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Guidelines: Airfare for Children (It’s All Over the Map)

March 4, 2009 | Posted in: Airfare News,Tips and Tricks,Travel Tips
All the news coverage of the woman who gave birth to octuplets made me wonder: how would she and the babies (and the other six kids) all manage on a plane? Not to mention, pay for it.
Which leads me to one of our most “frequently asked questions” here at FareCompare.com, and that is – what does it cost to fly with children? The answers are varied. Exceptions abound. When in doubt, check out your airlines website (some hide the info pretty well) or, worst case scenario, ring the airline.

But I do have some guidelines that may be helpful:

Domestic Rule of Thumb: For flights in the U.S., you can generally expect to pay full-fare for infants and children in their own seats – while flying with a “lap child” (under 2 years of age at departure time) is usually free. Note: It used to be a rule-of-thumb that seniors could get a 5 to 10% discount — but this is no longer commonplace.

Yes, There are Exceptions: Southwest is one of them. According to the airline’s website, Southwest “offers very affordable Infant Fares for children under two years of age” in a separate seat. Please note, you cannot reserve such seats on Southwest.com, but must call the reservation number. Note: Southwest has senior fares, too — while many airlines have discontinued this practice (though some legacy carriers will match these prices on Southwest routes). Final note: all fares are subject to change at any time.

Domestic Bottom Line: Check your airline’s website (look under headings such as “travel information” or “services” or just type the word “children” in the site’s search box). If you do not find information that answers your specific question, call the airline.

TIP: Even if a website says no discounts for children (or for seniors, or no bereavement fares), a call can’t hurt (you might get someone knowledgeable on the other side). It never hurts to ask – and sometimes, it works.

International Rule of Thumb: For international flights, there don’t appear to be many hard and fast rules. Some examples, coming right up – so click “more” and keep reading.

  • American Airlines International Flights: According to American’s website, “AA.com is currently unable to book a reservation for an infant traveling internationally as a lap child. When traveling outside the U.S., infants under age two who do not pay a fare may be required to have a ticket. In addition, taxes may be assessed which can be significant.” Ouch.

  • British Airways Flights: Lots of information on BA’s site, including: “An infant fare is charged at 10% of the adult fare when the infant sits on an adult’s lap. If you want your infant to sit in his/her own seat (they must be between 6 and 23 months), you will be charged the child fare. This cannot be booked online.” There are also discounts for children under 12. Nice.

  • Virgin Atlantic: It appears that lap children fly free, but you should confirm this, and note that there is a lot of info on Virgin Atlantic’s site about traveling with infants with seats, including:An infant/child occupying an Infant/Child Seat, must be accompanied by a guardian of at least 16 years. The minimum age that someone can sit beside [a seated] infant is 14 years and over. However, there must be a third passenger travelling with the party who is aged 16 and over. Also one adult cannot travel with 2 children occupying 2 Infant/Child seats – In this case, another accompanying adult (14 plus) would need to also travel.” Whew.

BOTTOM LINE: Same advice as I give domestic travelers - if you have the slightest doubt about the rules or fares – get on the phone! Call the airline and ask.

4 Responses to “Guidelines: Airfare for Children (It’s All Over the Map)”

  1. Silvio says:

    Hi Rick,
    please revise the following statement:
    (age two and under at departure time).
    It should read either “under two years of age”, or “age one and under”. Do some research, you will find that lap infants cannot be older than 24 months. Or, ages two and under means up to 36 months.
    It looks like it’s some sort of safety regulation independent of the airline.


  2. Rick Seaney says:

    I changed it to read better “2 & under before departure”

  3. Gaby says:

    Hi Rick,

    I’m trying to book a flight on Lufthansa for a friend coming to visit us from the US (we live in Europe). This friend is coming with a 6 year old. As it turns out, the child pays full fare for a seat if the flight originates in the US (Chicago -Munich), but only 75% of the adult’s fare if the flight originates in Europe (Munich- Chicago). Why is that???


  4. Rick Seaney says:

    As I said in the headline, it’s all over the map.
    Different airlines have different policies. It is typical for domestic airlines to charge full fare for children with the exception of lap children under the age of 2 who fly free, but there can be exceptions, so please check the rules on your airline’s website. As for international carriers, they tend to be a bit more open to special prices for child travelers, so again, check the website carefully.

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