Question Of The Week: Necessary Documents To Fly With A Child

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Question Of The Week: Necessary Documents To Fly With A Child

Question Of The Week: Necessary Documents To Fly With A Child

What are the necessary documents to fly with a child? It depends on several factors. In this article, we’ll look at the question of the week and some related questions that come with it. This should help you prepare for traveling with a child, no matter the circumstances.

The Question

Our question of the week comes from Melissa in our Facebook group:

Traveling with my infant for the first time soon. AA says to have proof of age. Do you all travel with an official birth certificate copy, or is a photocopy okay? They don’t seem to specify …

The required documents to fly with a child can vary depending on a few factors:

  • Age of the child / whether the child is on a free ticket (ex: lap infant)
  • Whether the child is flying alone or with parents/guardians
  • Whether the trip is domestic or international

Documents You Need To Fly With A Child

Let’s look at each of these factors and how they can affect the documents you need.

Age of the child

We have looked at traveling with lap infants before when analyzing the ticket costs. If you are flying with a lap infant (whose ticket is free), the younger the child the more complicated it can get. In Melissa’s situation, look at what American Airlines says about newborns:

We accept infants as young as 2 days old. However, if you’re traveling with an infant less than 7 days old, your physician will be required to fill out a passenger medical form before your flight. A special assistance coordinator will send the form directly to your physician. Infants must be accompanied by a person 16 years or older or by the infant’s parent (any age) in the same cabin.

Because TSA does not require ID for anyone under 18 traveling with a guardian, you only need identification for children when traveling internationally (passport). Proof of relationship to the child, such as a birth certificate, is often needed. This will also serve to prove that the child is under 2 if flying as a lap infant (so the airline won’t charge you for a seat).

Parents / Guardians

Unfortunately, we live in a time where you can’t be sure someone isn’t kidnapping that child and flying away. While written permission for domestic travel with just 1 parent/guardian usually isn’t needed, it can’t hurt. If your child is flying on a school trip without legal guardians or one parent is flying alone with the child to another country, here’s what you need to prepare.

The law depot points out that this Child Travel Consent document is not usually required domestically but often mandatory when a child flies internationally without both legal guardians. To be sure the document works as intended, it’s a good idea to have it notarized with the permission of the child’s guardian(s), including proof of identity and contact information.

If you are a single parent/guardian, bring proof of that. A court order, death certificate, or whatever document shows the reason you have sole custody can help make things smoother. If you have joint custody, but the other parent/guardian isn’t traveling, a letter from that person stating they approve of the travel will help.

For children traveling alone or with someone who isn’t a parent/guardian, expect more paperwork. The Child Travel Consent likely becomes mandatory here. Now that the child is traveling alone, those aged 15-17 will have to show ID. While children 14 and under aren’t required to show ID traveling alone on domestic flights, having an ID won’t hurt.

International vs Domestic

I’ve alluded to international vs domestic travel already. Regardless of age, if you’re crossing borders, your child will need some proof of relationship to you and proof of who they are. A passport is the simplest. If your child is still an infant, a birth certificate + Child Travel Consent (if both parents/guardians not present) should suffice. Check for specifics with your airline and destination country, obviously.

Other Considerations

If your child is traveling without parents/guardians, other factors may come into play. What if your child gets injured and needs someone to make immediate medical decisions? Or maybe your child wants to go scuba diving or do some other activity that requires an adult sign a permission slip. Consider medical consent or temporary power of attorney documents for these situations when a child is traveling alone.

Final Thoughts On Necessary Documents To Fly With A Child

The more complex the situation, the more documents you will need. If you are dropping your child at the airport to fly with others, check with the airline in advance and arrive early. While some situations do not require any ID, it can’t hurt to have an ID or passport for your child (even photos of it on your phone if it’s not mandatory to show it) can help make things smoother. Various factors can change which documents you need, and proof of your relationship to the child should always be readily available.

For the final part of Melissa’s question: do you need the original birth certificate? It’s not mandatory, so a copy works for most people. If in doubt, a certified copy can avoid issues while not making you worry about losing/damaging the original.

Ryan Smith
Travel hacker in 2-player mode, intent on visiting every country in the world, and can say "hello" or "how much does this cost?" in a bunch of different languages.

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