Does your child need some form of identification to board a plane? It depends. When a minor takes a trip on a plane, there are situations where ID is required and others where it is not. Generally, children don't need ID when traveling domestically, but they do need ID when traveling internationally.
When Your Child Does Not Need ID to Fly
When flying domestically within the U.S., children typically do not need to show ID.
- Flying within the United States when accompanied by an adult. The TSA and most airlines do not require children under age 18 to provide ID when traveling with an adult companion who has acceptable identification. This includes family trips when a child flies with his or her parents. This will continue to be the case when REAL ID becomes a required identification for domestic air travel. Still, every airline has its own rules about minors and identification—and some do require ID for kids—so contact your airline a few days before your trip to know exactly what you need to bring. If your child is traveling with only one parent, or with an adult who is not his or her parent, it is advisable, though not necessary, to fill out a Child Travel Consent Form and send it with your child.
- Flying as an unaccompanied minor within the United States. Even though an unaccompanied minor does not typically need to show identification, adults accompanying the minor through the airport do need to bring their own identification to complete the process. It's also recommended to have your child's birth certificate or passport handy as well. If your kids are old enough to speak, security might ask them to say their name to confirm identification, so prepare your kids for this. Be sure to contact your airline to confirm all rules regarding unaccompanied minors well before your trip so that there are no surprises upon your arrival to the airport.
When Your Child Does Need ID to Fly
Identification is always required for international travel, and in some cases, you'll need to fill out additional paperwork for your child.
- Flying internationally. In general, each adult in your party will need a passport and minor children will need either passports or original birth certificates. The name on the airline ticket must be identical to the name on the passport or birth certificate. Keep each child's passport handy, since you might have to show it at both check-in and security checkpoints.
- Flying internationally with only one parent or without parents at all. Documentation becomes more complicated when one parent or guardian is traveling out of the country alone with a minor. In general, besides passports, you should bring written consent from the child’s biological parent(s) along with the child’s birth certificate. If your minor child will be traveling alone or with someone other than a parent or legal guardian—for instance, on a school trip with a teacher—additional paperwork is required. A Child Travel Consent Form is a legal document that allows a minor child to travel without both parents or legal guardians present. It is advisable to complete such forms for all travel, not just international travel, but is particularly important when a minor is traveling outside the country. Even if the TSA allows your child through the airport in the U.S., immigration officials in your child's destination country may turn your child back if he or she does not have a consent form.
Getting a Passport for Your Child
Apply for a new passport for your child several weeks before you need it and make a copy to take with you alongside the original. You can also obtain a less-expensive passport card, which permits U.S. citizens to travel within the U.S. and to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.