To Lap Child, Or Not To Lap Child — That Is The Question

Filed Under: Kids

In case you missed it, I’m testing out the idea of adding contributors to the blog. This isn’t intended as a means of replacing me (hopefully), but rather as a way to add new and interesting perspectives, which I think you guys will enjoy.

My first new contributor is my good friend Travis, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. I’ve known Travis for years, and don’t know anyone else who travels the way he does. He gave an overview about his family and approach to travel last week, so please check that out if you haven’t already!

The lap child rule has to be one of the greatest deals of all time when it comes to air travel. It’s sort of like an All You Can Jet pass that is given to you on your birth day and is valid for two years. It’s unlimited. And domestically at least, it’s unrestricted. Oh right, there’s this one little caveat….

You have to find an adult who is willing to, you know, let you sit on their lap for an entire flight!  

OK, and you don’t earn miles. That’s kind of a bummer. But:




What could be better?

Flying with a lap child.
Flying with a lap child.

All jokes aside, flying with lap children is a somewhat controversial topic, mostly due to concerns over safety. I’m not saying you should or should not lap-child, but it’s worth being aware of the policies.

Personally, my family has done a little of both; sometimes we buy a seat, and sometimes we lap-child. It just depends on the circumstances such as how long the flight is, and how much the extra seat would cost. It’s a cost-benefit analysis, as always.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to address the most common questions surrounding this policy.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive reference on the topic, but rather some tidbits that we’ve learned along the way.

Where can I sit?

Since you must be at least 15 to sit in an exit row, that immediately precludes lap-children. And that makes sense because it would be pretty hard to open a 40 lb door without dropping the baby.

A much more subtle rule is that there can only be one lap child per row per side of the plane. The reason for this is that there is only one extra oxygen mask on each side. Now even this gets tricky—some equipment only has the extra mask on one side, and on a few aircraft, they are only in designated rows (which of course, are not marked!)

So if the flight attendant tells you that you can’t sit there with a lap child, this is quite likely the reason. Also keep in mind that this rule can bite you even if you’ve done your homework and chosen seats on the proper side of the plane for the given equipment – you never know when the person next to you will have a lap child! (The reason for this is that as you’ll see next, most lap children on domestic flights aren’t declared until check in.)

How do I declare a lap child?

For domestic flights, it’s really simple. At the check-in counter, just tell them that you have a lap-child.  For some airlines, it’s possible to declare a lap-child at time of booking, but we’ve never done that for domestic flights.  The agent may ask for the child’s name and birthdate, but no formal identification is required. (You can leave the birth certificate at home, unless you’ve got a big kid who looks like he could be over two and you want to be able to provide proof.)

No charge for a lap child on a domestic flight.
No charge for a lap child on a domestic flight.

What about international flights?

This is a much different ball game. Lap children are typically charged 10% of the adult fare for international flights.

Now this opens up a bit of an ambiguity since there is no single adult fare for the flight. Is it the fare you paid? Is it full fare for the cabin? This can depend on the airline, but most of the time it’s 10% of the fare you paid.

I recommend ticketing the infant at the time you book your ticket such that you pay 10% of the fare you paid.

(If you wait to declare the infant until check-in, you could end up paying 10% of full fare, which could means the lap-child fee could be more than the price of your ticket!)

Lap child fee for an Economy revenue ticket SFO-NRT
Lap child fee for an Economy revenue ticket SFO-NRT

Remember that all children traveling internationally require a passport.

What about international award tickets?

This is the real gotcha in the lap child world. The lap child is still generally charged 10%, but now the adult ticket has no fare basis, so it can be unclear how much you’ll pay.  It could be 10% of the lowest fare available in your ticketed cabin, or it could be 10% of full fare for the cabin. And that can be a lot, especially if you fly in business or first. In the example below, United was charging 10% of the lowest fare for the cabin.

Lap child fee for an Economy award ticket SFO-NRT
Lap child fee for an Economy award ticket SFO-NRT

Lap child fees in premium cabins can be pricey

Lap child fee for a First class award ticket SFO-NRT
Over $1000 for a lap child in United first on SFO-NRT!

Maybe this is why Ben is single???

Do they get a meal?

Generally not on US carriers. Lap children are not included in the catering, but you could ask if there is an extra meal available.  There are some international carriers that will provide a small lap child meal if requested.

What if the flight is empty?

Can I bring the car seat onboard and use it? Well, that depends. Technically, I can only assume the answer is no. One option is to ask the GA. Maybe they’ll say yes, but if they don’t, well, you were told.

The other option is to take your car seat on-board anyway.

Now I would only advocate doing this if you have checked the seat map religiously, know that the seat next to you is empty (that’s what mobile apps are for), know that the standby list has already been cleared (again, mobile app), and are mostly convinced that the seat will remain empty. Because if you end up guessing wrong, you get to make the walk of shame back to the boarding door with all those other people who brought more crap than they could fit in the overhead bins. And if it’s just you with the kiddo, you get to do that while trying to wrangle your child. Not so fun. But potentially worth the risk.

Is flying with a lap child safe?

Like I said at the start, everyone has their own opinions on that topic. From the earliest years, I rode between my parents on the front bench seat of our Plymouth Valiant.

I guess I survived.

Is lap-childing less safe than sitting in an FAA-approved rear-facing child restraint? Sure, but I try not to get caught up in the physics of small numbers.

Is it worth it?

Again, only you can decide that. Our experience is that it is relatively easy to fly with infants during the first six months.

They sleep a lot. They can sleep anywhere. And they like white noise. (Apparently airplanes generate such high quality white noise that they now make apps which simulate airplane noise to help you sleep at night!) So lap childing at this age is pretty easy.

As you approach the age of 2, the game changes. You are no longer holding a little blob who will pretty much melt into your chest, but rather an opinionated little woman (or opinionated little man) who may or may not enjoy sitting on your legs for hours on end.

We took a short 1-hour flight recently when our daughter was 22 months… she was sleepy due to the bedtime hour, and she managed to watch Frozen the entire time. Even though she’s not that big for her age, she still spilled from my wife’s lap to mine (I think I got the feet.)

What about other countries?

This is where it can get obscure. We once had a BMI flight from London to Dublin where the flight attendant insisted that our 1-year be attached to my wife using something like a seat-belt extender. She claimed it was the law.

Now this probably would not have been such a big deal except for the fact that my daughter actually had a paid seat, and her car seat (Graco infant bucket) was securely installed next to us. So rather than fly rear-facing in her FAA-approved car seat, the BMI flight attendant was adamant that my wife take her out of the car seat and lap-child her for takeoff and landing. Because it was safer, she said.

Makes no sense to me, but the point is that as you travel around the world with your kids, sooner or later you will find policies like this that seem ridiculous. And you too will be faced with making a scene –  being that parent—or just doing as you are told. I assure you, I’m not always the latter.

Is there a minimum age?

I believe most airlines say one week. But I would rather discuss that with my doctor rather than rely on the policy of an airline. I believe our kids were about six weeks old at the time of their first flights.

Will there be a bassinet? Who gets to use them?

This is a hard question. Most of the bassinets I’ve seen were on international carriers. Anecdotally, it seems that carriers of other countries go out of their way more to accommodate those traveling with kiddos.

For example, we flew Thai on some regional flights with two lap children. Upon seeing the kids at check-in, they proactively switched our seats to those in a bulkhead. (We didn’t need a bassinet, but those were available too.) Among the US carriers, those bulkhead seats are generally considered premium and assigned (or sold) long before the day of departure.

The bassinet weight limits tend to be on the small side, so there’s a fairly narrow window in which to use them.

Do I get extra an extra carry-on bag allowance for the lap-child?

Most airlines allow a diaper bag at no extra charge in addition to the carry-on bag allowance.

I hope this primer on lap-children was helpful.  I’ll also have a follow-up post in the future with more specifics regarding booking infants on award tickets.

I’ll try to answer any questions you may have.  And I’m also curious — do you lap-child? How did it go?


    “Jan Brown, the lead flight attendant on Flight 232, has led an unsuccessful campaign to get the Federal Aviation Administration to end the practice of allowing children under the age of 2 to travel on a parent’s lap without a ticketed seat. She is haunted by the memory of a 22-month-old lap child who died in the crash.

    ‘It’s heart-wrenching after 25 years,’ said Brown, now 73. ‘How truly pathetic that you can still take a lap child, the most vulnerable of our population, and risk flying with them on our lap.'”

  2. I do not recommend bassinets at all. First, they are used over and over by every baby that goes in the plane so you can imagine how “clean” they are. If you want your baby to get sick, go ahead and use it. Also, babies are not allowed to stay in the bassinet if the seat belts sign is on. Thus, in every single small turbulence you have to take the baby from the bassinet and he will for sure cry. We always had our kids under 2 years old on our laps and it worked well. You get tired but I feel more comfortable to have them with me than in a bassinet.

  3. We are traveling on Turkish airways from SFO-IST in Business next year. Our child will be almost 14 months old. We got him his own award seat. What product do you recommend using to secure him in his own seat?

  4. The lap child policy tends to infuriate me, so I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Why do I have to spend $500 on a ticket for myself, yet the lap child sitting next to me is most likely causing annoyance or inconvenience by crying, yet [the parent’s] didn’t pay a dime to be there? This is not to say that all babies cry on planes, I’ve encountered many well-behaved babies.

    I mean, we have to pay a fee to have a pet in cabin when traveling, why is a child a different case? The whole policy has just never made much sense, and to say it’s a great ‘bargain’ for the parents at the expense of the ears and comfort of other paying customers is unfair.

    Yeah, I’m that guy, someone had to say it… Flame away! 😀

  5. We just flew South African Airway with our 7 month old grandson (and his parents). As you stated, his fare was 10% of his parents fare but in addition, he was able to bring two pieces of luggage – a travel Pack ‘n Play as well as a large suitcase. They also brought a stroller and a car seat.

  6. Highly recommend the CARES harness. We just started using this after our daughter turned 2. It’s not so much about safety for us really, it’s that she’s conditioned by the harnesses on car seats and this feels like familiar rules. So she stays sitting down and doesn’t throw tantrums and want to run around just when they turn on the Seat Belt signs for turbulence. We added a couple of terrycloth wraps around the shoulder straps from her baby seat, so it’s a little more comfortable on her neck. Plus it folds up and fits in our carryon when we are done.

    We used to carry along a car seat mainly so we’d have one at the destination. Then we discovered Hertz gives you one for free, if you rented using the AAA discount.

  7. A birth certificate is absolutely required (or some other form of identification proving the child is under 2). Now, whether or not they actually check is a different story. Southwest Airlines always check, so definitely DO NOT leave that birth certificate at home!

  8. There may not be a lot of Southwest flyers here but I have flown them quite a bit with my son and you absolutely DO need a birth certificate each time you check in with a lap child on Southwest. Even when he was a tiny infant they still had to see it. So the legacy carriers may not need to see it but for anyone thinking about taking a lap baby on Southwest — absolutely do not leave home with out that birth certificate!

    @Austin, seat belt extenders are prohibited for lap children in the US.

  9. “To lap child” is not a verb. Can’t we as adults all agree to constuct sentences normally, instead of trying to sound cute or hip?

  10. +1 (actually, +2 because we used it for both of our kids) on the CARES Harness.

    That said, on the general topic of lap children, I would argue that avoiding the issue as you did is inappropriate.

    Inherently, it is not safe to have a lap child, and it should be discouraged.

    Just like a child sitting unrestrained in a car is dangerous.

    Not only is a lap child unsafe for the child, the child is unsafe to passengers around them if they fly around in turbulence or in the event of an emergency. Does your cost-benefit analysis include the risks to others? It should.

    If you can’t afford to buy your child a seat, you should choose another destination or another means of travel. Is that discriminatory against low income persons? Sure. But by that argument, parents could also choose not to buy a car seat, which every state now requires.


  11. I completely understand Chase’s point. If airlines did not have this benefit for children under age 2, I’d think lesser babies would be travelling.
    Since there is this great deal, of course people would take advantage of it! I know of families who specifically travel to other countries right before their kid turns 2 years of age. Overall, the crying doesn’t really bother me since I can easily sleep anywhere at anytime. However, for most people it can be annoying.
    Personally, for me, when I have kids I’ll only travel with them after age 5 when they’re potty trained and a stroller is not needed anymore. I still remember the first time I entered an airplane at age 6 and I love the fact that I can remember that moment.

  12. Southwest does require ID and they’ve checked ID for my lap children nearly every time (even for newborns who are obviously not nearing the 2nd birthda)y. Southwest is also a bit different when it comes to claiming that extra seat for your lap child on planes that aren’t full. I always check with the gate agent and if a plane isn’t full, I’ve always gotten the go ahead to bring a car seat on board for my lap child. Since Southwest is open seating, you don’t have to worry about a specific seat being assigned to someone else – just claim it and it is yours.

  13. I’m also slightly irritated by the fact I have to spend $125 (on United) and give up my leg room to fly with my dog yet children under 2 who are bigger then my dog get a free ride.

  14. I just had to pay nearly $600 for a lap chip one way from tokyo to us in economy on AA on an award reservation. Brutal. Also didn’t realize that Cathay requires 20% which makes one redo the award cost math when you have a family reservation in Buisness class. Consider yourself warned.

  15. I learned my lesson with a slightly older lap child (10 months old). It was fine when our kids were under 6 months old, in general, but that one trip really killed it for me. Ever since, we’ve bought seats for both kids and had them strapped into car seats until they were older. We, as parents, and the kids were ALL much happier when traveling.

    @Joey – I know several people who have said they wouldn’t travel with kids before age such and such, and then they had kids. Easy to say that when you’re without child. Also, “fewer babies” not “lesser babies,” unless you mean the babies flying would be of lesser stature, ability, or quality in some way.

  16. What is the policy generally on upgraded domestic flights? I want to use some upgrades to fly SAN-JFK and have a 17 month old. I don’t recall ever seeing a lap child in domestic F. Maybe Ben can shed some light on this, considering he flies F on AA all the time.

  17. @Dave – Cathay actually charges 25% lap fee. I believe they are the only airline that charges more than 10%. I was planning on taking a trip in first class to Thailand on CX and when they told me that I had to pay $4k for my baby to fly on my lap, that was a deal breaker.

    Instead, I settled on paying $1200 lap fee to fly in first class to Europe on AA metal. Highway robbery either way.

  18. @austin I don’t believe they would allow a seatbelt extension to be used with a lap child. When we were flying in Europe last year with our son they actually had a great system/belt that looped through our seatbelt and then wrapped around our son like it was his own belt. It was great.

    In general we get asked about 75% of the time for either a passport or birth certificate for our son (regardless of the airline, SWA, AA, United). It’s not 100% of the time but it is enough that we always have his passport with us. Better safe than sorry.

  19. @gary Yes, just like you when we went to Europe & Asia as well, LH provided us with a seat belt extension that secured the child outside of your own seat belt so as not to injure the child if they were buckled in your own belt. Are you saying that US carriers don’t provide this extension belt?!?

  20. @Austin – The extension belts not only aren’t provided in the US, but they aren’t allowed. Either you hold the kid in your lap (no baby carriers like Ergos or Bjorns allowed either) or you strap the kid in a properly installed car seat. I’ve always considered it so weird that Europe and the US are on such different pages about this.

  21. Can’t tell you how many times someone has flown from the US to Canada and when I checked them in for their return Canada-US flight, the infant taxes have not been paid.

    “But we weren’t charged on the way here,” they say. That is because Canada does not charge a tax for infants. The XA $5 and the XY $7 taxes apply to infants when flying into the US (both related to US Customs).

    It is always so comical to collect that $12 and explain that it is their own country that wants to make a buck off their lap child, and that we didn’t charge them anything to enter our country.

  22. @Leslie Thanks! That’s incredible; I wholly expected that a belt would be provided. So if there is a sudden drop in alt your kid’s up in the air! Bringing a car seat really defeats the purpose of a *lap child*!

  23. The only time I lap-childed was on award tickets and only then after checking to make sure the flight was relatively empty. It worked out well at first and I was excited about all the miles we were saving. A bunch of times both Alaska and United let me bring my son’s car seat on board and use an empty seat next to me. One time though AS called my bluff and I was stuck holding my then 12-month old (who was at this points very used to being in his own seat) in my lap for a 3 hour what-turned-out-to-be-oversold flight from SEA-ANC. He bit me. That was the end of that.

  24. Even as a dad having benefited from the lap-child policy on both domestic and international flights, I do agree with the sentiment that it is unfair for kiddos to travel free (or cheaply) while pets have to pay a fare to fly. I would be happy to see that all babies are required to pay a small fare, such as the 10-20%, even on domestic flights. I would even prefer that airlines segregate all little kids to the back of the plane and then section it off with a soundproof curtain. For the peace of mind that my family isn’t disturbing other passengers unnecessarily, I’d be glad to fly in the back of the plane.

    Totally agreed with @gobluetwo on the mentality change. Many of us hated “those parents” until we had kids and realized that we couldn’t live a “normal” life without making some compromises. Sorry. And sorry. It’s also important to note that air travel may be a necessity rather a leisure for people. For example, you have to see your dying grandma on the other coast and can’t leave a 6-month old home alone.

    Those without children also may not realize that it may practically make more sense to lap vs. seat a child. For one, car seats simply may not fit into an airplane seat, especially on the domestic US carriers. We tried once with the smallest car seat that we found in the stores, and had to jam it into the purchased UA seat, causing the person in front unable to recline (so other passengers may actually not prefer babies to have their own seats). Secondly, I don’t think the standard seat belts would do much for even a toddler… so being in a parent’s arms is potentially safer. Finally, a small one often cannot sit still and may end up “wasting” a seat for the majority of the flight.

  25. @Brandon:

    No charge for a lap child on domestic flights in any cabin. So no problem using your upgrade. (The photo at the top of this post was actually taken on an upgraded domestic flight!)

  26. @Vicente:

    We have the CARES harness. But we tend to bring our FAA-approved car seats on-board. That’s what has worked best so far, but with kids, it’s a constantly changing situation. What works one trip might not work the next. So we reevaluate constantly.

    I’ll have a separate post about travel after age 2.

  27. @Veejay:

    Around our kid’s first birthday, we put them in Radian Diono car seats. These are FAA-approved, so we’ve brought them on-board. Works well, our kids like them. Yes, they are large, but we have ways of dealing with that. If your kid is still small enough for a ‘bucket’ style car seat, I would bring that if it is FAA approved.

    I’ll have another post about kids flying in their own seat which will hopefully cover some of this.

    Have a good trip!

  28. I didn’t intend to get into a discussion of whether the lap childing was a good thing or not — the reality is that I find the lap child rule very arbitrary.

    Think about it this way — the requirement to ride a roller coaster is based on height. If you’re under 4 ft tall, you don’t get on the ride regardless of whether you are 3 or 30. Many hotels limit dogs to under a certain weight. Nobody cares if your Great Dane is only a puppy…. it’s either under the weight limit or it’s not.

    So what does age have to do with whether a kid needs a seat on a plane? Wouldn’t it seem to make more sense to make the distinction based on height or weight?

    We actually didn’t lap child very much at all for a variety of reasons. But the reality is that most people do. In fact, we’ve had problems where gate agents just assume that any child who is obviously under the age of 2 is a lap child! It has caused confusion on multiple occasions. I would say that those of us who buy seats for kids under 2 are very much in the minority.

    Overall, my goal is to help people be aware of the policies and make informed decisions on the topic. It’s an interesting (and controversial!) policy worth being aware of.

  29. We always gate check our carseat since I’ve had mixed experience with checked luggage. While we’re boarding I ask politely if there’s an extra seat. This works well when traveling with a partner since one person is next to the baby and the other can sit anywhere.

    Our daughter has traveled as a lap child so far since we booked most flights before she was born. As she gets closer to one and is more active, I definitely see the benefit to her having her own seat.

  30. Another great point Travis is if the child is under 2 on the outbound. You can return after the second birthday for free as long as it’s a round trip ticket.

    I think children are free because it seems greedy to charge for some one who’s not talking up a seat on the plane. Although probably left over from the olden days of not nickel and dimming for everything.

    And dogs are not people… so pay for your luggage like everyone else

  31. The Jan Brown story is fascinating!

    I applaud her efforts and have no doubt that the experience was traumatizing. But her case and these news articles are neglecting some really important facts about the crash:

    – fatality among the seated adult & children passengers was 39%
    – fatality among the lap children was 25% (3 out of the 4 survived!)
    – the only lap-child death was caused by smoke inhalation, which a seat or any type of restraint was not going to prevent

    Now, it’d be ridiculous to conclude that children are better off being on a lap. But the unfortunate incident actually does nothing to support the need to mandate child restraints!

  32. @Chase: don’t worry, I’m sure you’re probably an annoyance to your fellow passengers as well. Jesus, people. Get over it. Children exist. They aren’t going anywhere and they will be on planes every now and then. Despite what you think, they’re HUMAN BEINGS…that doesn’t change just because you dislike all of them…and flying with your child isn’t an OPTION like traveling with your pet is. You can’t board a child like you would a dog, or leave them at home with some kibble the way you could a cat. DUH. Maybe that’s why airlines make it easier to bring CHILDREN on board over ANIMALS (that’s for you @TheLamb). When people travel to family functions or to see aging/ailing relatives, they HAVE to take their child on a plane with them and they might be under the age of 5. Children are children. If you don’t like them, don’t have them…and if you’re going to be a douche about their existence, DEFINITELY don’t have them because you’ll probably breed more douchery and the world has seriously reached its douche-limit already. (that’s obvious)

    Consider yourself flamed, Chase.

  33. Having done a few flights with a baby/toddler now, here’s my perspective:

    – In theory the lap child is a great idea, but it’s a nightmare on a flight longer than three hours. Highly recommend buying a seat for the child – extra room for him/her and you
    – While many car seats are rated for airplanes, the reality is that in today’s economy seats the vast majority will not fit. This is the first I’ve heard of the CARES harness, but will definitely look into it for our next trip.
    – The last time we flew, we tried the car seat on one leg, and checked it on the second… at which point it was promptly lost for 10 days (which defeated the purpose of bringing it along on the trip). We belted our child in, but were advised by the flight attendant that it was safer to hold the child in our arms.
    – For babies, best to feed during takeoff and landing (to prevent ear ache) – tough to do if not in your lap
    – Even when I was single, I’d preferred to have a child in the seat next to me than a 400 lb “muffin top” with his belly oozing over the armrest snoring loudly throughout the flight. I have flown many flights without crying children, but never a flight without an obnoxious, loud, entitled adult determined to ruin the flight for the rest of us.

  34. This is a fantastic post! But…. I am reading a lot of bitterness. Sure, there are risks with lap children, but there’s also a significant risk associated with me crossing the street with my stroller. You can’t think about the probability of how likely your life will end 24/7. For me, I think traveling with lap children is great. Babies who fly early on adapt well and get accustomed to the “routine” and “normality” of flying. I am booking several trips for my son before he is two. And those who are whining about “they get free seats, when I have to pay” are probably the same people with a Southwest companion pass. SMH…

    Also a baby is a human and has the same right to fly as everyone else on board.

  35. Other than some grumpy folks, this is a lovely discussion. Hope Travis is getting a per comment bonus as 40+ comments is pretty impressive! 🙂

  36. What about award tickets, business/first class, and lap children???
    If my wife and I get an award ticket to europe or the far east, and want to take our lap child with us, are there limits to what is allowed?
    I mean, can we get a Cathay Pacific first class suite and bring our kid with us, for free (plus tax)?

  37. @Dubs

    You can have a lap child on an award ticket. You pay a fee, typically 10% of the fare for that cabin, which for business / first, can be a lot. See the example in this post — the lap child fee for a SFO-NRT segment was about $1000.

    So the ‘limit’ is really just what you are willing to spend.

  38. I’ve been on a flight with sudden severe turbulence that launched flight attendants and unbelted passengers into the cabin ceilings/overheads. Fortunately, neither flight had any lap children on board. Flight attendants have told me about colleagues who have sustained fractures in such circumstances.

    I *NEVER* flew with my child in my or my wife’s lap, and my grandchild always flies in a car seat.

  39. Great post Travis and obviously of great discussion. My son is now 12 years old but when he was a baby we flew from Berlin to Manchester (England). It’s a short haul flight obviously and since he was under 2 years old, it was of no charge.

    I either flew with British Airways or Lufthansa so had a special seatbelt given to me to strap around him, in addition to my own. I would never put him in a basinet, because firstly, the basinet is strapped in but he wouldn’t be, and secondly, I would rather, he were closer to me. And strapped almost to my chest is as close as it could be!
    We either flew short or medium haul. And in most cases, since I live in Germany, we drove by car across Europe. And with a young baby far more comfortable, as you can just take all the “necessary” stuff with you!

  40. I just flew with my 6 month old on a long-haul flight to Europe for a family wedding. He is a lap child, and during the flight I use an FAA approved device call LapKidz ( He is buckled into this seat, and the seat is buckled onto my seatbelt. We had severe turbulence during the flight, but he was as secure as I was in my seatbelt. On the inbound flight we did use a bassinet a few times during the flight. During turbulence I took him out and put him in my lap using the LapKidz. I would have preferred to have him in the carseat in his own seat, but yes buying another seat was too expensive for our family (and no, we could not opt out of this particular travel event or leave him at home). For those who say don’t travel unless you can afford to buy the baby a seat: this is challenging for us as our families all live in different countries and we cannot drive to see them. So our choice is fly with him as a lap child or not see our families at all.

  41. Recently booked award Business ticket with United to India, second leg JFK – DEL is with Air India since they’re in Star Alliance now, they charged $1160 for one way for lap child!!! Total return award ticket cost $2160 of which $1700 is lap child free ticket 🙁

    Ever heard – there is no free lunch…..

  42. Every time I see this, I think to myself, “I can’t believe this is still legal.” Who’d have thought smoking cabins would be banned before this practice? It seems to me only a matter of time before one carrier bans the practice on safety grounds and then the others follow suit.

    I once had a flight in economy where the lap child sat sort of sideways a good part of the time and must have been at the upper limit of the lap child age range – his hard shoes kicked my leg repeatedly – the parent attempted to stop it but the kid couldn’t stop jiggling his feet and there wasn’t a lot of room to work with. Of course, the child also managed to drop the nacho cheese on my shorts at snack time. More recently, saw a lap child in the seat behind me as I boarded an overnight international flight in J and thought, “oh, boy, there goes my sleep” but a yawn or two was all I heard of her all flight – I think the key difference was the first child was older and the second an infant more or less. Or maybe I just got unlucky on the first flight and lucky on the more recent one.

    “We once had a BMI flight from London to Dublin where the flight attendant insisted that our 1-year be attached to my wife using something like a seat-belt extender. She claimed it was the law.”

    This seems to make some sense at least on take off and landing, in case of an accident, you don’t want to be searching around upside down or in the dark or in water whatever to find and evacuate your child.

  43. Hi Travis!

    I have a question, and don’t want to comment this on your latest blog post because it’s irrelevant. Hope this still finds its way to you, despite it being on a rather dated post.

    First of all, I love Ben’s blog and aspire to eventually travel like he does. But reality weighs in: I have a 2-year old and a 2-month old. You are by far the better role model that I look up to.

    While this might bore some readers of this blog, I would really love to see a post on your wisdom regarding (1) training infants and toddlers for those super-long, i.e. 16-hour, flights and strategies to remain alive upon arrival; (2) tactics for visiting the less developed parts of the world, which may have lower sanitation standards, transit options, and safety measures, when with little ones and being more vulnerable.

    I am making plans to visit UAE, India, South Korea, and Taiwan all when our younger child is around 0.75-year old. “Conventional wisdom” suggests that taking such long trips with young children is silly, and that going to some of those countries with them is stupid. Nobody I personally know would consider it a good idea, but I know you’d have a different perspective. I understand the basic precautions such as vaccines, bottled water, etc, but would appreciate further insights from someone who’s traveled so extensively with young kids.



  44. To Peter–

    We took our children to India when they were one and a half years and two years old. Totally doable if you have a fair amount of paranoia about keeping them healthy.

    Before we went we consulted with their pediatrician. We went in winter and stayed on the Golden Triangle route and so we didn’t deal with malaria medication. We also brought our own utensils plates and cups for the children along with an electric steam sterilizer for cleaning them. We brought our own plastic placemats for them too. We bit the bullet and hired a large van and driver for the full two weeks and when we got as far as Udapiur we flew back to Delhi and had the driver follow with the car. As we were traveling independently the van enabled us to stop and start anytime we wanted and also gave flexibility for our schedule in case someone got sick.

    As for eating, our main rule was that no liquid would touch the childrens’ lips unless we opened the container ourselves and we cleaned the cups. Years ago I had gotten giardia on a trip to India. With the driver, in each new city, we would go find a western styled supermarket to find UHT milk and juice and sliced bread. We also brought with us lots of dried fruit and nuts, jars of peanut butter, and other small treats. Another rule is the standard “no fruit unless you can peel it yourself” so lots of bananas. Most of the cooked local food the kids ate were things like french fries and rice; also I admit trips to McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s. My wife and I would sample local food at restaurants while the children would nap. The children’s food was not the most nutritious and was monotonous but we figured better that then to risk getting sick.

    I know this sounds like a lot of work but it was actually second nature after a while and thankfully no one got sick. The Indians treated my blonde daughters like rock stars asking to hold them and take photos with them. After a while the girls got so overwhelmed by the attention we had to politely decline the requests.

    I forgot to mention we also traveled with a crazy amount of luggage; Strollers, baby backpacks, large several large luggage pieces, the children’s’ food stash, and even a potty. I can’t emphasize enough how important having the giant van was for making the trip a success.

    We stayed mostly at haveli that were transformed into hotels that I found online. We also used some Hyatt points for a few nights in New Delhi but even there I brought our own milk and juice to breakfast rather than to risk using the hotel’s.

    During the baby-toddler era we also brought them along to Uzbekistan and neighboring Central Asian countries, Egypt, and across Europe. It was so simple traveling with children when they were in diapers; traveling stopped for a while during potty training.

    Of course the children do not remember many of these trips; we went to continue a normal life for us and to, I guess, indoctrinate them into a love of exploring and embracing the wider world. I took far more photos then I normally would and have made detailed photo albums for the family. The kids are very aware that they have been to these places and can even name cities and can find the places on a map. They are 9 and 10 now and have both been to 25+ countries on 6 continents.

    We embraced the lap child rule as long as we could and never bought a ticket for them until they turned 2. Most of our travel was on European carriers and we would dutifully use the babyseat belt that would attach to the parent one. Our children were big pacifier users and in all our many trips they never cried or fussed on airplanes.

    From my own experience people who are intolerant of babies tend to be childless. If babies upset them so much perhaps such people should stay home and not fly. Believe me, if and when you finally have children, you will find that a crying baby nearby doesn’t really bother you at all and you will feel guilty about your past intolerance.

    And remember, these little babies on airplanes today will be financially supporting the childless people in old age through taxes.

    Good luck with your travels!

  45. @CHASE. I will assume you have no children, neither family members that lives outside the USA. Some people have to spend thousands of dollars in plane tickets just to see family and why not save some money by having a child on the lap….and from my own experience..some children are more comfortable on mother’s lap , therefore more relaxed, QUITE, and less ANNOYING. lastly, what makes you think that just because they are sitting on their own seat you wont hear them scream or cry? They are still kids and parents have as much right as YOU to flight with their “crying annoying” children.

  46. Peter,

    I took my daughter to Sydney Australia from DFW at 7 months. Flew Qantas Business class.

    I loved the plane configuration. 2 levels, upper level was only 16 seats or so all business class with a ton of leg room and more crucially aisle space. On the way there she slept over 11 hours and was a champion. The way back was a day flight and didn’t go so well. She wouldn’t sleep in my lap but I was able to walk her in a carrier for several hours and eventually sit down and eat breakfast while she slept. On the return flight I slept basically none but I have zero regrets. We took her to 6 cities and 2 countries in a span of 21 days.

    My advice would be to travel business class or higher on all long haul international flights. My daughter has been on a plane 26 times in 19 months, and we are doing 2 long haul flights in the next year, so we plan on doing business again. Make sure there is plenty of aisle space.

    I also recommend Canada. Super kid friendly and much shorter flights. We did a direct into Toronto from DFW and flights to Montreal and QC from there. Flew Economy and it was a piece of cake.

  47. If you bring your car seat to the loading, and there’s no room, they will put it under the front stow area rather than make you do “the walk of shame”. Most airlines would prefer you to bring the stroller and car seat up front like that so the stroller is available as soon as you get off, and if there’s an extra seat the car seat can be used, increasing safety.

    Now, my story. When we flew my daughter alone, we got her a seat. Things were great, all was well. When we had our son, we decided to lap him. After all, he was only 3 months old and would probably be more comfortable on my lap snuggled or nursing right? As we flew in though, we hit major turbulence and I found myself wrapping myself around my tiny son as flight attendants were knocked about the cabin and everything else had to be safely secured.

    Think about that. Everything was safely secured except my baby. My little one gasped and flailed as he startled again and again, trying to hang onto me because he felt like he was falling, and I hoped and prayed I wouldn’t unbuckle or something because all my strength was focused on hanging onto him. Meanwhile, my daughter was giggling, she was strapped in her car seat and unlike all of us that meant a full chest harness and never feeling like she was going to fly out.

    Another mom with her lap baby couldn’t hold on. Her baby was older than 3 months, and bigger, but the passenger next to her thankfully caught him. Think about that. If you’re in an airplane, and someone has a lap baby, if there’s turbulence or a crash, that baby is going to be a projectile that could slam into you or someone else. Not only is that baby in danger, but others in the cabin because when everything else is secured, that baby is not.

    We made it, he didn’t fly out of my arms, but my arms were shaky. I remember curling my head over his, my hands over his shoulders like a harness, and just hoping my seat belt wouldn’t unbuckle for some reason because I had nothing left to hold onto the armrests to steady us. We went back and forth, but he didn’t go out of my arms. The man next to us said it horrified him to watch us and said he wasn’t sure he would have been able to hold on. I told him when it’s your baby, you will be amazed at how well you do.

    Since then, we buy seats for each of our babies. They’re worth at least that much. If there’s no turbulence you can hold them, but if something happens then they’re secure in their seat. You get more baggage allowance. You have more room to let them move around a bit and to entertain them. Believe me, it’s by far a better experience. And if your baby doesn’t cry as much when you’re holding them, again you have the option to hold them, but if something started to happen you’d also have the option of them being secure in their seat and not having to hang on and hope you can beat the laws of physics.

    Right now, airlines fight against the idea of requiring seats for babies, they say people wouldn’t travel as much, but what if there were family discounts, if an infant seat was 1/2 price, and that if you buy 3 seats together with a baby as a family you got a discount on all the seats? No, airlines want full price, and since they know parents are less willing to pay full price, they just let the babies take the risk and put everyone in the cabin at risk. EVERYONE should be against this practice. If your baby’s safety is not worth the price of the extra ticket, don’t fly. Contact your airline and tell them about their lost business. This has to stop.

  48. so much hate in this post as if the ones who hated fussy kids didn’t went through the same stage. lol
    not all are able to afford an expensive seat and not all are travelling for leisure.some travel for important matter .next time you judge about not allowing kids below 2 to travel,or to even compare kids with pets,remember you were once this age who used to be fussy and someone did extend their patience over you so you can use your right to travel.I bumped into this site so to get more info on how to have an easy travel with kids, but i’ve seen a lot of irate travelers here. if you dont like to travel with different sort of people, might as well buy a private plane for yourselves!

  49. I’m trying to figure out where this 2 year age limit came from. Some children are bigger at 1 year old than others are at 2 years old. Is there any airline that allows >2year old children in the lap if they are under a certain size?

  50. First and foremost I have had to travel from NY to TUNISIA with a 19 month old child .. NO ONE is being greedy and the comment made by a complete fool about if you can’t afford to fly don’t… Is BS I CAN afford to fly and maybe fly you around to BUT I am sure that if a person has the choice to pay $5.00 verses $10 I am sure your gonna pay $5..
    Also a dog is NOT a child !! understand that I know some people who can’t have kids worship their dog’s BUT THEIR NOT PPL NO MATTER WHAT !
    Another thing no one knows what type of ER is making this parent fly especially across the world in the first place.. People should learn how to RELAX and let ppl do what they need to as long as they are not hurting you or taking money from you account the rest is none of your concern.
    This is why the world has become shit… because of ppl with no common sense and no life that focus on other things instead of being happy .. MISERABLE ppl . also remember WE WERE ALL BABIES AT ONE TIME.. or better yet were you a puppy to be so inconsiderate?

  51. I fly regularly both domestic in the US and international. The common sense approach should be taken when it comes to flying with your baby- if they are difficult do not fly. It’s perhaps the rudest thing you can do to fellow passengers. I have two kids- one was calm and had no problems flying (we paid for a seat because there are real risks associated with them being lapped, regardless of if you agree or not). The second was a real screamer and we made the decision to not fly with her until she was older and grew out of it. It’s genuinely selfish to do otherwise. Especially if it’s just for leisure travel.

    On the same note, I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with not charging for lap children (or charging less) if parents insist on taking that route, however pets should receive the same treatment. I’ve never understood why airlines charge an extra fee for a carry-on item that sits under the seat (and counts as a carry-on item as well)

  52. When I was a teenager, I flew next to a lady with her toddler on her lap. There was fairly bad turbulence so the captain had the “fasten seat belt” sign on. (This story is not going where you think it is.) The toddler started crying and then I smelled the most terrible smell. It was truly awful. The mom tried to get up to change him and was immediately told to go back to her seat. She apologized to me and said she’d change him as soon as the seat belt light turned off. Well, long story short, it turned out he had diarrhea. Bad. And by the time the mom went to change him, it had leaked and was not just on the child but his pants and on her too. It was horrific. And the mom had checked all of her clothing and had nothing to change into. To this day, it’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever smelled. My 17 year old brother was four rows in front of us and even from the that distance he said it was so bad he threw up. Imagine that smell right next to you with no way to get away from it. My clothes smelled like it. My hair smelled like it.

    So when my husband and I were planning our first trip with our first child, he wanted to save money and have us hold her on our laps. I told him absolutely not. We’ve never traveled with our kids on our laps and never will. Not after that experience. I’m still grossed out even thinking about it and I’ve dealt with a heck of a lot of baby diarrhea since then!

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