The easy way to add an infant to an award flight (most of the time)

As the saying goes, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans “. That quote is of course more of a statement on the time we waste making plans rather than living life as it happens. I recently went on vacation and needed to add my son as a lap infant to a couple of reservations. I discovered that “while you’re busy making other plans” can mean different things, as there is usually an easy way and a hard way to add a lap infant to an award ticket. Next time, I’ll hopefully spend less time being busy making plans and more time living life thanks to what I learned – and what didn’t go smoothly.

Why add a lap infant in advance? 

This trip was our first real trip with our infant son in terms of far-away plane travel. It was also the first time we’ve had to deal with adding a lap infant to a reservation, as our son had his own seat for his first two flights several months ago. One tip I’d read on a number of blogs was to try to add the lap infant ahead of time if possible as it is not uncommon for a check-in agent to seem like a deer in the headlights when trying to do it at the airport, leading to a long wait and help required from two or three other agents. On this trip, we flew from New York to Los Angeles on Delta and then from Los Angeles to Los Cabos, Mexico and later to San Jose, CA on Southwest before returning from San Francisco to New York on Delta. In the process, I learned the easy way and the hard way to go about adding a lap infant to a reservation.

I should note that I know people have strong opinions on the safety of traveling with a lap infant. Some will argue how inherently unsafe it is not to have the child secured to a seat when unexpected (and at times very dangerous) turbulence can happen without warning. Others will argue that air travel, even as a lap infant, is infinitely safer than car travel (something most of us wouldn’t bat an eye over). I respect the various perspectives and understand that we all care about our kids and will accept varying degrees of risk. In this case, my son ended up with his own seat on both Southwest flights (neither was more than half sold) and was on our laps for the Delta flights because I had booked them well before he was born and there hadn’t been availability of another award seat in my searches since he was born (Delta told me that the only option for an infant to have his/her own seat on a domestic flight would be to pay the full adult fare). This post isn’t focusing on the merits of lap infant travel but rather on how to add a lap infant should you choose to do so.

Baby Rey certainly seemed to be under the impression that this seat was *his*.

The hard way: over the phone

My parents get very frustrated with telephone customer service. I frequently tell them that they should not take care of any customer service issue via phone that could be handled online. Do as I say, not as I do. With the apple apparently falling not far from the tree, I inexplicably opted for phoning Delta to add my son to the New York-to-Los Angeles flight. This was an award ticket I had booked via Virgin Atlantic. While I knew that a lap infant would be free since it is a domestic Delta flight, I wasn’t positive if Delta would be able to add the lap infant or if they would tell me to call Virgin Atlantic or deal with it at the airport. In hindsight, that makes my decision to call and waste time on hold all the sillier.

Luckily, the phone agent was able to easily add a lap infant to my reservation and it took less than 5 minutes once I got a human on the phone. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to a human immediately — the call took 57 minutes, about 52 of which was hold time. As we finished up, the agent asked if she could help with anything else. I said no and she said goodbye. Just as she was hanging up the phone, I tried to cut in — but I was not fast enough to say, “Oh yeah, I have a second reservation for the trip back to New York and I need to add a lap infant to that one, too!”. Instead, I heard the click of the disconnection. Doh!

A little while later, I looked up my reservation online at Delta.com and saw my son added. This screen shot will become relevant a bit further down….

The easy way: via Twitter (sometimes)

Twitter reps these days sometimes get a bad rap because every airline/hotel/business is so quick to respond to a negative tweet asking to take the conversation out of the public eye via direct message that it sometimes seems like reps aren’t reading our tweets at all. However, I’ve had more success than failure in getting simple things like this fixed up via Twitter.

I was further a bit curious about the process with Southwest. I am a Companion Pass holder and had not yet added my companion (my wife) to my reservation. I wasn’t sure if there was a “correct” order when it comes to adding a lap infant and companion. My understanding of Southwest policy was that I would need to pay the taxes for the infant on an international flight. My Southwest flights were from Los Angeles to Mexico and then from Mexico to San Jose, California. Based on policy as I’d read it, I expected to owe some money in taxes for both flights. I figured that likely meant that I would have to call or add the lap infant at the airport — but before I got sucked into the call center rabbit hole for a second time, I figured I’d give the Twitter team a shot. I skipped tweeting and went straight to a direct message to Southwest:

The answer to my question was that it didn’t matter whether I added my companion or lap infant first — either way should be fine. But further, to my surprise, the social media team can add a lap infant to a reservation. I wouldn’t have thought of that, and if I had I wouldn’t have expected it to work for an international ticket. However, as you see above, it did. I immediately received the email confirmation showing the cost as $0.

Feeling like I had just garnered a small win, I figured it was worth trying for two:

For a second, I thought I’d really come out ahead when the Southwest rep told me that they had added my son on the flight from Mexico to the US also as I took this to mean that there was no charge for tax via Twitter. Of course, the agent realized almost immediately that she could not in fact make this add – I had to later do it in person at the airport. While that didn’t turn out to be a big deal, it definitely was a bit slower. By contrast, the entire Twitter conversation to add him to the Los Angeles-to-Mexico flight took less than 10 minutes. Overall, that seemed like a win.

And so that inspired me to get back on the horse with Delta, hoping that I could save myself another hour on the phone just to add a free lap infant and save myself time at the airport that could be better spent in the Sky Club. I took to Twitter rather than opting for hold music.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as easy to book the lap infant ticket via Twitter with Delta. Initially, it took a long time to get responses. While this image shows 30 minutes from the time I gave them the confirmation number, the timeline was much longer. I tweeted looking for assistance and it was 30 minutes before they tweeted back asking me to DM with the confirmation number. Then it was about 90 minutes after the exchange below began before I started to lose patience.

When we got to the 90-minute mark since providing them with the confirmation number with no word from them apart from what you see above, I asked if we could move it along and get this wrapped up. Another 16 minutes later, they asked if I had booked with Virgin miles or Delta miles. When I responded that I’d booked it with Virgin miles, the agent told me that I would have to contact Virgin. That might have made sense to me had it not been for the fact that I’d added a lap infant to the previous ticket (booked with Virgin miles) over the phone with Delta without any issue (the agent never mentioned how I’d booked it, nor did she seem to struggle at all with booking the infant ticket). Further, I had now just received 3 separate confirmation numbers and ticket numbers for my son from Delta. The Twitter rep explained this was because they had tried to create the reservation for my son 3 times, but the system wouldn’t let them merge the infant reservation with mine because they were not on identical ticket stock / payment methods. The Twitter rep told me that the reservations had to be on identical ticket stock. Again, that wouldn’t seem unreasonable, except that later on (after wrestling with this for a few hours), I went back to my screen shots from the night Delta added my son over the phone for the JFK-LAX leg of the trip — again, see below:

I’ll admit to being very much out of my element at this point, a but quick Google tells me that Virgin Atlantic ticket stock begins with the numbers 932 (as my ticket number does above). Baby Rey’s ticket begins with 0062 — which the Internet tells me is Delta ticket stock. That tells me it can be done. That reservation stood and we flew it without any problem checking in.

I initially took this to mean that the Twitter rep might just be lazy and/or unaware of the proper channel through which to book this. While they advised me to call Virgin Atlantic, and I certainly didn’t mind doing that if that’s what had to be done, I wanted to see what would happen with a phone rep. I called Delta again — this time at a very late hour — and got through to a rep immediately. She took the baby’s details and all sounded like it was going through until she hit a roadblock — it wouldn’t let her attach the ticket to my reservation. Essentially, she ran into the same problem as the Twitter team. We came to the same conclusion, even after she checked with the ticket desk: that which Delta did two weeks ago can not be done. Perhaps my JFK-LAX lap infant ticket got through on a temporary computer glitch or I had a rogue agent or it can be done and I just got lucky to have reached the one agent who knew how to do it. I’m not sure which of the above is true — but in the end, I had to call Virgin Atlantic after all. Actually, I should have Tweeted them for the purposes of this post, but I’ve gotten through to an agent quickly on a number of recent calls to Virgin Atlantic, and I once again got through on a single ring this time. Perhaps the phone isn’t so bad after all…

Bottom line

For basic reservation adjustments like adding a lap infant, Twitter surely seems to be the way to go. Had I booked my Delta ticket with Delta SkyMiles, I’m sure it would have been smooth sailing in adding a lap infant. While Twitter teams may not always work as quickly as we’d like, the end result usually beats sitting by the phone waiting for an agent. Should you have to make a change/update like I did for lap infant tickets, it’s worth starting with Twitter rather than sitting on hold for questions that can be answered while you’re busy doing other things.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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TCCQuest
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TCCQuest

What is your understanding of lap infant, any little one under two? I’ve read up on the topic previously for adding an under 2 yo to a business award on international. With United at least it seemed you needed to pay 10% of a published fare, which seems to negate the benefits of flying with miles, so previously I opted for 3 x Economy awards instead of 2 x Business awards. Any thoughts, advice, or experience in this area is appreciated.

wadacash
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wadacash

Yes, it’s any child under the age of 2. Once they’ve hit their second birthday, they cannot be added as a lap infant. Certain award programs are better for infant travel than others. Programs such as British Airways, Aeroplan, and Virgin Atlantic charge either a flat rate for children or in points. Those might be better options if you’re looking to fly in premium cabins. Most programs charge 10% of the cash rate to add a lap infant for international travel and in my experience the cash rate tends to fluctuate based on the cash price for adults so if you wait for the last minute to add the child, it will be expensive.

Sometimes you can get lucky. I once used United miles to book EVA business with my then-1 year old. United wanted to charge me over $600 to add the child during the booking process. However, I instead called up EVA directly and only paid ~$200 to add him. On a different trip, I used Delta miles to book China Airlines and the Delta agent I talked to ended up only charging me the taxes for the little one to fly, forgetting about adding in 10% of the fare but it worked out in the end. In this instance, China Airlines said they cannot add the lap infant. Perhaps some airlines can do it and some cannot but I would recommend calling up both airlines to see what price they quote you and then book the one that costs less in the event that you go with a program that charges based on cash rates.

Sadly my little one has already passed the two year mark so no more cheap travel with him.

Kadels
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Kadels

On American domestic flights, just add a lap child on the kiosk at the airport. You enter the child’s name and birthdate. It takes about 15 seconds!

bob
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bob

This can cause problems if you do not take up the entire row. If you share the row with other party, and they also have lap child, someone loses their seating. There are 4 oxygen masks in a 3 seat row, and cannot have 5 occupants in case masks needed

Dario
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Dario

On the cost screenshot- how can it be 0? My infant had traveled on 22 flights before his second birthday and we always had to pay taxes on domestic, and I think 10% of adult ticket on international flights. Took 3 international trips and the rest domestic during that time.

Kadels
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Kadels

@Olidoodles had been on more than 100 flights before his 2nd birthday. The only time we paid taxes as a lap child was on international flights.

Ray
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Ray

Delta surprised me with over $1300 in taxes at the gate when I flew Delta One to Amsterdam with my infant in lap. No one told me when I bought the tickets, nor at check-in, nor at the Delta lounge.

Kadels
Guest
Kadels

I know – no one tells you these things! Luckily, someone happened to mention it to me before @Olidoodles first international flight. I called AA, and agent confirmed and took my $$ right then.

ken
Guest
ken

Our experience: DL unable to add lap child to VS award reservation. 1.5 hour phone call. DL generated a ticket number for infant. But could not link reservation to ours. Supervisor said they would sort out at airport. LOL. Next time will try adding lap child while booking tix on VS website.

It’s contrast it’s much easier with AA. Just add infant at check in kiosk. But, DL insists you do this in advance.

William
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William

I had similar experiences when I used Lifemiles to book Air Canada and Asiana. Without exaggeration, I spent two entire afternoon (due to lengthy holds with AC) to get it done. Both AC and OZ both tells me that Lifemiles has to issue the lap infant ticket. Lifemiles tells me that both AC and OZ have to issue the ticket. They all say so no matter how many times I HUCA, until on the second day when I got a Lifemiles agent I talked to the previous day. I think he felt bad and tried harder. Now, my infant e-ticket was issued, but neither AC nor OZ can see it when I call to do seat assignment. At this point, I give up and have my fingers crossed for check in at the airport.

Another frustrating experience is a Hainan J award booked using Alaska miles. Earlier this year, I added a lap infant in a single phone call. Totally painless. This time, again no matter how many HUCAs, agents told me that I have to email (!!) the passport of the infant to some Hainan email. I pointed out that this is an unsecured way to transmit sensitive customer data, but the all agents were unfazed by it and said it’s policy. I asked why adults don’t have to provide a passport scan when booking online, they said they need the infant passport scan to validate the infant info — they dodged the question.

Anybody had similar experiences with any of the carriers above?

wadacash
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wadacash

I haven’t used either Lifemiles or Alaska miles for international travel. In the case of Lifemiles, you say an e-ticket was issued. Are the agents at AC or OZ able to look up the reservation based on the ticket number and then can link it to your existing reservation for the adults?

For Hainan, it sounds like they want official confirmation of the child’s age, which is why they want to see a passport for the child and not the adults. Perhaps they get a lot of people lying about their child’s age to get a cheap ticket. Are you near an airport that Hainan serves and can go in to talk to someone at a counter? Do they accept faxes? A copy of passport sent through certified mail?

CMC
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CMC

There should not be babies in business class or any premium class. People pay top dollar for peace and quiet. Sorry no love for screaming babies on planes especially in premium seats. That should not be allowed.