is far more dangerous than traveling on a plane as a lap child.

2/No real lap seats on empty flights

If you can get an empty seat next to you on a flight, your lap will be child-free until your flight touches down.  On Southwest Airlines (which has open seating), for example, you can inquire whether the flight is sold out before you board.  If not, grab the seat next to you for your child.  In fact, if you ask, the airline attendants may even allow you to take a car seat on board rather than require you to check it at the gate.  Suddenly, your lap child has everything a ticketed passenger has - minus the ticket.

3/Book a window and aisle seat

When parents book their seats together, it’s a good idea to request the aisle and window seats, leaving the middle seat open.  Middle seats are usually the last to be filled.  If the seat ends up occupied, you can simply offer to switch with the person to either the aisle or window, whichever you prefer.  No one wants to sit in the middle seat, especially if that seat is between parents passing a lap child back and forth.

4/Reserve the bulkhead row

Go for the bulkhead row, and the floor is yours.  The bulkhead row usually has the advantage of providing more leg room.  At a cost of storage space in front of you, you can have a small, contained area for your little one to move around during the flight.  Have the disinfectant wipes ready, though, after they crawl around on the floor.

5/Request free bassinet

Why not!  Check with your airline.  On some international flights, the plane features a bassinet that latches onto the bulkhead row, giving your little one a place to rest that is not on your lap. The free bassinet made our 11-hour flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco a much better experience for our 9-month-old daughter.  With Lufthansa, you have to request this seat assignment that can accommodate a bassinet in advance.

Once you commit to flying with a lap child, here are a few extra tips that can help you make it the best experience possible:

  • Check with your airline about the rules for a lap child reservation and the related baggage policy. On international flights, you likely will be required to pay 10% of your ticket price for the lap child. Domestic airlines typically do not charge an additional fee.

  • Be prepared to provide proof of your child’s age for the airline. The carrier wants to be certain that your lap child has yet to turn two.

  • Try to minimize connections and book non-stop flights to eliminate extra takeoffs and landings that could trigger crying sessions.

  • Also, hold onto your empty water bottle instead of tossing it into the recycling bin. It makes a great toy on a long flight!

Of course, the gap between theory and reality can be as far apart as your departure and your arrival.  Make the decision that feels right for your family and, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the savings and the flight.

Pat Michael is father to a daughter, who’s earned her own frequent flyer number.  He and his family live in Oregon.

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