Many people will tell you – maybe you’ve even assumed it yourself – that you can take your baby on a plane for free, provided your baby sits on your lap. Unfortunately, that’s often no longer the case, as many airlines charge for a child sitting on your lap. And, actually, you may find it cheaper (or no more expensive) to book your baby his or her own seat.
So, babies don’t fly for free?
No, not necessarily. You are not required to buy a separate seat for an infant (commonly defined as a child over the age of 14 days and under the age of 2) but airlines can lawfully charge you for having an infant on your lap in your seat.
The charge for having an infant on your lap varies considerably between the different airlines.
As a rule of thumb, there’s no charge on domestic flights with many of the bigger airlines (American Airlines, Air New Zealand, United Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa, Qantas) but, for international flights and all budget-airline (Ryanair, EasyJet, WizzAir, TUI) flights, there’s usually either a flat charge (typically £25 to £35 one-way) or a charge based on a percentage (typically 10% to 12%, according to Skyscanner) of the adult fare.
Is it cheaper to buy my baby a seat?
It might well be, especially if you are travelling short-haul on a budget airline where tickets for an adult (yes, you’ll be charged the full adult fare for your baby’s seat) can often be less than the £25 to £35 infant-on-lap charge.
And that’s before you’ve taken into account any extra charges for baggage: babies on laps mostly don’t get hand/cabin luggage or hold luggage allowances on budget-airline flights (see Does a baby on a lap get a baggage allowance? , below).
Non-budget airlines generally charge a percentage (often about 75%) of the adult fare for a seat for an infant. So, depending on your destination and the deal you’ve found for your tickets, it may well work out more expensive than paying the charge to have your child on your lap.
But, if it’s a long flight, you might think the extra cost is worth it for the extra comfort of not having to have your child on your lap the entire time. (You should be allowed to bring a car seat into the cabin to help keep your baby sitting safely in her or her separate seat.)
It’s worth noting that Alitalia don’t allow infants to occupy their own seat.
Does a baby on a lap get a baggage allowance?
Almost universally not on a budget airline (small baby changing bags excepted)– and this might be something that, for you, swings the decision about buying your baby a seat instead.
Let’s take an easyJet, for example. In April 2019, the charge for an infant sitting on your lap is £25 each way and, for no extra charge, you can bring a 45cm x 36cm x 20cm baby changing bag into the cabin and put 2 baby-equipment items (such as a pram or a car seat) in the hold.
But that’s it. All your baby’s clothes and other items will need to go in your own bags or you’ll need to purchase additional baggage allowance for yourself – that must go in the hold, not the cabin – to put your baby stuff in.
So, if you have a lot of stuff (not unusual when travelling with babies!), it could work out cheaper to book your baby a seat, which comes with its own free cabin bag allowance, than to fork out for extra luggage allowance on your ticket.
What about twins or a baby and a toddler? Can they both sit on my lap?
No, no airline will allow you to carry 2 babies on your lap. If you are flying with 2 or more children under 2, and they don’t have their own seat, you cannot travel alone. You will need to fly with another paying adult or to pay the airline to provide an escort.
You can, of course, buy 1 seat for an infant, instead – and pay the charge to sit your other child on your lap.
What about bassinets? Do you pay extra for those?
A bassinet is a detachable carrycot, set up on a bulkhead seat, that is sometimes available for those flying long-haul with a lap infant who cannot yet sit up on his or her own. Different airlines have different policies (and weight limits) on bassinets but some do charge for securing the bulkhead seat – and, whether there’s a charge or not, all bassinets must be reserved in advance.
Phew… Quite a lot to consider!
However and wherever you’re travelling, the key is to make sure you do your research on what your airline’s infant charges and allowances are, and factor in all the costs – including whether it’s worth paying a little more anyway for an additional seat to make the journey less stressful/more comfortable for you…