5 Strategies to Save Money and Sanity Big When Flying With Baby

by Linsey Knerl · 10 comments

I never traveled much with my four older children, but my growing career as a blogger and freelancer has recently required that I tote my newest baby all across the country – starting when he was just 4 months old.  As they grow, the challenges that come with taking a flight grow as well.  Here are a few things I picked up in my journeys, and what you can do to survive the mayhem. 

Do the Lap Thing 
Lap children (free passengers under the age of two years) are allowed one per paying adult on almost all domestic flights, and there will often be a low 10% charge for international flights to let you baby sit with you in your seat.  While many of my friends pay the full ticket price to have their infant sit next to them in an approved car seat, I find that my kid wants nothing more than to sit on my lap, anyway.  Save yourself the cash and cuddle your baby en route; you’ll pay far less, and they will likely enjoy the experience more. 

Know Your Airlines
All airlines are not created equal.  While some hardly glance at a lap child, others will ask for a birth certificate proving the infant’s age.  Many don’t charge for checking an infant car seat and allow an umbrella stroller as a free carry-on item.  Less generous airlines will tack on $25 for each additional piece of gear you bring with you, regardless of whether you stow it above or below the cabin.  In addition, some airlines will try their best to place you in rows with an additional emergency air mask, while other airlines don’t even bother to ask.  Once you find a company that cares, stick with them.  They are worth the possibly extra $20-40 for each leg of your flight for you to be respected as a customer AND a parent.

Travel Light
I can’t stress this tip enough, and it’s not just because you will save big cash for every baby item you don’t have to check in or carry on.  It’s hard to lug your one personal item and one carry-on plus baby. If the tot is still tiny, I recommend a comfy infant carrier.  Not only will it free your hands from having to push a stroller, you can more easily negotiate crowded concourses and skip the hassle of waiting in line for a slow-moving elevator when trying to catch your connecting flight.  Baby also loves being close during the hubbub of the airport; he or she might even sleep!  (There are awesome carriers for older tykes, as well.  Look for reviews online to see what works!)

Check Your Car Seat Facts
I know many traveling families who skip cabs and shuttles in lieu of public transportation when visiting a new city.  Not only can you save money, but it eliminates the question of “will I need a car seat?”  If a bus or tram isn’t available where you will be heading, make advanced reservations for your shuttle ride with a company that offers both rear-facing and forward-facing infant seats.  (Note: The condition of these seats may be shady, at best.  Be prepared to have your kid sit in dirty, old, or poorly-fitting car seats if you choose to go this route.)  Otherwise, you can still bring your own car seat from home and check it free with some excellent and family-friendly airlines.

Shop at Your Destination 
Most all downtown areas and hotel hot spots have a Walgreens, CVS, or other pharmacy nearby (and most have several.)  Use this fact to your advantage and scout out a few stores within walking distance of where you’ll be staying.  This allows you to pack only 1-2 days worth of diapers, formula, wipes, and snacks – saving on checked bags fees and heavy lifting – and lets you buy the rest when you get there.  If you’re super-savvy, keep a few coupons for your favorite brand of diaper in your wallet.  Even with the markup that some downtown locations add to these products, it’s far cheaper than checking an extra bag.

Travel time is usually just a portion of your trip, yet it can feel like an eternity if you are ill prepared.  Expect to do nothing but keep your baby happy and quiet during your flight, and ask questions if you are unsure of how any airline or company will handle your needs.  For the most part, both the staff and other flyers are friendly and helpful to those who might need a carry-on taken down from the baggage compartment or who have a fussy infant to tend to.

Take a deep breath – they are only this small once!

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Aerospace Engineer Mom says:

    Having a baby in your lap is so dangerous to you, the other passengers and especially to YOUR BABY! I can’t understand why otherwise intelligent parents will carry their baby in their lap on airplanes. Why? Because the airlines and FAA say it’s okay? Would you carry your baby in your lap in your car? Flight turbulence is enough to kill or seriously injur your baby and no matter how good of a grip you think you would have on your precious baby you likely will NOT be able to hold onto your baby in bad turbulence and DEFINITELY not in a crash. The government and airlines are afraid of making parents pay for another ticket out of fear they would lose revenue and parents think they can’t afford to fly if they had to purchase another seat.

    Did you know that airlines are fined heavily ($20,000+) by the FAA for unsecured 10 lb coffee makers because they can be dangerous to passengers in the event of turbulence and crashes so why is an unsecured 20lb infant okay? If you’re on one of the many planes each year that has an emergency on takeoff and makes a sudden and overweight landing that causes the plane to crash off the end of the runway (very survivable for those IN SEAT BELTS) and your baby dies because of it but you survive because you were belted in, I’ll bet that $300 seat is looking a lot more affordable than the lifetime of grief you’ll have to endure for not ponying up the extra $ for a seat you can strap your baby into. If you can’t afford to purchase a seat for your baby, you can’t afford to fly. Period. Drive or wait until you can afford the seat.

  • Sorry-I meant NOT packing the wipes, and purchasing the consigned items at your destination (forgive me–baby woke up at 5am today!)

  • In addition to packing the wipes, etc, you may even find that it makes sense to purchase the larger items (depending on the length of your trip)–like a cheapie umbrella stroller, and pack and play. Make a quick tip to local baby consignment stores for the items. Once you’re done with them, gift them to charity, and get a receipt for your tax-deductible contribution that you won’t be lugging back thru the airport!

  • B Kelly says:

    I’ve not seen parents who are able to pack light when travelling with their kids, especially infants. That would definitely be a challenge when parents fear that the destination city/country might not carry the specific item the child is familiar with.. I don’t necessarily agree, as you have aptly pointed out – but then again until they try it, there can never be a real comparison

  • Philip says:

    Very timely for me. I’ll be bringing my two girls (2 and under) up to Chicago in the Fall. Packing light is definitely a goal of mine. As is making sure the flight has an entire row of 3 available for my wife, 2 yr old, and me. That way we can just pass the lap baby back and forth and have our oldest corralled in the middle. I’m hoping American will let us on with a car seat and stroller without costing us a fortune.

  • KM says:

    Flights with a child actually scare me, so I have been avoiding them – not that I usually travel that much anyway. All I can do at this point (with a 10 month old) is take short (1-2 hour) trips into the mountains and time everything according to his sleep pattern so he sleeps in the car. But my son is extremely active and does not want to be sitting down for very long, so I can’t imagine him being happy in an airplane. But great tips – might be useful as well in case we go on a longer road trip.

  • Marcia says:

    We always bought a seat for our son, with the exception of when we flew on miles – and there were empty seats.

    When you fly as long as we did – 5-6 hour flights – it was definitely worth it to pay for the seat. Not only is it safer, but you get extra space. That’s an extra carryon under the seat in front of the baby’s seat (or you can put your own there and enjoy the extra leg room). I for one could not imagine holding a baby or todder for 5 hours straight.

  • Linsey Knerl says:

    Guest – You brought up a good point. I have found it to be a long wait when taking advantage of the “infants and people that need assistance” preboarding call, as well. The only time I would go ahead and board first is when my baby is still breastfeeding, and I can use that first 10 minutes or so before anyone else gets on the plane to nurse baby down to sleep. This can be convenient if you are uncomfortable nursing baby in close quarters or you just need your infant to have a moment to chill before it starts getting crazy in the cabin.

    Andy – You are correct! Baby’s ears popping can be horrible. That’s one benefit of breastfeeding, I suppose. I can nurse during takeoff to avoid some of the pressure issues. I think this would work with a bottle, as well? I also love the idea of night flights, if it weren’t for the fact that my baby is a little night owl — I’d likely wake up to find that I had fallen asleep and baby is roaming the cabin! LOL

  • andy says:

    Great article and one can I relate to as I plan to take my 6 month old on a trip to Australia in winter this year. Should be fun [not]. But having done some short trips with my first kid ealier, the other tip I would ad is to travel in off-peak times if possible or take night flights so their is also more of a chance the kid will sleep. And also don’t forget to take some baby medicine as the altititude changes can cause a lot of discomfort.

  • guest in ca says:

    When my child was small, I learned quickly that taking the early boarding option was NOT the greatest thing. It just meant another half hour, at least, of keeping a small child content in a confined area. If you’re traveling light, you don’t really need a lot of extra time to get settled or space for all your stuff. We just waited until our regular group was called.

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