So, you want to be able to continue to travel post-baby. Or, your baby has turned two and now you have to pay for a seat and plane travel is becoming prohibitively expensive. If you are a person who loves to travel, I think we can all admit that we’ve faced these conundrums. Like it or not, Spirit Airlines may provide a solution to these problems.
Flying Spirit Airlines and specifically flying Spirit Airlines with a toddler does not have to be a painful experience. The trick to flying Spirit Airlines is to know what you are getting (and what you are not getting) and to manage your expectations. Spirit is very transparent about what it is selling and 99% of the information you will need can be found on their website. I am going to outline specific rules and tips for flying Spirit Airlines with a toddler (or a baby) but also provide you with some general information about Spirit Airlines.
Flying Spirit Airlines with a Toddler (or a Baby)
Lap Infant vs. Purchasing a Seat:
On Spirit, your child can fly as a lap infant as young as 7 days old until it turns two years old. If your child will turn 2 between your outbound and return flights you will have to purchase a seat for the return flight. Generally speaking, when traveling domestically, children under the age of 18 are not required to present ID. The caveat is that children under the age of two, who are flying as lap infants, may be required to show proof of age by the airline. To prove your child’s age you can show your child’s passport or birth certificate.
Booking a seat as a lap infant
When you are booking your seat the system will prompt you for your child’s birthday and if they are under 2 it will ask you if you want your child to fly as a lap infant or if you’d like to purchase a seat.
If you select lap infant you cannot sit in certain rows on the plane (the computer will eliminate those seats). (see below).
Purchasing a Seat for your Toddler (or Baby)
If you purchase a seat for your baby or toddler when you input the child’s name the system will ask you if you plan to bring a car seat on board. It asks this because if you do bring a car seat on board you cannot sit in certain seats. If you do indicate that you will bring a car seat onboard then the system will eliminate ineligible seats for you when it presents you with the seat selection map. If you do not indicate that you are bringing a car seat, but then bring a car seat- you will be relocated if you are in an ineligible seat.
Seat Selection: Lap Infant OR Babies/Toddlers in a Car Seat
- You cannot sit in an emergency exit row or one row in front of or behind an emergency exit row.
- You are not permitted to occupy a seat with an inflatable seat belt if you have a lap infant or if you are a baby/toddler in a car seat. A list of rows that have inflatable seatbelts is available here.
- The inflatable seat belt rule precludes you from sitting in Row 1 (which is a Big Front Seat).
- The system will permit a car seat and a lap infant to sit in row 2 in a Big Front Seat.
- You must be 15 years or older to sit in an emergency exit row.
- The system will let you pick the row behind the Emergency Exit Row, with a lap infant.
- The system will not let a child with a car seat sit in the row behind an emergency exit.
Big Front Seat:
- Lap Infants & Children in Car Seats CAN sit in a Big Front Seat, so long as not row 1 (the computer will let you select row 2).
- All other children with their own seats: the system will permit you to sit in row 1 or any Big Front Seat (so long as no car seat).
Baggage for your Baby or Toddler
I will discuss baggage fees further in the next section, but ALL baggage on Spirit Airlines costs extra. Typically, the only bag that you can bring for ‘free’ is one personal item. In addition to your personal bag, you can bring a diaper bag, stroller, and car seat, (regular checked or gate checked) free of charge, per child. There is no weight limit to your personal or diaper bags.
Here is Spirit’s policy on gate-checking and/or bringing a car seat on board. Through this link, you will also find seat dimensions so that you can make sure that your car seat will fit in the seat. We brought on our Cosco Scenera Next and it fit in the seat just fine, even with the armrest down.
If you purchase a seat for your baby or toddler you will have the option to purchase them a carry-on or a checked bag. You cannot purchase a carry on or checked-bag for lap infants.
Anecdotally, most airlines are pretty liberal with carry-on luggage, when it comes to families with small children- and Spirit was no different. On our recent trip to Las Vegas, I brought this bag and my husband brought a pretty sizable Kelty backpack and no one questioned us. We brought the car seat on the plane and gate checked our stroller and a hard-framed Deuter backpack (in the red bag). No one batted an eye.
Free Gate-Check of Car Seat and/or Stroller.
You can tag these items at the bag-drop or at the gate- I highly recommend tagging them when you do your bag drop (with the agent) and then you don’t have to mess around with it at the gate. If you are going to tag the items at the gate then I’d recommend doing it as soon as you arrive at your gate (do not wait until boarding time). Another tip, when I get to the gate I always ask the agent when families get to board. It varies from airline to airline so I like to ask when I arrive at the gate.
On Board Food for Toddlers
If you want to save money then I’d recommend bringing your own snacks to the airport and on the plane. But if you don’t then I thought there was a decent selection of toddler-friendly snacks available for purchase on board. A few toddler-typical snacks were muffins, Goldfish, Fruit Snacks, and cheese and crackers. They also have an assortment of chips, cookies, and candy.
Other Things to Know
Seat Size: These seats are small and do not recline. I don’t mind the recline situation, especially with a lap infant. I cannot tell you how annoying and encroaching it is when the person in front of you reclines their seat right into your lap child.
But these seats are SMALL. Our son always flew as a lap child while he was under two and I am a big proponent of taking advantage of those ‘free’ tickets while you can! BUT, if you were ever going to purchase your under-two baby or toddler a seat this would be the airline to do it with.
Other General Rules & Fees
Spirit Airline’s motto is “Home of the Bare Fare,” and they are not lying. You will pay extra for carry-ons, checked bags, onboard food and water, seat selection, and printing boarding passes. You can reduce or eliminate some of these fees by planning ahead. Most of these fees are cheaper if you book them during checkout, as opposed to after or at the airport. The first thing to know is that your one free bag, the ‘personal item’ can be no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 (including handles and wheels).
Here is a list of current baggage fees (12/2018). To see current Baggage Fees click here.
An important thing to note is that checked bags are less than carry-ons. If you purchase at the time of booking the first checked bag is $30 and the second bag is $40. These go up to $40 and $50, respectively, if you purchase them online before or during check-in. We made this mistake when we went to Zion National Park recently. We only paid for one checked bag and on the eve of our trip, it became painfully apparent that we were not going to be able to cram stuff for three people into one bag AND keep it under 40 lbs. As a general rule, the weight limit per checked bag is 40lb. (Prices per bag are different for members of the $9 Fare Club- they also get 50lb bags in certain circumstances).
Regarding the 40lb weight limit, you can spread the weight around across all passengers on your reservation. So say we had two checked bags-if my bag was 45lbs but my husbands were 30lbs- that would be ok as collectively they are under 80lbs.
On Board Food:
On board, you have to pay for ALL food and beverages, including water. Generally speaking, the in-flight food options were good. Spirit provides combo options (kind of like at the movie theater). My husband and I usually get the two drink and cheese and cracker option. They have an assortment of liquor, beer, wine, soft drinks, chips, crackers, candy, a cheese and cracker tray, and chips and salsa, for purchase. Here is the link to the food and drink options that Spirit offers. Here is the link to a written description of the food and drink options that Spirit Airlines offers.
Passenger Usage Fee
You are charged a $19.99 ‘Passenger Usage Fee’ for each leg of your trip when you purchase online. You can avoid this fee by purchasing your tickets at the airport. For a family of 4 that could be $159.92. So do the math and decide whether it’s worth a trip to the airport. Here is a list of Spirit Airlines Terminal Locations and their hours of operation.
Spirit Airlines App
You cannot do anything on this app except check-in. If you do not check-in online (or on the app) you will be charged $10 per person at check-in (i.e. if you try to check in at the airport with an actual agent). If you have a lap infant traveling with you, you can’t check in online (or the app)- you have to check-in at the airport; however, you will not be charged extra.
Review of our Trips & Flying Spirit Airlines with a Toddler:
We have flown Spirit Airlines on two occasions which translates into three legs. The first time was a one-way trip from Chicago to Phoenix when our son was 22 months old. Subsequently, we flew them round-trip from Chicago to Las Vegas when he was two-and-a-half years old. The first flight he flew as a lap infant and we did not bring a car seat on board. The second trip we purchased him a seat and we brought a car seat on board.
Chicago to Phoenix One Way Flight:
This was a one-way flight in February from Chicago – Phoenix. Flight times were 3:27pm-6:26pm. Our son flew as a lap infant. The flight was uneventful and on time. We flew back to Chicago with another airline to save money. Our son was approaching two years old and was a bit big for a lap infant on this plane; if I were doing it over I’d probably purchase him a seat. But, it was totally doable with my husband and I tag-teaming.
Chicago to Las Vegas Round Trip:
This was a round trip flight on Spirit Airlines, in October.
- Chicago-Las Vegas, the scheduled flight times were 3:24pm-5:23pm. The actual flight times were 7:06pm-9:27pm.
- Initially, it didn’t seem like the delay would be that long; however, it turned out to be quite a while. In these situations, you just have to roll with it, especially with a toddler. I specifically chose these flight times so that we would land right before night time and the little guy could fall asleep in the car (we were driving 2 hours out to Zion National Park). But like anything in life that you have no control over-when life gives you lemons- you gotta find a way to make lemonade!
- After about an hour my husband endured the line and was told that they would give out free food vouchers after 2 hours. I went back at 2 hrs. and the agent told me that it was really 4 hours.
- They kept pushing the flight time back, every half hour or so. I went back at three hours to discuss our flight options with the agent, as it wasn’t looking good. The agent said that we had a few options:
- Get a full refund, but then we had to figure out how to get ourselves to Las Vegas.
- Wait for them to cancel the flight and then they would put us up in a hotel nearby and try to get us on the next available flight (there was an 8:20 flight and then flights the following morning). However, that 8:20 flight only had one seat available and we needed three.
- I asked her if we could get on standby for the 8:20 flight; she was able to put us on standby on that flight while simultaneously maintaining our seats on our existing reservation.
- They canceled our flight while I was speaking to the agent about possible cancellation options. Literally, two minutes later they un-canceled our flight and the plane at the gate next door (which was supposed to be going to Dallas/Ft. Worth) was now going to be our flight to Las Vegas. I think they did a cost analysis and figured it would be cheaper to bump the entire flight going to Dallas than to cancel our entire flight. Through it all the gate agent was very nice (although very new and thus couldn’t answer all of our questions); however, she kept her cool and muddled through a thoroughly stressful situation.
- On the plane, we settled in and got some snacks. They did not charge us for drinks or snacks, which was apt as in the end our flight was delayed 3.5 hours. However, they did not announce that snacks and drinks would be free, so you only found that out after you ordered them.
- Return Flight Las Vegas-Chicago: 5:53pm-11:29pm left as scheduled and very uneventful.
At the time the situation was stressful, but in the end, everything turned out ok. Little man even got to ‘fly’ the plane! It could have been worse had this happened on our return flight, as my husband had to work the next day. My advice, when flying Spirit, would be to schedule your flights such that you give yourself a buffer. For example, give yourself a day between your return flight and when you have to go to work.
Would I fly Spirit Airlines again- unequivocally yes. Would I recommend flying Spirit Airlines with a toddler – yes, but with a caveat. You have to understand what you are purchasing and what you are getting in that purchase. When they say you are purchasing a ‘Bare Fare’ they mean it. This is a no-frills airline. But the clear upside is that it’s really affordable.
Spirit is very transparent with what you are receiving in return for your money. Just make sure you understand what you are getting; if you do not understand give them a call. I found the agents to be very helpful. Here is a link to their general information section; it’s essentially an FAQ section. You should be able to find most of the answers to any questions there.
The entire purpose of this blog is to encourage families to travel with their children. If Spirit makes it possible for you to fly, take vacations, or get outta dodge with your children, then I’m all for it!! Spirit Airlines can continue to make plane travel possible, after children, you just need to be aware of *how* to fly Spirit!
**All prices/fees listed in this article are accurate as of December 2018**
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