Advice for flying with twin babies (or multiple young children)
Traveling with a baby is hard. Traveling with 2 babies (and for us, another child) may seem impossible, but I promise if we can do it, you can do it. Our twins just turned 2 (no more free flights for them as lap infants!) and I’m going to share some information I’ve learned thus far. Even if you’re not a parent of twins, many of these tips are still helpful for families with young children.
When I found out I was pregnant with twins I thought our travel days were over for a while. But soon after giving birth I was ready to book our first trip as a family of 5. The girls were easier to handle than I expected, so I was determined to make it work. The girls boarded their first plane at the ripe age of 4 months.
For the purpose of this article and as defined by airlines, a ‘lap infant’ refers to a child under the age of 2 years old who does not occupy his or her own seat. Most airlines accept infants as young as 7-14 days old. A child can fly as a lap infant until his or her 2nd birthday. As a result, you may see me referring to an almost-2 year old as an infant in this post.
An adult is only allowed one lap infant… but who would travel alone with twin babies?!
If you were planning on flying alone with twins, you’re my hero. But you will have to purchase a seat for one of them.
Do I have to pay to add lap infants?
Lap infants are generally free for travel within the US. But we need to talk about international travel.
Regardless of whether you’re traveling on a paid or award ticket, you’re likely going to be charged for a lap infant on an international itinerary. Usually this is 10% of the fare at the time of adding the lap infant plus taxes and fees. For example, if the adult ticket is $1000, the infant lap ticket price is $100. Some airlines will let you pay 10% of the miles of an adult award ticket and some airlines just have a flat fee.
To avoid sticker shock, I suggest checking the airline’s policy prior to booking your ticket to confirm the lap infant policy on international travel. Most policies can be found online.
This is particularly a concern when traveling in a premium cabin. I’ll save my thoughts on babies in business/first class for another day. In a nutshell, I have mixed feelings about it, but now that I have my own kids I have a little more patience if that’s the way parents choose to go.
Anyway, a long-haul business or first class international ticket usually costs thousands. That means you will have to pay hundreds or even thousands to add a lap child. That could really put a damper on your spirits after your score a business class ticket with miles. If you have twins, you will have to pay 10% for each twin. Ouch!
Do I need to book the lap infant (s) when I book the adult tickets?
Some airlines allow you to add an infant online during either the booking or check-in process. For international lap infant tickets, you may have to call.
When traveling within the US, it is usually fine to wait until check-in (online or at the ticket counter) to add a lap infant to your tickets. If you’re unable to check-in online with a lap infant, there may be an issue with your chosen seats. See below.
If you’re traveling internationally, you should call as soon as your ticket is issued, especially if it’s on an airline that charges 10% of the adult ticket price at the time of booking the lap infant. To clarify, the 10% is figured based on the CURRENT adult ticket price when you add the lap child, NOT the price of the ticket on the date your tickets were purchased. As you get closer to the date of travel, the cost of the ticket is likely to rise which means the cost of adding an infant (or two) rises.
I’m working on a more comprehensive guide to lap infants on international tickets with more information about each airline, so look for that in the near future.
What if the lap infant turns 2 before the return flight?
Infants who reach their second birthday during the trip must have their own ticket and occupy a seat for the return flight. This is for both domestic and international travel.
Some airlines will book the return ticket for no additional charge! Consider it a birthday gift if that’s the case, but don’t expect it. Some airlines also offer child fares, but do not expect a child fare to be much of a discount.
If each parent has a lap infant, will we be able to sit together?
You will most likely NOT be able to sit in the same row with 2 lap infants (that usually means both sides of the row, but on larger planes it may be acceptable).
The airline is not trying to make your life more difficult with this policy. This is actually due to the amount of oxygen masks in each row.
For example, on most 737s, you cannot sit in the same row on one side of the plane if your partner and other twin are in the same row on the other side. This is an American Airlines 737 aircraft:
The closest you can sit together is one row behind the other. For example, 17d and 18d. You cannot have 17c and 17d. The only way for 2 parents with lap twins to sit in the same row is to buy a seat for one of the twins.
Adults with lap infants are also not allowed to sit in the exit rows or the rows before and after the exit rows.
There may be other limitations, so it is important to check with the airline for acceptable lap infant seat assignments. You can usually find this information online or you can call.
A lap infant usually is permitted in bulkhead rows, but remember, most likely that means only one lap infant. A bulkhead row may seem like a good idea because you will have more legroom and space in front of you. If you choose a seat in a bulkhead row, you will have to stow your belongings in the overhead bin during takeoff and landing. I like to be able to access my diaperbag/backpack at all times, so we usually do not choose bulkhead row seats. But if space is important to you, it’s something to consider.
Choose your seats as early as possible. As the flight gets fuller, the chance of getting seats in two consecutive rows becomes smaller. Gate agents and flight attendants are usually wiling to assist in seating families together, but that may mean changing seat assignments of your fellow passengers. We don’t want to piss off our fellow passengers before the flight even starts.
Baggage considerations for lap infants
First of all, this information is specific to lap infants. If you have purchased a seat at the adult fare price, the infant/child usually gets the same baggage allowance as an adult. If you have purchased a seat at a child fare rate, the child may or may not get a baggage allowance.
Carry on allowance for lap infants
Usually a lap infant does not get an extra carry on allowance. But most airlines do allow a diaper bag that will not count against your own carry on allowance. So you can usually have a roll aboard suitcase (carry on), a backpack (personal item), and a diaper bag.
The following airlines allow a diaper bag in addition to your carry on allowance.
Alaska Airlines DOES NOT allow a diaper bag, so your diaper bag will have to be one of your 2 carry-on items. Honestly, I can’t imagine having a roll aboard plus a backpack/purse plus a diaper bag. So I’m okay with this. Make your purse or backpack your diaper bag. Trust me. You don’t want to be responsible for 3 carry-ons in addition to a baby or two.
- For domestic flights, a lap infant is not entitled to a checked bag allowance.
- For international lap infant tickets, some airlines will allow a checked bag for the infant in addition to the stroller and carseat. Although I do encourage packing lightly, having an allowance for an extra bag or two if you’re needing to check baby equipment such as pack and plays may save you some money. I’ll discuss that later in this post.
For both international and domestic flights, you can check a car seat and stroller for each lap infant for free and they do not count against the adults’ baggage allowance
Usually, this even includes fares labeled as ‘Basic Economy’.
Are you renting a car at your destination? Car seats are expensive to rent, especially for twins, but it’s free to bring your own to check. Some people choose to bring a carseat through security rather than checking it because in the event that there is an open seat next to yours on the plane, your lap infant can occupy that seat in their carseat. Some people drag their carseat (s) through the airport in hopes that this happens. If the seat is not empty, the carseat will have to be checked at the gate.
Don’t be surprised if a seat is empty when you check in but later gets assigned to someone by the time the flight is boarding. This happens all the time. If you really want your infant (by infant I mean lap child) to occupy a seat next to you, the only way to guarantee it is to purchase the seat.
I highly recommend this device for traveling with young children
Whether you buy a seat for the infant/child on a plane or get lucky enough to have an empty seat next to you, it is highly recommended-although technically not required- that a child occupying a seat is placed in an FAA approved restraint. Most US carseats are approved but check the label on the carseat. It should say “This Restraint is Certified for Use in Motor Vehicles and Aircraft”.
Rather than dragging our carseats through the airport and keeping our fingers crossed that a seat is open, we would check the carseats and then bring along this device. The CARES Child Safety Device is FAA approved and when folded, it takes up minimal space in your carry on, and it weighs less than one pound. It only takes about a minute to install. This is also a good alternative once the child is older and required to have their own seat on a plane.
If you bought a seat for the toddler/child and have no reason to need a carseat besides on the plane, this is also a great alternative (for example, if you’re going to Disney World and taking the Magic Express or if you book a car service that provides carseats). Obviously if you have young infants, this will not work. The child must weigh at least 22 pounds and be able to sit upright comfortably.
My advice is to buy the CARES harness and put the carseat in one of these padded car seat bags and check the carseat. The one below is a backpack but there are also bags with wheels if you prefer that. I think the backpack is easier because is frees up your hands for suitcases, strollers, and babies.
Usually you can use your stroller in the airport and then valet check (often confused with “gate check”) just before boarding the plane.
To be clear, I am referring to the process of leaving your stroller on the jet bridge and picking it up on the jet bridge or just outside of the aircraft upon arriving at your next stop (or destination if you’re on a direct flight). Usually, gate checking actually refers to checking a bag at the gate and then retrieving it at the baggage claim of your final destination. It is important to distinguish between the two, especially if you have a connection and want to make sure you have your stroller for your layover.
How to valet check your stroller or carseat:
Southwest and Alaska Airlines: You need to get a tag before boarding. You definitely do not want to procrastinate on this considering both airlines allow earlier boarding when traveling with small children. If you are about to board and get sent to the gate counter agent to get a valet ticket printed/written, you will lose your place in line. Translation: you may lose overhead bin space for your carry ons. Or end up with bad seats if you’re on Southwest. You should go to the gate counter to take care of this before the boarding process begins.
Delta: They will give you a tag when your boarding pass is scanned just before boarding the plane. You shouldn’t need to stop at the gate counter prior to boarding.
American Airlines: They will give you a valet tag at the gate, but read below because their policy on plane-side-checked strollers is a little more limiting than other US carriers. If you have a double stroller that is not an umbrella stroller, you will likely have to check it at the ticket counter before you go through security.
I’m not sure about JetBlue and United because we’ve never flown with lap infants on those airlines. Both allow you to plane-side-check a double stroller, I just do not know what their process is when doing so.
Double Umbrella Stroller vs. Big Double Stroller
For us, this decision depends on where we’re going. For a trip to the beach to visit my parents, we know that we can get by with just the umbrella stroller. But for a trip to Disney, we prefer to bring the big one.
Our favorite stroller ever is the Double BOB Flex. While it does collapse, it’s still pretty heavy and bulky (which is common for double strollers no matter what kind you have). But umbrella strollers are convenient and lightweight. You can easily collapse a double umbrella stroller and should be able to valet/gate check it on any airline.
So what about full size strollers such as the BOB I just mentioned? Well most airlines will let you valet/gate check a stroller as long as it collapses, regardless of size and weight. This means you can bring the stroller through security and use it in the airport while waiting to board your flight. I know from experience that Delta, Alaska Airlines, Virgin America, and Southwest allow double strollers to be valet checked as long as they collapse. According to their websites, United and JetBlue allow this as well, but we have never flown those airlines with babies. Expect to spend a little more time at security as they will “search” your stroller if it doesn’t fit through the machine.
Unfortunately, American Airlines will make you check any stroller that weighs more than 20 pounds at the ticket counter. This pretty much means that any double stroller other than an umbrella stroller will need to be checked (at least it’s free though). We made that mistake once. But who needs a stroller when you have this?
What about Baby Equipment such as cribs and pack and plays?
If you’re staying in a hotel, you should call the hotel to find out if they have cribs and/or pack and plays. Most hotels have one or the other (or both) and will provide them in your room at no extra cost. If you have twins, it is also important to confirm that the room type for which you are booked will allow 2 cribs. Sometimes you are only allowed one due to fire code.
If you’re staying in a house, AirBNB, etc., contact the property manager. Many rental properties do have some baby items available. But what if they don’t?
On our recent trip to Hawaii, our house had a pack and play, but there was only one. Our twins are too big to share a crib/pack and play, and t
hey aren’t ready for I’m not ready for them to sleep in a “big girl bed” yet, so we knew we needed a second pack and play. I came up with three options:
- Bring ours, but most airlines count this as a checked bag. So it is not free like carseats and strollers. This costs $25 each way on most airlines, so $50 total.* Some very nice ticket counter agents ended up waiving the fee on the way to Hawaii AND on the way back. So this ended up costing us nothing!
*If you can pack light and you have an airline co-branded credit card with a free checked bag perk, one parent can check a suitcase and the other could check the pack and play and it would be free! This may be difficult for longer trips that require more luggage though. For example, we all know that I pack light when the kids aren’t with us, but Hawaii was another story! I have the Alaska Airlines co-branded card which allows me and up to 4 people on my reservation to check one bag each for free. We were already using our free first bag allowances, so I would have to pay $25 to check our pack and play.
- Rent equipment. Many destinations have companies that rent baby equipment such as strollers, cribs, highchairs, etc. Many will deliver the equipment to your hotel or wherever you’re staying. The cost to rent a pack and play in Hawaii was going to be at least $80. We could buy a pack and play for that… which is the other option
- Buy one once we get there (or Amazon Prime it. But that may not always be possible depending on where you’re staying). Simple pack and plays can be as cheap as $40-$50. So it may be cheaper to buy one than renting one or bringing one!
We did not want to waste any time on provisions once we landed in Hawaii (we even had our groceries delivered!), so we decided to go with the first option. This turned out to be the cheapest option also because the ticket counter employees waived the fee. It always helps to be nice.*
*I did not receive special treatment because of this blog. When traveling, I try to refrain from mentioning the fact that I have a blog because I want to keep my experiences and reviews as typical and honest as possible.
Things to know for the airport
Don’t forget a copy of the birth certificate(s)… or other proof of age such as a Global Entry card if they have one
Southwest will likely require proof of age no matter how young the baby looks. Other carriers are hit or miss. I like to play it safe, so at the very least, you should always keep a copy (photo) on your phone. Multiple airline agents have told me a photo on your phone should be adequate, but I try to always have a printed copy on me just in case.
Of course if you’re traveling internationally you will also need a passport for the lap child. You probably don’t need a birth certificate since you have a passport but again, just keep a photo on your phone. Or in your email in case you lose your phone.
Speaking of Global Entry, if you have Global Entry but your kid(s) do not, they CANNOT use Global Entry with you
Translation: you will have to wait in customs lines unless you find a nice stranger to bring your children through while you enjoy an adult beverage in the lounge. Kidding. But seriously, if you’re going to be traveling internationally with children and you have Global Entry, why not get Global Entry for them too? Several credit cards such as American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve will reimburse the fee.
If you have TSA Precheck, children up to the age of 12 are allowed to use Precheck with you even if they do not have their own KTN (known traveler number)
While kids are required to have their own Global Entry, TSA Precheck is a little different. So if you only plan to travel domestically with your children, getting their own Global Entry/TSA Precheck isn’t necessary.
You can usually board early with a lap infant (or two)… but do you really want to?
If you’re flying Southwest, with young kids, you can board after the A group no matter what your position is on your boarding pass. Since seats are first come, first serve, I suggest boarding early if you’re on a Southwest flight.
Delta, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines also allow early boarding for those traveling with young children. American Airlines and United may grant pre-boarding upon request. If you need overhead bin space, you should probably board early. If you do not need overhead bin space, you may want to wait to board. Depending on the capacity of the plane, the boarding process can take 30 minutes or longer. So if you board early you’re going to have to keep your twins entertained with limited space for an extra 30 minutes. For that reason, some parents prefer to wait until the boarding process is further along to minimize their time with young children in a cramped airplane.
General information and tips for flying with a lap infant or two:
You do not have to pass out $300 headphones to your fellow passengers (looking at you, Clooney), but it doesn’t hurt to buy your neighbor a drink. Also, please be nice to your flight attendants.
Ryan and I used to get really annoyed with kids on planes. Until we had our own. Now if a baby is crying we’re just thankful it’s not ours! We have a lot more patience and empathy towards parents flying with young children even when we’re flying without ours.
Chances are, a majority of your fellow passengers either had young children at some point or will have young children in the future.
For the most part, flight attendants are very accommodating to families with lap infants/young children. Usually they offer to warm bottles, give us extra water, whatever they can do to help. They’re used to parents and babies on planes. Be kind and they will be kind.
Give Starbursts or some other chewy candy such as gummy worms during takeoff and landing
Please don’t judge. I’m no dentist, but this advice did come from Jack’s ENT doctor. Chewing helps prevent ear popping/ear discomfort. We only give them Starbursts and Gummy Worms on plane trips so that it’s a special treat they look forward to.
Obviously this does not apply to babies. We always gave ours a bottle at takeoff and landing which seemed to help.
B.Y.O.M. (Bring your own milk)
Milk is usually not an option for beverages on the plane so it’s always good to buy a small bottle (or two) of milk at an airport store/cafe prior to boarding.
A few days prior to travel, adjust their schedule to match your destination’s time zone if possible. This is fairly simple if you only have a few hours difference between your time zone and your destination’s time zone. If you’re traveling somewhere with a 12 hour time difference, I don’t know what to tell you. Good luck.
Bassinets on planes
We’ve never used them because most of our flights with kids up to this point have been pretty short. But for an international flight you may be able to request a bassinet on certain aircrafts. I suggest requesting this ahead of time if possible, but some airlines only take requests once you’re at the airport on the day of travel.
Changing tables on planes
Most planes, especially longer flights on a wide-body aircraft, have at least one lavatory with a changing table.
For mothers who are nursing
- Most airlines allow pumping equipment and/or a cooler bag of pumped milk in addition to your carry on allowance.
- You can bring as much pumped breastmilk as you need to through security. Just give yourself a little extra time because they will screen all containers. They will also swab your hands.
- Many airports are becoming more accommodating to nursing mothers. In just the past 5 years I’ve noticed a huge increase in nursing/pumping rooms and family bathrooms in airports.
- If you have lounge access, some lounges have private rooms where you can breastfeed or pump.
- Minute suites is another great option but unfortunately it’s currently only available in 3 airports. Those airports are DFW, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. A suite is free for an hour with Priority Pass* ($42 value). If you’re breastfeeding or pumping, Minute Suites will give you 30 minutes for free (even if you do not have Priority Pass). There is a sofa, a desk and chair, and a TV in every room.
*Priority Pass membership is free with many premium cards such as American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve. Click here for current credit card offers.
Bonus: if you’re traveling during football season they have DirecTV with NFL ticket! This is a happy husband.
I know that was a ton of information. Contact me if you have any questions. Cheers!!