When planning to travel by air with your children, here are some tips on how to have a safe trip and be prepared with any necessary documentation.
Purchasing Plane Tickets:
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.
Lap Babies – Under the Age of Two:
The majority of airlines offer free airfare for trips in the U.S. for babies that are under the age of two if they travel on the lap of an adult and do not have their own seat. However, be aware of the safety issues for your baby when traveling on a plane unsecured.
There is a reason why the airlines require 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 understandable to want 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 five-point harness in the event of an emergency landing or turbulence.
On the Federal Aviation Administration website, 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. Check with the airline to see if they offer a discounted infant fare if you purchase a separate seat for them.
Airline Requirements for Lap Babies:
If you decide to carry your baby on your lap, you will need to call the airline directly to set this up when you book your own ticket. You may not need a boarding pass for your baby, but you may need a Boarding Verification Document that you can 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 are under the age of two.
Only one lap baby is allowed per adult traveler, and they must remain on the lap throughout the flight. 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.
If your child will be turning two before your return flight, check with the airline when booking their ticket. You may need to purchase 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 having to pay a full one-way fare for your child’s return flight.
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 these. Most airlines will not allow an infant on board that is under seven days old.
Airline Requirements for Children Ages 2 – 11:
Children over the age of two must have their own seat and are usually charged a full adult fare. Call the airline directly to see if it has any discounts for children. Again, these fares may not be advertised online.
Check with the airline on any requirements for seat assignments. If there are no requirements, the safest seat is a 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. Children under the age of 16 may be 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). You risk being detained if you do not have this information available. Canada has very strict requirements.
For additional information, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Check Part 2 in Traveling with Children.
For insightful travel ideas, check out my book:
Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad