Getting the family ready for a big vacation can be exciting, but it can also be quite stressful. Even if it isn’t a big vacation, just the thought of putting your little ones on a plane can cause anxiety.
Making sure you’ve made all of the reservations, selected assigned seats, and upgraded your hotel rooms while attempting to keep the kids entertained (and behaving properly) can be exhausting. And all of this happens before ever leaving the house.
Adding in the fact that your child may or may not need some sort of identification to get through security and board a plane, can be that extra confusion that a parent doesn’t need.
Well, we are here to lay it out clearly and tell you what identification requirements and documents are required to fly with your kids!
As an adult over the age of 18, you need a valid government form of ID to board a plane in the U.S., according to the TSA.
If you are flying internationally, you must 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 18 years old or younger, that is a different story. Depending on their age and where they are traveling, they might not need an ID at all.
Since there is a lot of information out there, it can get a little confusing to dissect. We will break it all down so that the next time you board a flight with your little one in tow, you will know precisely what you will and won’t need.
Flying internationally is very black and white when it comes to knowing what identification is required. That’s because regardless of your age, if you are flying to a different country, you must present your passport at check-in, at the TSA security checkpoint, and when you arrive at your destination.
Don’t have a passport yet for your little traveler? Even if your baby is only a month old, they will need a passport to leave the country. 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 your child will automatically get it as well.
Unlike TSA PreCheck, which can extend to your children ages 12 and under, if you want to take your child through the Global Entry line they will need to go through the same process 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 for your child will come in handy for many circumstances down the road.
Bottom Line: If you are flying internationally, your child will need a passport (and maybe a visa), regardless of their age.
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 may need to provide additional documentation.
The requirements will differ depending on the airline and the country you will be flying to (and potentially back from).
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 court order or 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 you should 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 to 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 with age requirements as they 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 to 18 Years Old
Once your child turns 2 years old, they will be required to pay the full airfare and will no longer be allowed to fly as a lap child.
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 an 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, it may feel weird traveling without some sort of ID for your kids. So, regardless of where you are traveling to, we suggest having 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 passport on your cell phone.
Bottom Line: As long as a minor between the age of 2 and 18 is traveling with an adult, they will not need a photo ID to board a plane.
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 their legal guardian(s).
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 to 14
Children ages 5 to 14 are not required to show an ID at the 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, you can send them with a copy of it in case of an emergency.
Minors Traveling Alone: Ages 15 to 17
Children ages 15-17 may be required to provide some sort of identification, including one of the following:
- Birth certificate
- Company ID
- Credit card
- Driver’s license
- Learners permit
- Library card
- Organization ID (athletics club, theater group, etc.)
- Passport card
- Proof of auto insurance in the passenger’s name
- School ID
- Social Security card
Bottom Line: If your child will be traveling alone, it is best to send them with some sort of ID — even better if it has their photo on it.
Even though your 18-year-old is legally an adult, they are still your 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 they’ve 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:
- Airline- or airport-issued ID (if issued under a TSA-approved security plan)
- Border Crossing Card
- Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) card
- DHS “Trusted Traveler” cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
- DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license
- Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by a Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent) that meets REAL ID requirements
- Foreign government-issued passport
- Native American Tribal Photo ID
- Permanent Resident Card
- Registered Traveler Card (that contains a name, date of birth, gender, expiration date, and a tamper-resistant feature)
- Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
- U.S. Military ID
- U.S. passport
- U.S. passport card
Hot Tip: TSA ID requirements are always changing, so if you have any concerns, it is always best to check directly on its 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 summarize, 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 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 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.