Booking My Unborn Child’s First Airplane Ticket

Filed Under: Advice, Family

My wife and I are expecting our third child in late September — or possibly any day I suppose. We’re really quite excited around here. We went on our Babymoon to Aruba back in July, and are now settled in to wait for the little guy to make his appearance.

In other words, we’ve been grounded for a while now.

But just because we can’t fly anywhere doesn’t mean we can’t think and plan upcoming travel. For both of our previous kids, we actually had multiple airline tickets booked for them well before they were born. And we recently booked both a trip home to see the grandfolks over Christmas as well as an international trip next spring.

Babies may not require a seat, but you might want to get one for them anyway
This ticket was booked for her before she was born

This is how we’ve done it.

Lap-Children Don’t Need Tickets

If you want to hold your baby on the flight, you don’t actually need to buy a ticket for them at all. Instead, you declare that they are a lapchild at check-in and for domestic flights, there is no cost. That makes it really easy.

Sometimes we use lap-child policy, but more often we buy them an actual seat. For us, it’s not so much about the safety issue — I think planes are ridiculously safe to begin with — but more about not wanting to hold a baby for a flight that’s longer than about 20 minutes.

And to earn miles of course.

Revenue Tickets Require A Name And Birthdate (Sort Of)

If you buy a ticket for the kiddo, you’ll need a name. And a birthdate for the secure flight info. Now whether those pieces of information need to be accurate is another matter.

It’s sort of funny, but this is usually our motivating factor for picking a name soon after we learn that we’re pregnant. Back in May of 2012, multiple airlines ended up selling tickets for travel from Burma to the US for a few hundred dollars due to a currency conversion mistake. In first or business class.

Our daughter was due in June of that year. We had two candidates for names, and had been debating the merits of each for quite some time. When the mistake fare hit, I told my wife to just pick one so we could put her name on a ticket. So she did, and that’s how the final decision was made.

This time around we had already had the first name picked out for a while. The middle name took longer to agree on though, but  you don’t actually need to put the middle name on the ticket anyway, so that didn’t matter much.

What If I Don’t Know The Name?

I’ve heard that you can ticket them with “Baby” as their first name, and then your last name. I have little doubt that that works fine for the actual flying.

My concern — and the reason I’ve always avoided this — is that I’m not sure how it will work when trying to credit the miles to a frequent flyer program. I’ve always avoided this method for that reason.

I Definitely Don’t Know The Birthdate

The secure flight info requires that you enter a birthdate when booking a ticket. I would think that the best information that you could provide would be the baby’s expected due date, but in my experience entering a date in the future just results in an error. It seems that nobody wants to sell a ticket to someone that hasn’t been born yet.

Instead, I enter the month and day of the due date along with some year in the past and never have a problem. It’s sort of a plausible fat-finger error. And it’s not like the baby exists yet in a government database anyway. I’ve done this many times and never had a problem.

Add The Frequent Flyer Number To The Reservation Later

The other reason to get the babies out of your lap and into a seat is so that they can earn miles.

That means you need to sign them up for a frequent flyer account which likely also requires you to enter a birthdate. Entering a bogus date in this case may not be a great idea. Whereas a ticket is more or less ephemeral, your kid’s frequent flyer account might stay with them for a long time.

Changing The Birthdate Might Be A Pain.

At least in the case of United, “significant changes” to your MileagePlus account require you to send in supporting documentation. That seems to include changes to both names and birthdates.

Requesting a change to a birthdate seems like a pain
Requesting a change to a birthdate seems like a pain

So you might as well wait until after you actually know the birthdate to sign them up for a frequent flyer account and just add the number to the ticket later. There’s no real benefit to doing it early.

Bottom line

The final stages of pregnancy are often filled with more anticipation than action. For those who are used to frequent travel, sitting at home waiting can make you a bit antsy — at least that’s what happens to me.

It doesn’t need to stop you from planning future trips however, including a seat for the new addition.

Ticket mom and unborn baby...  not the guy at the top
Get tickets for mom and the unborn baby… not the guy at the top

I’ve booked multiple tickets for unborn babies, and have never had a problem with this approach:

  • List their projected name
  • Use a fictitious birthday
  • Add the frequent flyer number later

Have you ticketed flights for an unborn baby?

  1. Keep in mind that there is a limit on the number of lap children that can be carried on a flight that varies by the configuration and certification of each individual aircraft. Therefore, waiting until the day of flight to declare a lap child does not always guarantee that they will be able to travel if the quota of lap children has already been reached. Not that this is a major risk, but it is a possibility.

  2. Sean — Sure, that’s theoretically possible. But you’re more likely to run into issues where your seated on the wrong side of the aircraft for lap children, or in the wrong row, or someone else in the row already has a lap child. (There’s at most 1 extra oxygen mask per row, and not all rows have them.)

    I covered my experience with some of that in a previous post.

    This is more about booking revenue tickets for babies.

  3. @DS: this is wrong. For many planes there is a limit of one lap child per three seat row due to the available number of oxygen masks. While this means that the number of lap children is large, it is limited ;).

    In addition, for over water flights there is a (much smaller) limitation due to the number of life vests.

  4. @DS – There is absolutely a limit on the number of lap children and each aircraft varies in its limit. The primary limiting factors as Travis mentions in his subsequent comments is the oxygen masks, but there are other factors also. Not something that one usually has to worry about (in all my years working in this industry, I’ve only ever seen it be an issue once), but it is still a limit nonetheless.

  5. And thanks Sean for sharing your experience. I had never thought about running into the upper bound on the number of lap children per plane. It’s kind of a scary thought actually. 🙂

  6. The early name situation could come back to haunt you if the baby is a different sex than predicted early on which can happen (trust me) and cause extra paperwork but does work normally. Interesting stuff.

  7. My understanding of the rules is that on all flights there is a limit of one lap child per row set due to the number of O2 masks in each row. I believe an airline has to limit the number of lap children on overwater flights due to the number of life jackets onboard.

    As I fly B6 alot, I checked there rules and they say:
    One lap child per adult is allowed. Due to the number of oxygen masks per row, only one lap child is allowed per row of three seats for A321 Core, A320 and E190. The number of lap children per row for A321 Mint is not limited by the number of oxygen masks. In cases of flights that are extended over-water flights, due to the number of spare life vests, JetBlue may have to limit the number of lap children on the flight,Kb=askBlue,case=obj(1939)

  8. We tried the whole lap-baby thing on an AS flight from PDX-LAS…it was hell in heaven. We finally agreed to wait it out until they are 4 or 5 before we put another foot into a gate and board. Of course, YMMV when it comes to babies. Best of luck to ya Travis!

  9. Different a/c have different numbers of O2 masks per row & some alternate per side too. Some have 4, some 5.
    And in the UK (at least) if a human travels (not as crew) they are ticketed from the outset, irrespective of DoB.

  10. My offspring never allowed themselves to be put into seats until past the lap child age. They usually rode on my chest in a sling or in my arms with their little faces tucked into my neck. Usually both the baby and I spent most of the flight asleep in a sort of crammed-into-Y embrace. The landing would wake them up a bit and we’d be on our way.

    People would occasionally remark about how quiet and cooperative they were. I can’t take any credit for that. They were just good kids.

  11. I bought my ticket & boarded on 1st Nov, 2016 from Baltimore to Kansas City, hope to return back on 11th Jan, 2017, with my new born who will be two months. Am expected to pay for additional money for ticket or does the lapchild policy allows me to board with my new born without paying? Pls, Reply urgently

  12. Hello Travis,

    Some compagnies are more accommodating than others even for international flights (when you do have to pay a little bit for a lap child).
    For example, with Singapore Airline, we managed to book on the phone our tickets from Zurich to Brisbane while I was 6 months pregnant. I told them that I wanted to make sure that I will have a bassinet seat as it’s a 24H flight! We new the gender and the name of the futur baby so we gave them but yes we couldn’t guess the birth date, so the sale agent just didn’t put anything and told us to call when baby will be born!
    I tried the same with Emirates and the sale agent just literally made fun of me and said: “but madam, you can’t book a plan ticket for someone who is not even born, this is crazy!”
    Really unhappy about this experience I wrote an email to Emirates and they answered me that even if their agent was rude he was still right to say that you can’t book a plan ticket for an unborn baby!

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