Absurd: your airline ticket costs $60; your baby’s ticket is $1,280

Look up “absurd” in the dictionary, and you ought to find Lily Poon’s incomprehensible ticketing experience with United Airlines. The carrier charged her just $60 for her ticket. But it wanted more than 20 times that amount for her infant son’s fare.

How did it come to that?

Poon redeemed frequent flier miles for two business class tickets from Denver to Hong Kong. The total cost to her was $60 per ticket. United wanted $1,285 — 10 percent of the business class fare — for the lap child.

The Infant will be sitting on my lap. Unless the flight attendant is going to change his diaper and the airline will provide him formula and baby food, there is no way they can justify charging me $1,285 for a flight. An economy ticket for an adult is $1,300.

I have asked the airline if I could buy him an economy ticket and let him fly in my lap in business, they said no. If they did let me do that, then I could at least check two more pieces of luggage. I have tried to contact customer service, I get routed back to India. I have sent an email, no response.

Now, Poon isn’t just some tourist. She’s been a United frequent flier for two decades. I suggested she contact someone at a higher level at United, which she did.

A United representative called her a day later and reiterated its “no.”

This is a policy they’ve had in place that they will charge 10 percent of whatever cabin that the parents are in. She is not willing to budge as this is “not negotiable” and it is what it is.

She did say that she agrees that this is strange but that the policy has been in effect for a very long time.

United offered Poon a $300 voucher to “offset the cost” of baby’s ticket. But that’s not enough for Poon.

You don’t need me to tell you that this pricing policy is a little ridiculous. At the very least, United could have offered the Poons an option of cashing in some miles to let baby fly.

As it stands now, Poon won’t travel with her son. It’s too expensive.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Robertiluvu

    what are u an idiot. How are people supposed to get anywhere if they are not allowed to take babies on a plane for heaven sakes. You need to get real here. You should not fly yourself it would do so many people a big favor having a crab like you sitting next to them on a plane. I definitley would not want to sit by a scrooge like you ever.

  • Linda Bator

    ALL international flights charge for an infant – this is nothing new, and not United only.

  • Linda Bator

    They will still hit her with the charge,  and if the plane is heavy weight, they can refuse to board beacuse you have to book infants travelling internationally in ADVANCE. 

  • Bill

    I see this now and I am 1000% behind United.  People in that business class section either paid in money or in points to have an extra measure of quiet.  Babies should NOT be allowed in business class under any circumstances, particularly on a flight that long.  All of the things the Airlines advertise about why to fly in business class are pretty much negated when babies and small children are on board.

  • Bill

    Carol, cell phones are not allowed on flights and babies are terribly disruptive. Been there, done that.  The discussion is about babies, not comparing them to other things.  Imagine if they had loud rock music in the plane.  Imagine if they had people yelling on the plane.  Imagine if they let you open the windows on the plane.

    The only thing I am imagining is that babies don’t know any better, they cry.  Business class is sold on the basis of extra quiet and extra comfort.  Nothing should be in there that changes that.  People pay  a lot of money to go in business class so they can work right away when they arrive.

  • Bill

    It is regrettable that your grandmother didn’t get to see you, but my take on babies on flights is still exactly the same…keep ’em off. And if you do allow them on, NOT in business class.  It isn’t the place.

  • Bill

    Sue, Business class is sold on the basis of being able to get rest and is supposed to be the “way” to avoid unnneccesary noise.

    Although people do have rights, it is difficult to understand why one would pay $12000 for a ticket for peace and quiet, and then have something disruptive in there.
    Sometimes, the ticket is purchased because the person has to get somewhere.  They need to sleep on the plane so they don’t die when they are driving the next day.  That’s right, if people don’t sleep and they have to drive, then sometimes they die.  Or they have to lose an extra day while they get sleep.  If someone is going to fix something that’s very expensive downtime wise, they need to be awake to do it.  There are all sorts of reasons to fly business class that people don’t consider.  And you shouldn’t have to go to the extent of chartering a plane to do that.  Not a very environmentally friendly solution, is it…

    They have cell phone free zones in lounges, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a child free area on a plane.

    It is a fair and equitable way to deal with it.  Allowing babies anywhere and everywhere is NOT fair and equitable.

  • Bill

    It is mean of the parents to take a baby into business class.

    Selfish is going into a cabin where people have paid extra and bringing a baby in to make noise.  

    I wouldn’t do that to someone.  That’s the big problem with a lot of parents, is that they turn things around. 

    Going into a place where people pay extra for quiet, and ruining that enbvironement is selfish indeed…

  • Bill

    You’re paying the money for a certain environment – a quieter one – so just by virtue of paying doesn’t mean you should be allowed to ruin that environment.

    Should people be allowed turn on their ghetto blaster on a plane?  Of course not. 

    Many children and babies are well behaved, but the problem is that there’s no way to filter the noisy ones from the not so noisy ones.

    BC Ferries has a business lounge on their boats where you pay extra and there are no kids allowed.  It is about selling a quiet environment to whose who are willing to pay for it.

    Why do so many people with kids fail to understand this reasoning?

    I was recently on a transatlantic flight in economy class.  Two seats behind me was a family with TWO noisy children.  The noisiest and most disruptive was the five year old.  It is difficult to imagine from how he was acting that there was anything other than poor parenting that was responsible for it.  The poor parenting continued through the flight.  The five year old in particularly, thought his incessant loud yelling disrupted at least the 200 people in that section for more than 7 hours out of the 9 hour flight.

    The two year old wasn’t very good either, but paled in comparision to the five year old.

    The point is that this family of five did not have the right to disrupt over 200 people for over 7 hours.

    “noise cancelling” headphones did not help.  This kid was louder than that.

    It is incidents like this, and the fact that airlines don’t do anything about it that sours people against babies on airplanes.

    By offering an “out” such as a quiet business class, there would be a way to avoid this.  However, as long as airlines allow anyone who pays to get into “business” class…and note it is called “business” class, not “more expensive” class or “pay more money” class, it is called business class. 

    I think that it is perfectly reasonable to ban anyone under 15 from business class.  I also think that it is perfectly reasonable to have a code of conduct in business class so that adults who choose to be disruptive are brought into line.

    However, I can tell you from several hundred thousand miles of travel that by far the most disruptive thing has been kids and or babies.  Not “all that other stuff”.

    I’m glad Lily’s baby was good.  However, there was no way to tell that, sort of like having a hand grenade beside you and then being thankful that it didn’t go off.

  • Bruce Burger

    United did this to me in 1998, but the charge was just $600 (SEA-CDG) and they gave me a voucher for the full amount when I complained. My argument was/is that they have every right to charge this fee (since they disclose it), but the goal of a frequent flier program should be to make customers happy — which means not adding on fees way out of proportion to the airline’s cost. The spirit of the 10% fee would be satisfied by letting you get a child’s ticket for 10% of the miles you used for the adult’s ticket. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for United to change this policy.

  • I find it absurd as well that they would want to charge you so much more for Business Class Tickets for your infant. I think they should just let your child fly for free. Every other airlines does it.

  • TonyDp

    Another absurd case from United Airline.

    We bought three economy tickets two weeks before travel time each for $780, and wanted to buy an infant ticket. UA said we must call customer service to book the infant ticket. We started to call the customer service since then for two weeks. Every time, we spent 30-60 minutes listening their music. No one showed up to answer our call. Last day before the travel time, we decided just to wait on the line as long as we can. After about one and half hour, someone eventually answered the call. Told us, the ticket price for our infant is $989!!! The price is so high because they only sell first class ticket at that time. so, 10% plus fee would be $989. The infant will not be assigned a seat but sitting on our laps, and his ticket price is $200 more then our adult economy ticket!!!

  • Mary M

    United should require children over the age of 1 to be in their own seats and charge them full fare, just like everyone else. My spouse had the unfortunate experience of being sandwiched next to a very large woman with a very large nearly 2 year old on a recent flight. The mother allowed this child to kick, rub food on, climb on, and pull hair of my spouse. Child was out of control brat and mother thought its behavior was cute. Passengers should not be placed in the position of asking a passenger to control her child or be tortured for an entire flight.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I deal with these useless parents by playing a very violent anime on my laptop. They usually want the child so far away from what’s on my screen, they are forced to contain their kid.

    If the kid sitting next to me is a good egg, I watch something like “How to Train Your Dragon” and offer headphones with a splitter. Bad parents? No, they get violent anime.

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