When price and safety concerns collide

Flying with Babies

by Debra Karplus

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According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the safest way for an infant, a child zero to two years old referred to as a "lap child" by the airline industry, to fly is to be positioned in a regular seat using a government-approved child restraint system (CRS). The logic of the FAA is that these restraints are stronger than your arms on the unlikely occasion that there's an emergency on the flight. Amazon.com sells these devices for about $70 and they receive above average consumer reviews; you'll still need to pay for an air ticket, usually at a discounted price, for baby to sit beside you instead of on your lap. Look around next time you fly. You're not likely to see any babies using these restraints; most of them are sleeping or squirming in parents' arms. Parents make decisions about safety versus cost on various things daily. A lap child can typically fly for free. You decide!

Most airlines have different age categories for pricing flights.

If you're used to booking flights for only you and your spouse, you probably have only used the main category, which is for adults under 65 years old; seniors who are over 65 can fly at discounted rates. Children ages two and eleven or twelve fill a regular seat. Expect to pay full fare or a slightly discounted fare. These can all typically be booked online for the best rate, sometimes directly through their airline website, and often via one of the discount airline brokers such as Orbitz.com or Kayak.com.

Unaccompanied minors are in a unique category. Most airlines require their tickets to be booked via their toll-free phone number or in person if you live near the airport. Fares vary for non-stop versus one-stop flights, and also for international destinations, so you'll need to research what different airlines charge and what services they offer if children will be flying without an adult.

A lap child flies free on many of the airlines. The logic here is that they do not sit in a regular seat that can be sold to a paying adult. This is obviously the most affordable way to fly with your baby. Airlines strongly recommend that you bring your own food for babies; baby food is never sold on flights. Your typical baby will not be a big fan of air travel unless they are sleeping or sucking on a pacifier or a bottle of milk; this helps clear the pressure out of their ears that no one finds comfortable, especially babies.

Each airline has its own policies for infants in the air.

Before booking a flight, peruse the websites of the airlines you prefer, obviously ones that service your destination, and search for information about travelling with children and specifically flying with babies. For many of the airlines such as Southwest or Frontier Airlines, which usually have affordable fares if they fly where you are going, it may be challenging to find their policies about flying with your infant. You might just need to plug in some dates and times to see the cost. American Airlines flies to more destinations, but not always for the cheapest price. Their website, however, has specific information that is very helpful pertaining to travelling with children. Even if you end up flying with a different carrier, American Airline's site is useful.

You may find no notable difference pertaining to regulations between domestic and international flights.

Pricing an international flight, such as Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa Airlines, you may discover (at least at the time of this writing) that children up to two years old do not fly free, but fly for 10% of the cost of an adult; an adult's $1,000 ticket, for example, would cost an additional $100 with a baby on the lap, and 75% for a child two to twelve years old.

Be sure to read rules about bringing diaper bags, strollers and car seats.

Even a short trip to the mall with an infant requires bringing numerous baby accessories. Extrapolate that concept to an air trip, short or long. Each airline has specific regulations about diaper bags, strollers, and car seats that you will likely transport in the air with you. Basically if it fits under the seat such as a small diaper bag, or fits in the overhead bin such as an umbrella stroller, it is not unlike other carry-on baggage. A car seat that you bring to the airport will probably need to be checked as baggage before boarding the plane.

A vacation with baby is likely to be fun, and if you research airline policies and prices before you click "check-out" online, your in-flight experience can be pleasant, too.

Reviewed May 2017

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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