How Much Is Your Baby Worth? Ask An Airline

Back in January, a mommy-friend had posted a link on her Facebook page that caught my attention as a mommy that travels with infant a lot. The article, “Oil Prices Don’t Vex Airlines; But Fees Could Rise,” talked about how airlines were likely to start up-charging for more than seat upgrades and checked baggage:

“To offset higher fuel and operating costs, airlines might push through a wave of new fees that are sure to be unpopular. One industry watcher has a lineup that shows how inventive the airlines might be:

Charging for lap-held infants, paying by the pound for checked luggage, fees for carry-ons, and a ‘convenience’ fee to book on the Internet.”

Of course, the whole charging for a lap-held baby thing snagged my attention. Seriously? That sounded absolutely ridiculous to me. And I’m someone that would pay for an extra seat for an infant if I was on a long-haul flight. I mean, anything less than five hours and I’m not going to be bothered with the price of another seat. And anything over eight and it’s almost a must, especially if you’re traveling alone, as I most often am. I mean, what are you supposed to do with a sleeping baby when you have to use the restroom?

Last week I booked an overseas trip to Europe for baby and momma. Given that I was traveling internationally, I would’ve considered booking a separate ticket for baby had it not been for three things:

  1. The flight itself is just shy of my 8-hour rule
  2. The price of tickets was nearly double what I paid last year
  3. It’s a direct flight, so once I’m settled in on the plane, that’s it; I don’t have to worry about a layover

Given those three considerations, I decided it was doable, even by myself, to hold baby on my lap. After all, if I played my cards right, he might be racked out for the night within 90 minutes of the flight taking off.

So, I booked one ticket. As I was checking out online, I noticed that the final price was something close to $160 more than the price was listed online. About $130 was attributable to taxes and fees (I still don’t understand why those can’t just be included in the price when advertised), but there was another random charge:

Gives new meaning to new addition

Yup. Continental now wants to charge me nearly $30 for holding the baby in my lap.

How messed up is that? It’s not like baby is an extra piece of luggage, a superfluous valise full of clothes that you’ll never wear on your trip but you bring anyway. You can’t just choose not to take your baby with you. Not to mention that a mom with a lap-held infant is a good thing for the airlines. It’s a chance to not only sell a seat at a potentially higher price but also to sell as seat to a traveler who might make additional purchases of alcohol, in-flight entertainment, or Skymall junk. Plus, a baby doesn’t complain when there are no more beef meals left.

But I guess in the world of airline business, every additional pound you pack on board has at least a fuel cost and probably some labor cost associated with it, although I would argue that a crying baby takes up less of a flight attendant’s bandwidth than a cranky frequent flier. But how do airlines figure out what to charge is my question.

I mean, how did Continental come to the decision that $28 was the price for a lap baby? Are they charging by the pound? Maybe. I checked the WHO’s growth charts for infants. There may be something to my theory.

On paper, the fair way for airlines to figure out what average weight to factor into their fee calculations would be to just use the average weight for a 12-month-old baby. This would assume that half the babies traveling are under a year old and the other half are 12 to 24 months old. At around a year old, average babies hit the 21-23 lbs mark, depending on whether the baby is a girl or a boy.

However, in reality that may not be true at all. I would venture a guess that most traveling babies are older babies, at least six months if not a year+, when they really start traveling. (My baby being a bit of an exception, of course, given our family situation.)  So, really maybe airlines are guessing that, on average, babies on board are about 18 months old and, therefore, weigh a bit more.

Assuming this is the case, it looks like Continental thinks a baby costs them about $1 per pound to fly.

I don’t know if that seems like a lot or a little. I don’t think I’ve quite digested the fact airlines could, in fact, be charging on an average poundage. And given that this fee is totally new to me, I can’t say whether it’s based on travel distance or not. I haven’t flown Continental domestically recently to be able to compare the infant fees.

But honestly, doesn’t the idea of charging for a lap-held baby just seem wrong? Shoot, sometimes I think the airlines should credit me the $28 to do that.

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2 Comments

Filed under babies, baby travel, daily life, infants, travel

2 responses to “How Much Is Your Baby Worth? Ask An Airline

  1. walkingon

    I’m actually surprised Continental charged so little for you to hold your son on your lap. Although it is free to carry an infant on domestic flights, most airlines charge 10% of an adult ticket for you to hold a child on your lap on international flights. I had to go to China this past fall for my job, so I took my hubby and 14-month old (at the time) along with me. Because of cost and the fact that there were two of us, we decided to just carry him on our laps. It cost about $180 to do this. Granted, he was walking by then and if he wasn’t sleeping, then one of us was walking up and down the aisles after him for a lot of that 14.5 hour flight, so a seat would probably have been lost on him, but still. I think the airlines actually assume you are using that extra baggage fee you are allowed when you carry a kid on. That extra “diaper bag” allowance can come in handy. And you can check car seats and strollers for free at the gate or as checked luggage.
    I have to tell you, I’m more terrified about airlines changing the rules on holding infants in your laps that you also posted about. I am rushing to get as many trips in as I can before my son is 2 next fall. I love that he flies free most of the time. Saves us loads of money.
    Have an amazing time visiting your family. Although our sons might not remember these trips, they are making priceless memories we will remember as families forever. Safe and sane travels!

    • Thanks for the info, walkingon! I guess I should be counting my blessings that it was only $28 rather than $128 (or more!) to hold the wee one on my lap. I also agree that it’s definitely a bonus to be able to check strollers and car seats for free, although I do everything possible to avoid having to lug a car seat when I’m traveling with baby, as I’m usually by myself during these excursions. It’s worth the $10 or so/day the car rental places charge not to have to deal with it. But I have to say kudos to you for braving a 14.5 hour flight with a wee one–and a walking, talking one at that! That’s seriously impressive.

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