November 30, 2004 -- Unfortunately there is no simple solution to traveling with infants under two years old. Individual airlines have specific rules and regulations, and there really isn't one established practice. We've done some research and come up with a few suggestions.
The first thing to keep in mind is that domestic travel is very different from long-haul or international travel. On domestic flights, few if any airlines will offer any baby-friendly extras. Due to the general shortness of these flights, most airlines do not even offer change tables in the restrooms.
With international travel, certain airlines do go out of their way to help. Before you book your flight, it's essential to do your research and ascertain what facilities and amenities are available -- and at what price. In general, airlines charge 10% of the full ticket cost as an infant ticket fee on international flights. This may be regardless of whether babies are placed on your lap or in a bassinet. It is also essential to confirm any taxes that may be added to this ticket price. If you choose to bring an infant car seat with you on the flight, you may have to purchase the seat next to you (usually at a reduced rate of between 50% and 67% of full-fare) to ensure that your baby can be placed appropriately. Many airlines' websites and travel booking sites will not include all the relevant information, so your best bet is to call the airline and ask questions up front.
Issues to consider include:
- Best days and times to travel to avoid over-booked flights
- Minimization of transfers and transits/direct flights
- Ticket costs and taxes
- Where you will be seated on the plane, like a bulkhead or regular seat
- Whether the airline provides seats/bassinets or you must bring your own (and applicable age/weight restrictions)
- Lap seating rules with or without belt loop extenders
- Access to on-board change facilities
- Availability of services such as bottle warming, specialized infant meals, diapers, baby wipes etc.
- For those of you with twins or two children under two, do you need two accompanying adults?
- Pre-boarding and special assistance from trained staff
- Airport facilities, especially if transit or connections are required
- Use of strollers on the aero-bridge and return policy (at the gate or at baggage claim)
- Carry-on baggage restrictions
For transatlantic flights, British Airways (tel. 800/247-9297; www.ba.com) has a stellar reputation when it comes to providing services for customers traveling with infants. Brightly-colored infant seats suitable for babies from birth up to two years old are provided at no extra charge, and they fit directly onto the bulkhead. They are available on a first-come, first -served basis and need to be booked in advance. Or, for infants up to six-months, carrycots that attach to bulkheads are provided. There are change tables in restrooms and diapers are also supplied on request (parents are advised however to carry their own supply of disposable diapers at all times). Infant meals must be pre-ordered but canned baby food is always available and bottle preparation and warming facilities are provided. It is the airline's policy to seat families together whenever possible, and the infant fare is 10% of the regular fare. Virgin Atlantic (tel. 800/862-8621; www.virgin-atlantic.com) also offers a few added incentives like automatic bulkhead seat reservations allocated to parents when a bassinet is booked. These can be used up to 12-months. Virgin also provides car seats for children aged six-months to three years who have their own seat. Baby food is available, as are diapers and other essentials. Under-twos are charged approximately 10% of the adult fare or if you want an additional seat for them, this costs around 60% of the adult fare.
KLM, Swiss International Air Lines, Air France and Lufthansa all supply bassinets for infants up to eight months old, baby meals (including formula if requested) with a 10% infant fare.
Singapore Airlines (tel. 800/742-3333; www.singaporeair.com) is considered one of the best alternatives for transpacific flying with infants. In particular, their dedicated infant assist flight attendants ensure that you and your infants have the most comfortable flight possible. You will always have a pre-boarding option and be seated in a bulkhead with a bassinet including baby sheets and blankets.
Most Asian-based major airlines are especially baby-attentive and won't make you feel like a travel leper with your infant. Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines, and Cathay Pacific are all extremely baby-friendly. But for the ultimate baby flying experience, nobody does it better than Gulf Air (tel. 800/528-3130; www.gulfairco.com). Their Sky Nanny service leaves all other airlines in the dust when it comes to providing specialized infant care services. The job of the Sky Nanny is quite simply to do anything and everything to make life easier for parents traveling with children. From helping with boarding and disembarkation to giving parents that much needed break during a long flight. When you arrive at the airport your Sky Nanny will be at the boarding gate to escort your family onto the aircraft and take you to a dedicated seating area on the aircraft. Onboard she will set up your bassinet, customize dining times for children and any special dietary requirements you may have. She can also suggest separate dining times for your children to leave you free to enjoy your own meals.
Most of the US-based airlines offer basic assistance and amenities for infant travelers, although often FAA regulations and strict guidelines make their practices appear slightly less baby-friendly than their overseas counterparts. Delta (tel. 800/241-4141; www.delta.com) adheres to strict safety restrictions and travel guidelines for using child restraints and seating locations. If the seat next to you is unoccupied, you may place your infant in the seat using an FAA approved child restraint. You must pay for the seat to assure its availability. You will be unable to sit in emergency exit rows (or one row either direction of one), aisle seats or bulkhead seats (when the car seat is a combination car seat and stroller). An adult may hold an infant or have the infant in an FAA-approved child restraint during take-off and landing. Delta does not permit the use of booster seats or vest and harness-type child restraint devices, even if they bear labels indicating they meet US or foreign government standards.
Continental Airlines (tel. 800/231-0856; www.continental.com) will accept one child under two years traveling with an adult, provided the child does not occupy a seat. If there are two or more infants traveling with the same passenger, only one of the children may travel as a lap child, the other is required to have a paid ticket. An infant ticket (10%) is required for international travel with taxes additional. Infants who are over two years old are required to purchase a ticket and occupy a customer seat. Continental offers bassinets on select international flights for infants weighing 22 pounds or less. These must be requested at the time reservation is made. Infant meals are available on selected international flights only but must be requested at least 24 hours before departure.
American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) does not provide baby food, bottles and other related items. In general, children under two years of age pay 10% either on your lap or in a provided bassinet. Additional charges and taxes may apply on international routes. American Airlines also offers a 50% discount for a guaranteed seat for children under two in order to encourage use of child safety seats. Children over two are charged the normal, adult fare.
United (tel. 800/538-2929; www.united.com) allows approved infant car seats on board the aircraft if a cabin seat for the child has been confirmed and paid for. Booster seats, belly belts (which attach to adult seat belts), and vests or harnesses are not permitted. Bassinets are provided for babies up to six- months free of charge and special meals are available with 36 hours notice. Under-twos pay 10% of adult fare and children over two pay 67% of adult fare. Diapers can also be supplied on international flights but changing tables are only available on certain types of aircraft. Only one infant per grouping of seats on the aircraft is acceptable due to the availability of oxygen masks, which pretty much rules out flying United with twins.
Remember, for international travel, your infant will need a passport even from the earliest age, plus if you are a parent traveling alone, you may need a letter of authorization from the other parent when applicable for you to leave the country with the child. It is also recommended that you travel with a copy of your baby's birth certificate.
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