Know TSA requirements for minors before you go — Photo courtesy of jacoblund / Getty Images
Travel can be an invaluable childhood experience. Unfortunately, air travel has more than its fair share of hassles. However, if you and your kids are prepared, the journey may be less stressful. We’ve broken down the Transportation Security Administration’s rules on flying with minors, so you won’t be caught off guard the next time you’re heading to the airport. Read on and you’ll sail through your flight with flying colors.
Do minors need an ID to fly domestically?
Each airline sets forth their policy, so checking in with the carrier is highly suggested. For domestic flights, children under 18 typically do not need personal identification. The ID of the accompanying responsible adult will suffice. (Note: The new rules on REAL ID-complaint cards that go into effect in May 2025 only apply to travelers age 18 and older.)
On some airlines, kids ages 2-11 receive a discounted fare and/or infants under 2 years of age can fly free when sitting on an adult’s lap. In these cases, you may be asked for documentation, such as the child's birth certificate, to show proof of age.
Do minors need an ID to fly internationally?
Regardless of age, all passengers, including infants, need a valid passport to fly internationally. If a minor is flying with only one parent, that parent may be asked for additional documentation, such as a notarized consent form signed by the non-present parent. If the parent has sole custody, paperwork demonstrating this may be necessary. If one parent is deceased, a copy of the death certificate may be requested.
Can minors fly without an adult?
Children traveling without an adult are known as unaccompanied minors. Kids younger than age 5 are not permitted to fly alone. Most airlines allow children between ages 5-11, or sometimes between ages 5-14, to fly solo. In these instances, an airline employee chaperones the unaccompanied minor for an additional fee. Some airlines only allow unaccompanied minors on nonstop routes, while others permit them on connecting flights. Minors age 12 (15 on some airlines) and older may travel solo without supervision.
Some children see flying alone as an adventure, but for others, it causes anxiety. Walk your child through each step of the journey, troubleshoot potential pitfalls and convey a positive attitude to help your child build confidence.
What is the process for minors who fly unaccompanied?
Parents need to fill out paperwork before their child boards. Usually, parents are given a pass that allows them to go through airport security and accompany their child to the gate. Children are sometimes given badges that state their unaccompanied minor status. Airline chaperones will meet unaccompanied minors at the gate and help them board. Once the plane lands, the chaperone will escort the child off of the plane and wait with the minor until a preapproved guardian picks them up.
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How do I get a passport for my child?
Children younger than 16 are not eligible for mail-in passport applications and must apply in person at a passport acceptance facility, to include approved post offices and public libraries. Both parents must authorize the issuance of their child’s passport. If one parent is not able to accompany the child to the passport facility, a notarized consent form must be presented. If one parent has sole legal custody, proof of this status must be shown. Children’s passports are valid for five years.
How does airport security handle screening for kids?
Children age 13 and older follow the same security screening process that adults do. Children age 12 and younger undergo a modified security screening, keeping their shoes and light jackets on. Infants must be removed from their strollers and carried through security in their parent’s arms.
Children’s carry-on items must go on the X-ray belt for screening. If your child prefers to travel with a treasured toy or other object, such as a stuffed animal or favorite blanket, it is important to let them know beforehand, so they’ll be prepared to say goodbye to Teddy without a tantrum.
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Drinkable liquids, including breast milk, in excess of the standard 3.4-ounce limit are allowed as carry-ons for infants and toddlers, as they are deemed medically necessary liquids.
If you have TSA PreCheck, this extends to your children ages 12 and under.
Do I need to purchase a ticket for my baby or toddler?
On most airlines, children younger than 2 years fly free when sitting on their parent’s lap. Though not required, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends all young children be strapped into an FAA-approved child restraint system (better known as a car seat) while in flight. If you want to be certain your baby is strapped in a car seat, you’ll need to purchase a separate seat.