At this stage of traveling as a family, my 17 month old has been on over 100 flights (including short jaunts and layovers). Over the course of that time, we’ve flown every major US airline, including American Airlines.
How was it flying them with a baby? American doesn’t have as many family friendly policies as other airlines, and it’s important that you know them to avoid any issues:
Booking an Infant
When booking your infant, you have the choice of getting them their own full priced seat, or having them fly as a lap infant. We didn’t start getting our son his own seat until he was about a year old, but now we pretty much always do, and it makes life much easier.
Whatever you choose to do, I highly recommend adding the lap infant when you book. There can sometimes be issues adding them after the fact, as experienced by this blogger and me when I flew with United Airlines.
You can do this easily on American Airlines under passenger details. Select ‘add infant in lap.’ If flying internationally, unfortunately, you will have to call. In addition to 10% of the adult fare, you’ll have to pay taxes and fees, which is standard. Make sure you pay this and get a ticket issued for your baby, even if they are just a lap infant, to avoid issues at check in.
American Airlines Infant Baggage and Carry On Policies
Like most US airlines, American Airlines will not give a lap infant baggage allowance. Even if you get your child their own seat, you’ll still have to pay for baggage at the same rate that you would pay for your own checked baggage (though amazingly, some international airlines like Emirates, Singapore, and Qatar actually give lap infants a baggage allowance!).
You can check one car seat and one stroller as hold luggage for free. I have yet to find an airline anywhere in the world that charges for this.
However American differs from some of the other airlines with their more stringent weight and gate check policies. Any stroller weighing over 20lbs, which includes the Nuna Mixx and UppaBaby Vista, has to be checked as hold luggage and cannot be brought to the gate. I highly recommend traveling with a travel stroller, particularly one that can fit in the overhead bin, to avoid any issues.
If you have a stroller and a car seat, only one can be checked at the gate, so only bring the car seat along if your child has their own seat and you’ll be using it on the flight, in which case it must be an FAA-approved car seat.
Alternatively you can travel with a CARES harness, which is FAA-approved for airline travel and packs up nice and small. It has its pros and cons, though. Read my CARES review to decide if it’s right for you.
Like every other airline I’ve encountered, American does not count diaper bags toward your carry on limit and nursing mothers are allowed to bring a pump and small cooler onboard, even if you’re pumping and traveling without your baby.
Family Boarding, Meals, and Bassinets
The American Airlines website states that families traveling with small children can ask to board early at the gate.
Unfortunately when it comes to bassinets, you won’t be able to reserve them ahead of time, and they are available only on a first come first serve basis at the gate, which isn’t the best scenario. If you are not booked in a bulkhead seat, you will not be able to use the bassinet, which fastens to the wall in front of you.
Bassinets are available for travel only on 777-200, 777-300 and 787 aircraft. The infant cannot exceed 20lbs and they are not available in business or first class, which surprised me a bit. On Singapore Airlines and Emirates, bassinet capable seats are saved for parents and can be used in business class.
So basically, don’t count on getting a bassinet when you fly American Airlines.
American appears to have infant meals that can be reserved ahead of time for their international flights. These can be hit or miss so I’d still travel with baby food, but we’ve had great baby meals on international airlines, including Japan Airlines.
Final Thoughts on Flying with a Baby on American Airlines
American Airlines is unfortunately not the best airline to fly with a little one, mostly due to the lack of availability of bassinet reservations, the limits on which seats they can be used in, and the policies regarding strollers and car seats being checked at the gate (which wouldn’t allow you to gate check both a car seat and stroller).
I’ve generally found that international airlines often have more amenities for families, toys they gift to the little ones, more specialized meals, and in some cases (I’m looking at you, Emirates) they even stock diapers and formula! If flying long haul, we try to opt for one of the nicer international airlines for this reason.
Still, flying domestically with them is just fine, and as long as you’re aware of the policies ahead of time and can pack accordingly, you’ll be just fine, too.