Getting the family ready for a big vacation can be a lot of fun, but it can also be quite stressful. Even if it isn’t a big vacation, sometimes just the thought of putting your little ones on a plane can bring anxiety.
Making sure that all of your reservations have been made, seats have been assigned, hotel rooms have been upgraded, all while attempting to keep the kids entertained and behaving properly can be exhausting. This is even before you leave the house.
Add in the fact that your child may or may not need some sort of identification to board a plane can be that extra confusion that a new parent just doesn’t need.
Well, we are here to lay it all out clearly for you and let you know exactly what you need to fly with your kids!
Table of Contents
As an adult over the age of 18, you need a valid government form of ID in order to board a plane in the United States, according to TSA.
If you are flying internationally, you will need to show your passport or passport card. If you are flying on a domestic flight, you will need to show your driver’s license or another form of government ID with your photo on it.
However, for children under the age of 18, that is a different story. Depending on where they are traveling to, and what age they are, they might not need an ID at all.
Since there is a lot of information out there, it can get a little confusing to understand. We will break it all down for you so that the next time you board a flight with your little one in tow, you will know exactly what you will and won’t need.
This one is very black and white. Regardless of your age, if you are flying to a different country, you will need to present your passport at check-in, the TSA security checkpoint, and when you arrive at your destination.
Even if your baby is only a month old, they will need a passport to leave the country. Don’t have a passport yet for your little traveler? Don’t worry, we have a complete guide on How To Get A U.S. Passport For Your Baby.
If your destination requires a travel visa, your baby will also need to apply for the visa. Since both of these things take time, it is best to get these done as far in advance as possible.
If for some reason you need to take an international trip immediately after the birth of your child it is possible to get passports and visas expedited for an extra cost.
If you have Global Entry, that doesn’t mean that your child will automatically get it as well.
Unlike TSA Pre-Check, which can extend to your travel party, if you want to take your child through the Global Entry line they will need to go through the same process that you did.
Yes, that means paying the $100 application fee and having your, in some cases, infant complete the interview process. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of credit cards that’ll reimburse this fee.
Although this may seem like a hassle, having an official government photo ID of your child will come in handy for many circumstances down the road.
International Flight With Only 1 Parent Present
If you plan on traveling internationally with your child, and both parents will not be traveling together, you will need to provide some additional permission forms.
Depending on the airline and the country you will be flying to (and potentially back from), the requirements may be different.
The most important piece will be a notarized parental consent form signed by both parents and a copy of the non-traveling parent’s passport or valid identification.
If the child has a deceased parent, the living parent or guardian will need to sign the consent form and attach a copy of the late spouse’s death certificate.
The only exception is if the parent has proof of sole custody as you may be required to present a copy of your custody agreement signed by both parents.
Here is where things aren’t so black and white…
Sure, you could just travel with your child’s passport every time you board a flight, but depending on the situation that might not be necessary. And if there is 1 thing I hope to never lose during a trip, it’s a passport. So why bring it if you don’t have to?
In most circumstances, children under the age of 18 will not need a photo ID to board a plane if they are accompanied by an adult.
However, there are some circumstances where a photo ID or some official document may be needed for minors to board. Let’s break it down by age group and figure out what documentation your child will need (if anything) to fly.
This will vary by carrier, but most airlines will accept infants as young as 2 days old.
If you find yourself needing to board a plane with an infant less than 2 weeks old, you may be required by the airline to provide a note from your physician stating that the child is healthy enough to fly.
Since this can vary by airline, it is best to contact your carrier before you travel.
For example, American Airlines requires that a “special assistance coordinator” send a form directly to the physician for them to fill out.
Age: 0-2 Years Old
Once you pass the 2-week-old window, the only age questions you will come across are whether or not your child has turned 2 years old yet.
That is because children under the age of 2 can fly for free as a “lap child” on domestic flights as long as they are flying with an adult.
While you won’t be required to show an ID for the child when passing through security, at check-in the airline may require that you prove that the child is under the age of 2 because, obviously, if they are not, the airline will want to charge you for their seat.
Unless your child already has a passport that can be used to prove their birth date, you may need to bring a copy of their birth certificate.
While some airlines are more lenient than others, it is always best to come prepared. For example, Southwest Airlines is very strict as they always require a copy of the birth certificate or government issued photo ID at check-in if you want your little one to fly as a lap child.
Hot Tip: If your child turns 2 years old during a trip (hello Disney birthday vacation!), you will be required to pay for a full-priced ticket. This would be a good opportunity to book 2 one-way tickets in order to save a few dollars.
Age: 2-18 Years Old
Once your child turns 2 years old they will be required to pay the full airfare and no longer be allowed to fly as a lap child — *cue the sad music*.
This also means that they won’t be required to prove their age anymore, which means that you don’t have to worry about traveling with additional ID for them.
Minors under the age of 18 will not need ID to pass through security, only a boarding pass to board the plane if they are accompanied by an adult.
Although it isn’t required, I always feel weird about traveling without some sort of ID for my kids. So, regardless of where we are traveling to, I will always have some sort of ID for them.
Sometimes that may mean a printed copy of their birth certificate or passport, or, at the very least, a photo of their passports on my cellphone.
Minors Traveling Alone
Here is another circumstance where the information can become a little murky. Since exact requirements may vary by airline, it is best to contact your carrier directly if you plan on sending your child off on their own.
That being said, there are some basics that seem to be standard across the industry.
Child Travel Consent Form
A child travel consent form is a form that provides proof that the child is authorized to travel alone.
This form will often be provided by the airline — for example, American Airlines refers to it as an Unaccompanied Minor Service Form, and needs it to be completed with the information about who is dropping off the child and who will be picking them up at the final destination.
If the child is traveling alone, they may also be required to have a consent letter signed by both parents.
If the child has a deceased parent, the living parent or guardian will need to sign the consent form and attach a copy of the late spouse’s death certificate. Note: This may only be required for international travel.
Minors Traveling Alone Ages 5-14
Children ages 5-14 are not required to show an ID at time of check-in, however, they are always encouraged to have some sort of ID on them during travel.
If your child already has a passport, at least send them with a copy of it in case of an emergency.
Minors Traveling Alone Ages 15-17
Children ages 15-17 may be required to provide some sort of identification including one of the following:
- Driver’s license.
- Learners permit.
- Passport card.
- Credit card.
- School ID.
- Company ID.
- Library card.
- Birth certificate.
- Social security card.
- Organization ID (athletics club, theater group, etc.).
- Proof of auto insurance in the passenger’s name.
Even though your 18-year-old is legally an adult, they are still your little baby and you surely will want to have them prepared when they decide they want to go off on a trip with their friends. Spring Break anyone?
Well, now that he or she has turned 18, they are legally required to have a valid, current U.S. federal or state-issued photo ID.
The identification must contain a clear photo, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature for travel to or from a U.S. territory. Expired documents will not be accepted.
The following is a list of acceptable forms of identification for boarding a U.S. domestic flight:
- U.S. passport.
- U.S. passport card.
- DHS “Trusted Traveler” cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST).
- U.S. Military ID.
- Permanent Resident Card.
- Border Crossing Card.
- DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license.
- Drivers’ licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by a Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent) that meets REAL ID requirements.
- A Native American Tribal Photo ID.
- An airline or airport-issued ID (if issued under a TSA-approved security plan).
- A Registered Traveler Card (that contains a name, date of birth, gender, expiration date, and a tamper-resistant feature).
- A foreign government-issued passport.
- Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) card.
- Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC).
Hot Tip: TSA ID requirements are always changing, so if you have any concerns, it is always best to check directly on their website.
At the end of the day, the answer is pretty simple: It’s better to be safe than sorry! If you have an ID for your little one, bring it! You might not need it, but it is better than being denied boarding.
But, to break it down, if you are flying internationally, your child will need a passport and potentially a travel visa as well.
If you are flying domestically and your baby will be flying as a lap child, you may be asked for proof at check-in that they are indeed younger than 2 years old.
If your child is flying domestically on their own ticket (not as a lap child) they probably won’t need any sort of ID until they are 18 years old.
Of course, there are always unique circumstances which we highlighted above, but in most cases, 1 of the 3 situations listed above will cover you.
Now, grab your little traveler and start exploring this crazy world!