Final Free Flight as a Two Year Old Costs a Family Hundreds of Dollars

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Most family travelers probably know that the second birthday is one that is met with cheers and celebration, but also perhaps a small tear as it is the line of demarcation between being able to fly for free as a lap baby and having to buy a full blown seat. The United States-based airlines require you to purchase a seat for your child as soon as they turn two even if that means that they potentially flew for free on the outbound but now need to purchase a seat on the return flight.

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Two means two here in the US of A.

Oh no, two years old means I need a seat?!

Some airlines let new two-year-olds fly for free

However, around the world, some airlines are a little more generous when it comes to squeezing in one more ‘free’ flight when a child turns two between the outbound and return flights. The most popular example of this that I know of is British Airways who states that “If you’re traveling with an infant who reaches the age of 2 during their journey, your child will need their own seat for any flights on and after their 2nd birthday. We won’t charge you extra for this; you’ll only pay the infant fare for the entire journey.”

Another airline that shares a somewhat similar policy is Jetstar who states that “If your infant is less than 2 years old on your outbound flight, they won’t need an allocated seat on the return flight, even if they turn 2 during your trip. This won’t apply if your infant was booked on separate bookings for the outbound and return flight.”

A final free flight as a two-year-old costs hundreds of dollars

An Australian family apparently took Jetstar up on this offer to squeeze in a final lap baby trip before their kiddo turned two and headed to Bali with their toddler. Everything seemingly worked just fine on the outbound flight, but when the trip was over and it was time to fly home with their toddler who had just turned two the day before, the airline refused to fly the family unless they purchased an AUD 900 ($700 USD) ticket for the two years and one day old toddler.

What went wrong? 

On the surface this whole debacle makes no sense since Jetstar specifically states you don’t need an allocated seat on the return flight for a child who turns two on the trip, but apparently, a clerical error on the part of the father when booking the ticket caused all sorts of problems. The father reportedly entered the wrong birthday for the toddler and when they checked in at the airport it was noticed that the passport and the entered birthday for the child were different, and ultimately the whole family missed their flight.

Who knows whether the father truly accidentally entered the birth date wrong (it happens) or it was an intentional act to make the child appear younger if he wasn’t aware of the rule that they could fly home as a lap baby anyway. Either way, this error caused the whole family to miss their flights and caused the airline to want over $700 USD to get the newly minted two-year-old home.

My two cents are if the airline lets children who turn two during the trip fly home as lap infants then they should have just fixed the clerical error as quickly as possible and let the family get on home. That said, of course, you need to be precise when entering names and birthdates for international tickets. It does get easier to make accidental mistakes when you are booking tickets for multiple people with multiple passports.

In terms of flying with a two-year-old on your lap, with many two-year-olds it simply isn’t feasible as they are pretty big and squirmy by that point. We almost never flew with our first daughter as a lap child as she was so much happier (and safer) in her car seat. However, my second snuggle bug wanted to snuggle up in my lap as long as possible, so she did fly as a lap child until she was almost two years old.

Most airlines will require that you purchase a child’s ticket as soon as the child turns two, even if that is in the middle of the trip. There are a few exceptions to that rule (such as British Airways, even Jetstar); just be darn sure you enter the birthdate correctly when booking the ticket so you don’t end up “stranded in Bali”!

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  1. We have a larger (25 lb) 9 month old that we just took as a lap child on a 4 hour flight from SFO-MEX. We were lucky on the flight out and had an empty seat between us, but it was a full flight on the way back. It is one of our last planned flights with him as a lap child as he is quite squirrely already.
    Our next trip with him as a 1 year old we have a seat for him for the long haul portions to Europe but will lap child him for the short hop flights in Europe. I can’t imagine holding him for more than a couple hours now. He is heavy and wants to move around too much.
    Being able to find flights from SFO to Europe for less than $500 makes it easier to stomach purchasing him a seat.

  2. Just a heads up that many European airlines have children fares. For example, kids below 12 years old pay a fraction of an adult fare. We use that every year with Alitalia when we go visit family in Italy. Our older son just turned 12 and this year we flt the pain of having to pay full fare for him. Also, same works for many hotels (non chain) in Europe where kids below 12 pay less.

  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–you are taking a risk with your child’s life and others on the aircraft when your child becomes a projectile. Everything else has to be stowed but not a living, human being. Ridiculous and irresponsible.

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