At What Age Can Children Fly For Free?

You may have heard that up until a certain age, children can fly for free on your lap.

Every airline I’ve encountered after over 100 flights and 12 passport stamps for my toddler allows babies to fly for free domestically as a lap infant, BUT there are some caveats.

Sometimes lap infants can still cost hundreds of dollars when flying internationally. It’s also worth taking into account safety and comfort for all involved. Here’s everything we’ve learned about flying with a lap infant:

Flying Domestically: The Lap Infant Advantage

when can babies fly for free

When it comes to domestic travel, parents often rejoice in the fact that children under the age of two can fly for free as lap infants. This means that from about a week or two of age (most airlines have minimum ages allowed for flying) until your child reaches their second birthday, you typically won’t have to purchase a separate seat for them.

For parents like us with a son who’s about to turn two and has already accumulated an impressive number of flights, this perk has saved us thousands of dollars.

Almost every airline I’ve flown (United, Southwest, JetBlue, Delta, Alaska, and American) also checks strollers and car seats, either at the gate or as hold luggage, for free. With some exceptions, diaper bags are also not counted against the carry on limit.

International Lap Infants ARE NOT Free

singapore airlines with a baby review

The scenario changes when it comes to international travel. While children under two can still be lap infants, they often incur a fee, typically around 10% of the adult fare, plus taxes and fees. This cost can vary depending on the airline and original ticket cost. Each time we’ve flown with my baby in business class, we’ve had to fork over hundreds of dollars just for him to sit on our laps, even if we book our tickets with miles and points. The most we’ve paid was $500 for Emirates, with Singapore Airlines coming it at a close second at $400. It’s still been worth it for the extra space, but it is NOT free!

If you’re flying economy, it will probably be closer to $100 or less. Make sure you request a bassinet ahead of time if possible with your airline, provided that your child is small enough to fit (usually six months old or younger). They can be a game changer for extra space.

For frequent travelers like us, these fees can add up over time, and sometimes it may make sense to just get your kiddo their own seat.

It’s also essential to make sure your infant is ticketed on international flights well before you check in. In some cases you can add them automatically when you book, but in some cases you’ll have to call the airline to add them as a lap infant. We’ve had to call almost every time we’ve booked with miles and points.

Make sure you receive the ticket for your lap infant via email before you get off the phone, as I’ve had a situation in the past when I called United to add a lap infant, but they never actually did it despite saying they had. By the time I showed up to check in, it was too late to add my child and I missed my flight.

Is Flying as a Lap Infant Safe?

flying with a baby in business class

One common concern among parents is the safety of flying with a lap infant. There are inherent risks, particularly during turbulence or emergencies. In the event of unexpected turbulence or a sudden drop in altitude, a child who is not properly restrained could be at risk of injury.

I typically wore my son in a baby carrier when we flew with him as a younger baby. Flight attendants will make you unbuckle them during take off and landing, but I found it was a convenient and easy way to help him nap, and it didn’t take up much extra space. It also felt safer to me than having a toddler who climbs all over us. He was smaller and easier to manage. Now that he’s older, we almost always get him a seat even though he’s under two.

Aviation authorities and child safety advocates also recommend using a FAA-approved child restraint system, such as a car seat, for infants and young children during flights. While purchasing an extra seat for your child will incur additional costs, it provides an added layer of safety and peace of mind.

Practicality of Lap Infants as Children Get Older

cosco scenera car seat

As mentioned in the previous section, the practicality of flying with a toddler as a lap infant may diminish as they age. Toddlers are notorious for their boundless energy and curiosity, making it challenging to keep them confined to a parent’s lap for the duration of a flight.

For any flights over an hour and a half, right around his first birthday, we stopped having our son on our laps for longer flights. If one of us parents is traveling solo with him, we have gotten him his own seat regardless of flight length. There is no way he wouldn’t encroach on a neighbor’s seat with his height and energy level. It’s SO much easier having him in his own seat in a car seat or cares harness.

For extra long flights, like our combined 24 hours of flying home on Qatar Airlines from our African safari when he was 13 months old, we quite enjoyed having a whole row to ourselves and having all that extra legroom. The flight was much less painful than I anticipated, and it was all due to getting him a seat and having extra space for him to stand and move around.

Kid Tickets and Discounts

joolz aer travel stroller

In addition to the standard policies for lap infants, some airlines offer specialized tickets or discounts for children. These kid tickets typically apply to children above the age of two but under a certain age threshold, often around 11 or 12 years old, depending on the airline’s policies.

Kid tickets may come with a slight discount compared to adult fares. While the savings may not be as substantial as flying as a lap infant, every little bit counts when it comes to travel expenses, especially for families planning frequent or long-haul trips.

Even though some of the airlines we’ve flown with say they have child tickets, I’ve never been able to score such a fare. They have restrictions regarding travel dates, destinations, and eligibility criteria. Availability is limited, particularly during peak travel seasons or on popular routes.

So unfortunately, lap infants don’t always fly for free, and for those traveling with toddlers, they may not be practical all the way until age two. Still, there are times when taking advantage of infant lap tickets, especially domestically, can be a great way to save some cash.

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