Traveling with children can take your vacation to an all new level of fun. You get the chance to do those childlike activities that let the kid in you spring to life. It will take some pre-planning to ensure their safety, prepare for air travel, and keep them entertained during the mundane parts of the trip. Here are some suggestions to help you in your planning process.
Purchasing a Plane Ticket:
Before purchasing a ticket for your child, contact the airline directly to find out if they offer any discounted fares for children. Airlines that offer lower fares will not necessarily list them on their website or on other travel sites.
The majority of airlines offer free airfare for trips in the U.S. for babies that are under the age of 2, if they travel on the lap of an adult and do not have their own seat. However, there are definite safety issues for your baby when traveling on a plane unsecured.
There is a reason why the airlines require adult passengers to be buckled up during take-off, landing, or turbulence–and the same should hold true for your baby–but it does not if they are riding on your lap.
Before making the decision to have your baby travel on your lap, consider the risks:
• It’s great to save money—but not buying your child a seat is a decision that should not be taken lightly. I have been on flights where there was a tremendous amount of turbulence and all passengers, including the flight attendants, had to get buckled in. All luggage had to be put back in the overhead bins and secured. Everything would be secured–except that precious baby sitting on your lap.
• According to the National Transportation Safety Board, during severe turbulence (without warning, a plane can drop several hundred feet in an instant) combined with the laws of physics, it would be very difficult, if not impossible to hold on to your baby. You have no control on how much you will get tossed around or thrust forward into the seat in front of you. That amount of force could cause injury or even death to a child. They recommend that parents purchase a seat for their child and restrain them in a safety seat with a 5 point harness in the event of an emergency landing or turbulence.
• On the Federal Aviation Administration website (FAA.gov) under the topic of Child Safety on Airplanes, it states “The FAA strongly urges parents and guardians to secure children in an appropriate restraint based on weight and size. Keeping a child in a CRS (a hard backed child safety seat that is approved by the government for use in both motor vehicles and aircraft) or device during the flight is the right thing to do.”
So before you make the decision to have your baby sit on your lap, consider their safety. And in regards to saving money…check with your airline to see if they will give you a discounted infant fare if you purchase a separate seat for them.
Airline Requirements for Lap Babies:
• If you still decide to carry your baby on your lap, you will usually have to call the airline directly to set this up when you book your own ticket.
• You may not need a boarding pass, but you may need a Boarding Verification Document that you can usually get at the airline’s ticket counter the day of travel. You will need to present the baby’s certified birth certificate proving that they have not reached their 2nd birthday yet.
• Only one lap baby is allowed per adult traveler, and they must remain on the lap throughout the flight and are not allowed in the aisle.
• Some airlines will not allow a lap baby to have their own carry-on bag.
• For international flights, all passengers need to have a ticket, including babies sitting on the lap of an adult. Many airlines will charge an infant fare and taxes or fees, while others may charge a small percentage of the adult fare. Your baby will need a passport. Some airlines will offer a free bassinet (usually holding babies up to 22 lbs.), if you request it in advance. These cannot be used during taxi, takeoff, landing, or when the seat belt sign is on.
Airline Requirements for Infants Under 2 Years of Age with a Purchased Seat:
• All infants with their own seat (not a lap baby) will need a boarding pass to get on the plane.
• Children must be secured in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved infant seat. Airlines do not provide them.
• Most airlines will not allow an infant on board that is under 7 days old.
Is your Child turning 2 Years of Age before your Return Flight?
• If your child will be turning 2 while you are on your trip, check with the airline when booking the ticket to see if you need to purchase them a seat for the return flight. Some airlines will “grandfather” the child in, while others will not. By not checking with the airline in advance, you run the risk of them charging a full one-way fare for your child’s return flight.
Airline Requirements for Children Ages 2 – 11:
• Children over 2 must have their own seat and are usually charged a full adult fare. Call the airline directly to see if they offer any discounts for children, since some may offer a reduced fare for children under 11, and these fares may not be advertised online. This would include international flights as well.
• Check with the airline on their requirements regarding the seat assignment for a child that is strapped in a car seat. If there are no requirements, the safest seat is the middle seat with a parent on both sides, or the window seat, if traveling with one parent.
• Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to sit in exit rows. Infants are not allowed to sit in the row before or after the exit row.
Travel Identification Requirements:
All children are required to have identification when traveling by air. Following are the identification requirements:
Travel within the U.S.:
Identification requirements vary by airline—usually children under 16 are required to carry a birth certificate. Children 16 and older are required to have a government issued photo ID. When going through airport security, children under the age of 18 are required to show their boarding pass only.
Some typical requirements include:
• Proof of age for infants and toddlers (certified birth certificate).
• Children ages 15-17 who are traveling alone will most likely need one of the following:
o Driver’s license or state issued ID
o School or organization ID
o Company ID
o Certified birth certificate
o Social security card
International Air Travel:
A Passport is required for children of all ages.
Some countries may require additional identification. Check with the Embassy or consulate of the country you are visiting for specifics on their entry requirements. Check to see if a visa or vaccines, etc. are required for entry.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection:
There may be additional documentation required by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection when traveling with children outside the U.S. for the following reasons:
1. Children traveling with one parent
2. Children with a different last name than their parents
3. Children (under 18) traveling with a group without their parents
4. Adults traveling with children who are not their own
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, you may or may not be asked for additional documentation (such as a notarized permission letter and/or birth certificate); but you risk being detained if you are asked and you do not have this information available. Canada has very strict requirements in this regard.
For additional information, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at CBP.gov.
Check back for Part 2 in Traveling with Children.
For insightful travel ideas, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad
and wherever books are sold