On some airlines, infants and smaller children are banned from first class and business class. On most airlines, the desirable bulkhead seats are often sold for premium fees. On most airlines, the increasingly large strollers must be checked and charged as additional checked bags. Fees for obtaining a specific seat assignment may be $120 for a family of four.
The airlines are unapologetic, noting there's no requirement to provide exceptions for additional bags, strollers, etc. Some airlines have cracked down on lap babies, Southwest requires a birth certificate to prove the child is under two years old. In some cases, certain seats do not have the additional oxygen mask required if a lap baby is seated in that group. This is especially true of regional jets. This will force a seat reassignment, possibly breaking up a family group.
The feds have considered requiring every traveler to be in a seat of their own. The airlines have resisted offering free seats, and parents have resisted paying for discounted or full fare seats. The NTSB has expressed concern that, if forced to pay, many parents would elect to drive longer distances, exposing children to the greater highway accident risk. Stalemate!
Even during peak holiday travel periods, adults, of course, outnumber children on planes, and airlines have to balance the needs of parents with other passengers whose nightmare is a long, crowded flight next to a noisy child.
Several factors are at play. First, many seats on flights are reserved for elite-level frequent fliers or full-fare business travelers. Routinely full flights have less seat-assignment flexibility. Also, airlines are increasingly selling choice seat assignments for extra fees, an expensive option for families. And bulkhead rows at the front of coach cabins that used to be ideal for traveling with infants, offering more privacy for diaper changes and more space for restless toddlers, now have to be reserved for passengers with disabilities. As a result, families often end up separated or at the back of the plane.
In Mr. Lyon's case, United says its systems are set up to keep groups together, but his seat assignments may have been altered because of a change in aircraft for his trip. After he complained, including sending United the names of passengers who witnessed the confrontation, the airline said it conducted an investigation and apologized to him.
Jogging strollers, in particular, have drawn fire from the airlines. Many don't collapse, making it difficult to gate check them, so they are checked, and charged. Changes in aircraft type or particular plane within a same type also wreak havoc with seating as rows may not line up or keep a group together on the new plane. Some airlines don't have assigned seating, so a family group may board a plane with through passengers already on board, and board after elite or A group passengers, so there may not be sufficient seats together.
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Airlines now have restrictions on the size of strollers, which have been getting bigger and fancier. American won't gate-check jogging strollers. United will only gate-check collapsible strollers.
BAGGAGE / CARRY-ONS
Diaper bags don't count toward carry-on baggage allowance on Continental and American flights. Not so on many other carriers.
If you have a car seat and a stroller, Continental will only check one free.
Lap children usually get no baggage allowance—any bags count against allotments for parents. One mother traveling with one lap child and two checked bags pays fees on both bags, totaling $120 round-trip. A third bag would add $250 round-trip on Delta.
Most airlines charge lap-child fares for international flights, typically 10% of the fare the adult pays for the seat, plus taxes and fees.
Southwest Airlines requires a copy of a birth certificate before giving a lap child permission to board free.
If an infant turns 2 while traveling, United requires the purchase of a ticket for the return flight home.