What Documents Do Kids Need To Fly?

While scheduling an international summer vacation for your family, you should get started several months ahead of the departure date. Flying with children comes with a lot of responsibilities. 

The travel requirements for overseas flights are more extensive than those within the country. I did some more research and compiled a list of necessities.

What Documents do Kids Need to Fly? On a domestic flight, you do not need identification for your child once you get to the TSA checkpoint. They often only ask for a boarding pass. International flights require a minimum of a passport. Often, the airlines deal with documentation issues before you arrive at the TSA station. Documentation requirements depend on the situation.

Since each person has a unique travel situation, you must communicate with your airline before your travel day. It is also better to have too much documentation than not enough. 

Kids can travel with parents, friends or family, or alone. We’ll discuss how to handle a variety of kid traveling scenarios.

Boarding Pass

When traveling with a minor, you usually only need to show a boarding pass once you get to a security checkpoint. 

The lines in security move slowly, so most of the identification process takes place at the check-in counter.

When checking in at the airport, have your documents ready, so you can move through the line quickly. 

Adults need to have proper identification, such as a license or passport. Children under the age of 18 do not need identification for TSA, however.

Verifying Your Child’s Age for a Discounted Ticket

When traveling with infants that sit in your lap, you do not even need a ticket. You can get your permission to board at check-in. 

Children that require seats often get discounts. This requires proof of age, however.

Purchase tickets at least several weeks before your trip. Some airports accept documents by mail to prove your child’s age for discount tickets. 

You can also show them at the airport check-in. Many people feel uncomfortable mailing sensitive documents.

If you plan to finish the verification process in person, arrive an hour or two before your flight. Check with the airline for a list of acceptable documents. 

Always bring two supporting documents in case the airline refuses one or requests extra. There are a few common documents that most airlines accept.

  • Birth certificate (a proper one from vital records, not the hospital record)
  • Vaccination records or other medical records
  • Passport

Your Child’s Passport

A passport is necessary for international travel for all age groups. It is best to take several forms of identification with you overseas, however. 

You can never be sure what may happen during your travels in another country.

While the TSA requires a passport for children, expect to present it only at the check-in desk. TSA checkpoints are mainly for safety checks. 

Keep your documents out and ready to present.

The passport process can cause a delay in your travel if you begin late. If you need to order a passport for your child, you should start several months before the travel time. You must fill out the application, get pictures, and provide proper documentation.

Gathering Documents for a Passport

Passport approval can get tricky if both parents are not available to sign the documents. Single parents with estranged spouses need time to find the other parent and convince them to cooperate. 

If the other parent is unreachable, you must fill out paperwork for approval under special circumstances.

Under normal circumstances, you should only need a birth certificate and documents proving the relationship to the parents. 

Both parents need to sign the form or send notarized consent. It simply takes time to gather documents and wait for processing. 

The passport agency can ask for more documentation once they review your application, as well.

Sometimes parents get ready to order the passport and realize they misplaced the birth certificate or other documentation. 

Single parents may need time to order their official custody agreement. 

In some cases, single parents have sole custody and do not need the consent of the other parent. Proper custody papers are also necessary for adoptive families.

Kids Flying Alone

Minors flying alone do not need identification, either. Parents check in with their own ID before leaving their child for the flight. 

The airline may need consent to fly from both parents. 

As with the passport application, single parents need to start far in advance to make sure everything is in place.

The person retrieving the child at the new destination also needs consent to pick up the child. The rules for unaccompanied minors differ, depending on the child’s age.

  • 4 years old and under– not allowed to travel alone
  • 5-7 years old– may travel on selected non-stop flights only
  • 8-14 years old– selected non-stop and connecting flights
  • 15- 17 years old– most non-stop and connecting flights (permitted to fly as a standard passenger with their own identification)

Flying with One Parent

Parents need to prepare for their child to travel with only one parent. Unfortunately, kids are often illegally taken by a non-custodial parent. This means that airlines are on alert for illegal travel situations with minors.

Even if your child lives with both parents, the airlines need consent to fly with only one parent on international flights. You do not need consent for domestic flights. The airline may ask for proof of relationship, however, if your last names do not match.

Proof of Relationship

When traveling with a minor, it is best to bring documentation on every trip. Even if the airlines do not ask for everything, you can run into problems while traveling. 

You may need documentation if your child needs to see a doctor, for example.

The birth certificate is the best way to prove the relationship to your child. It should have the names of both parents on it. 

The mother’s maiden name and married name are on the birth certificate to avoid confusion.

Make sure you have a proper state ID or passport to prove that your name matches the one on the birth certificate. Parents that have remarried may have a different name on their current identification documents. 

This won’t match up with the birth certificate.

If you have changed your name several times, you should travel with a folder of several documents. Otherwise border officials may detain you. Here are some ideas:

  • Birth certificates
  • Custody papers
  • Divorce papers
  • Marriage certificate (if you remarried and your name no longer matches your children’s last name)
  • Consent from another parent

Prepare for the TSA Checkpoint

The lines at the TSA checkpoint can be the longest part of your flight preparation. During the holiday season, you may need to arrive 3 hours or more before your flight. 

Make sure you understand the rules before you head to the airport.

  • If your child is under 2 years old, you can bring more liquids than the strict 3.4 ounces. Make sure your pre-made bottles and baby food are in a separate container, however. Some TSA checkpoints have family lines to help get restless kids through the line faster, as well.
  • Be mindful of your clothing choices on the day of your flight. Wear as few accessories as possible, especially items with metal. Older children and adults should wear slip-on shoes for quick removal. Children 12 years old and younger do not need to take their shoes off.
  • As with any long line, kids may get bored and start crying. Keep out a few snacks, electronics, and toys out to keep them busy. A sympathetic person may usher you ahead of them in-line if you end up dealing with a full-blown toddler tantrum!

Strollers at TSA Checkpoint

You can usually keep your stroller and other baby equipment with you through the TSA checkpoint. You can get approval for gate check-in for these items. 

It can be a great help to have your child strapped into the stroller while you are in the TSA line.

Check your stroller for stray items before you leave home. It is common for small items to become wedged in the crevices of strollers. 

Kids seem always to manage to hide things in the strangest places. You don’t want to delay security while you check for a mystery item setting off the metal detectors.

If you can manage with a smaller or lighter stroller for a few days; you can navigate the airport much easier. If you must take a double stroller with you, avoid the side by side model. These make it difficult both in the airport and on tourist outings.

Final Thoughts

Traveling through with children takes a lot of preparation. It is important to check the identification documents of the entire family before a flight, however. 

Parents must show their own identification documents at check-in with their child.

You may also need to show proof that the child is yours. When one parent goes to get a passport for a child or takes them out of the country, there is more documentation required. 

Check with your airline and passport agency several months before the trip. This gives you time to gather the correct paperwork.

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