What You Need to Fly with a Child

Your Guide to Air Travel with Kids

Preparing to Fly with Children

Planning a trip can bring about a mixture of excitement and stress when you have to coordinate flight paths, travel times, customs line-ups, and currency exchanges. Doing all of this with children has the potential to complicate things more, especially if they aren’t your own.
The procedures and documentation required for traveling with children—flying in particular—are essential, but they don’t have to be overwhelming. By doing your research ahead of time, you can ensure that the entire experience is straightforward and easy to manage.
In this guide, you’ll find a list of documents, common practices, and airline-specific requirements that will make getting to your travel destination as simple and painless as possible.

What Do I Need to Travel with a Baby?

Flying with a baby has some special requirements depending on their age. Most airlines will allow infants under 14 days old to fly as long as you meet certain conditions.
An infant is considered fit to fly if:
  • You can produce a passenger medical form, also known as a medical release for travel, signed by a physician stating that the baby is healthy enough to fly
  • You have a copy of the baby’s birth certificate as proof of age
  • You (or the person accompanying the infant) are older than 16 and are seated in the same cabin as the baby
You’ll likely be limited to what you can bring in regards to carry-on luggage for an infant. Most airlines allow one carry-on diaper bag per infant, but not much else.
Strollers on Airplanes
Most airports allow the use of strollers all the way up to the boarding gate provided the strollers are collapsible. Once there, passengers can check their strollers, usually at no additional charge. No airlines allow strollers of any size in aircraft cabins.
Passengers also have the option to have their checked strollers delivered to them at the aircraft door at the end of the flight.
Large, non-collapsible strollers will have to be checked at the same time as your luggage, as no American airlines have procedures in place to check oversized luggage at the departure gate.
Using Bassinets on Airplanes
Placing your baby in a bassinet for the duration of a flight is a great option that most airlines can accommodate. Contact your airline prior to your flight to see if they offer rental bassinets that you can pick up at the departure gate.
Bassinets are usually restricted to babies under 22 pounds and can only be used at cruising altitude while the seat belt sign is off. For safety reasons, flight attendants will take and store bassinets during take-off and landing.
Some airlines allow you to bring your own bassinet, provided it’s collapsible, but only if you purchase a seat to strap it to when it’s not in use. It’s generally easier to use a bassinet provided by the airline or not to use one at all.
These are some of the exceptions to the criteria above, and in time, these exceptions could change. Make sure you check with your airline before booking.

Delta Airlines requires that the accompanying adult be over the age of 18.

Southwest Airlines will only make an exception for age, where the accompanying adult is under 16, if the adult in question is the baby’s parent.

American Airlines only requires infants under seven days old, rather than the standard 14 days, to travel with a medical release to travel form.

United Airlines will not allow children younger than seven days old fly with their airline.

What Do I Need to Fly with Young Children or Minors?

Flight requirements can differ per airline as certain airlines categorize children differently. For instance, United Airlines considers infants to be 0 to 4 years old and children to be aged 5 to 15, which is not the same universally among all airlines. These age categories affect how your children can fly and what documentation you may need.
Children and toddlers between 22 and 44 pounds must be seated in FAA-approved child restraint systems on all aircraft. Any car seats manufactured after February 25, 1985 are suitable provided they have stickers reading, "conforms to all applicable federal motor vehicle standards" and "is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft."
Another option is to use an approved child harness device. The FAA lists the CARES model on their website as an ideal harness system for air travel.
In addition to seating requirements, you may also be asked to produce specific documents by airline representatives, which are detailed in the following sections.
Boarding Verification Document
Some airlines require separate boarding verification documents for children older than 14 days but younger than two years who won’t be occupying a seat (also referred to as "lap children" or "held in arms").
A boarding verification document is essentially a boarding pass confirming the child’s age has been authenticated by an airline representative (most commonly by reviewing the birth certificate of the child).
The boarding verification pass and age confirmation show the airline that you haven’t cheated them into letting a child older than two fly for free. The information is also used for the passenger manifest so all travelers can be accounted for.
Passport and Photo I.D.
Children don’t usually need a passport or photo I.D. for domestic flights; however, it’s not a bad idea to have photo identification for your children when you travel together.
All airlines require the same documentation for children as they would for an adult on international flights. The representatives at the boarding gate will not let your children onto an aircraft flying overseas or across national borders without a valid passport.
Birth Certificate
Many children and minors don’t have photo identification cards. Even though most airlines don’t require photo I.D. for children or teens under 16, some parents run into trouble if they’re traveling with a teen who looks older than they are. In such cases, having a birth certificate handy will solve any foreseeable troubles with proving your traveling companion’s age.
Although a birth certificate isn’t required for toddlers and older children to travel, it’s wise to have it with you when you’re heading out of state or out of country because you never know when you might need it. Birth certificates can be especially useful if one of their other forms of identification gets lost during your vacation.

What About Single Parents Traveling with Children?

If you are a parent flying with your child but without the child’s other parent, more preparation may be required. The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction created legal mechanisms, like requiring specific documents and permissions for minor travel, to combat parental abduction cases that were not uncommon between separated or divorced parents in the 1960s and 1970s.
If only one parent is accompanying a minor on a flight, said parent will have to bring along certain documentation granting the child permission to travel without the other parent.
The following sections detail what is required in such circumstances.
Divorced or Separated Parents with Sole Custody
If you are a parent with sole custody of a minor you can generally travel as usual, but you might be required to prove your custody status. This can be done with a notarized court order or an equivalent document proving custody.
Divorced or Separated Parents with Shared Custody
The traveling parent will need to carry a Child Travel Consent form (also known as a Permission to Travel Letter, Minor Consent to Travel, or Parental Consent to Travel form). This is a document signed by the non-traveling parent granting permission to the other parent to travel alone with the child.
This form specifies the kind of flight (domestic or international), the dates of travel, and the final destination.
Widowed Parent
The same procedures and paperwork apply to a widowed parent as they do for a parent with sole custody, except instead of a notarized court order proving custody, you may be required to present an original or notarized copy of the deceased parent’s death certificate.
Traveling without Both Parents
If you and your partner are not separated or divorced, but only one of you will be traveling with your child, it works the same way as parents with shared custody. The non-traveling parent has to give written consent for the other parent to travel with the child or children in question.
Traveling with a Child Other than Your Own
If you (and possibly a partner) are traveling with someone else’s child or children, you will need written consent from the child/children’s parents. There are some other things to consider in this situation as well, which will be covered more in-depth in the next section.
It’s not uncommon for parents with different last names than their children to have to produce either a Child Travel Consent form or some other proof of guardianship. A birth or adoption certificate is usually sufficient in this instance so long as you’re listed on the forms as a parent or guardian.
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What Do I Need to Travel with Someone Else's Child?

Children traveling with grandparents, cousins, other relatives, or school groups will need to have a signed document, such as a Child Travel Consent, allowing them to travel without a parent or legal guardian.
In addition, if you are a temporary caretaker or chaperone for someone else’s child, you should consider asking their parent(s) or guardian(s) to sign a Child Medical Consent form in case of a medical emergency. This form grants you authorization to make any medical decisions for the minor on the parents’ behalf if they are unavailable.
Having this form does not revoke parental rights; it simply allows you, as a temporary agent, to make medical decisions (like consent to transportation by ambulance, surgery, administration of medication, etc.) in an emergency.
The form can also grant the temporary agent access to any and all of the child’s medical records and history should access become pertinent to the situation.
Do you need a Child Medical Consent form?

What Do I Need to Do if My Child Is Flying Alone?

All airlines have procedures for unaccompanied minors. These procedures require a parent or guardian to accompany the minor all the way through the airport until the airplane leaves the tarmac. Once the child or teen is on the plane, the airline staff will supervise and accompany them until they are collected by an assigned (in writing) parent or guardian at the final destination.
Some but not all airlines allow unaccompanied minors to travel internationally, so be sure to check with your airline before booking.
If your child is flying unaccompanied it’s a good idea for them to have:
  • A copy of their complete itinerary, including flight dates and times, flight numbers, airport names, city names, and their reservation code
  • Important phone numbers such as your home, work, and cell phone, as well as the number(s) of the person meeting your child at their final destination
  • Bag tags with your own and your child’s contact information on both checked and carry-on luggage
  • A day’s worth of essentials, like toiletries, medications, and a change of clothes, in their carry-on in case the checked luggage is delayed or lost in transit
  • A bit of cash to buy a meal should unexpected flight delays occur
The U.S. Department of Transportation has some general insights on the restrictions and guidelines most airlines have in place for unaccompanied minors, which they’ve compiled into a helpful document.

Don't Leave Your Travel Plans to the Last Minute

There is a fair amount of information to sift through and process when it comes to traveling with children and minors. The key to having a smooth, stress-free trip is preparation. It’s a good idea to research what your specific needs or requirements might be before booking your flights. Airline service representatives can help to answer any questions you may have about your trip so you don’t run into any surprises at the gate.
By having the proper documents in place beforehand, like a Child Travel Consent and Child Medical Consent, you can help your child to avoid travel issues and ensure that neither you nor a chaperone face any delays due to poor planning.
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