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In this article, we tackle the question: What are the rules for flying with a baby? Even as a seasoned – lap infant and kids in tow – traveler, I still refer back to the rules and airline policies.

You wouldn’t know it, but I can be a nervous traveler with the kids. Who isn’t? I go over all the preparations and questions even as I’m walking out the door. For my sake, and yours, I am writing up this comprehensive guide on rules and ailine policies for flying with a baby.

The rules and policies can be a little confusing because different countries, TSA and each airline all have slightly different rules.

I created a table of the general rules that apply for flying domestic and international with a baby. Further on in the article, you can find detailed information from TSA, different counties and examples of airline policies.

I hope this will make your flight smoother and safer.


Cheat Sheet of Rules for Flying with a Baby

Domestic PoliciesInternational Rules
How old does a baby have to be to fly?Generally 7 days and 2 weeks old (earlier with a medical release)Generally 2 weeks old (7 days  to 18 days, depending on the airline)
Booking a Ticket for an infant:
How much does a lap infant less than 2 yrs cost?free up to 10% of the full fare10% + taxes and fees
How much does a separate seat for a baby cost? 90-100% full fare unless a child fare is offered10% plus fees up to Full fare
Necessary documents:
What documents are require by TSA for an infant to travenonePassport plus visa, proof of vaccination, and Letter of Consent (if required) 
What documents do the airlines require for a baby?passport or birth certificate as proof of agePassport and visa (if needed)
Getting through security:

Is a stroller, baby carrier, and carseat allowed through security?Allowed and screened through x rayAllowed and screened through x ray
Is breastmilk, formula, and juice allowed through security?yes in reasonable quantities (TSA)Yes, onto the plane but the rules vary about importing into another country

** Note: read each section of the article for more information and the references for each conclusion in the chart.

The cheat sheet above will help you get an overview of the rules for flying with babies. Since the airline policies for infant travel differ you will need to check with your airline. Let’s dive a little deeper into questions you are likely asking.

Questions that arise during booking and ticketing a baby for your next trip.


How old does a baby have to be to fly?

How soon can you travel with a newborn? The answer actually varies depending on which airline you are flying. The general rule in the industry is that you can fly when your newborn baby is between 7 days and two weeks old, depending on the airline. Many airlines also have an exemption to travel earlier with a medical release.

For example, Air Canada, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines allow infants 7 days old without a medical release. Japan Airlines allows babies to be 8 days old. Other airlines require the baby to be at least 2 weeks old.

Other airlines require the baby to be at least 2 weeks old. Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue requires babies to be 14 days old before flying with them.

So I can technically fly with a newborn, but when is it safe to fly with a baby? Although a baby is allowed to fly within days or a week of birth, doctors recommend waiting a bit longer. Studies have shown flying with an infant (especially in your lap) can be dangerous.

Pediatricians generally suggest waiting until an infant is 2-3 months old before flying (source). By this time the baby has developed a stronger spine, has more head control and a stronger immune system.

We suggest talking to your pediatrician if you plan to fly with a new baby.


How much does it cost for a lap infant?

If you want to save money on domestic air travel, you will likely consider traveling with your child as a “lap infant.”

Although there is still much debate about the issue, many parents choose to have a baby on their lap and avoid the fees.

For a child to qualify to fly on the lap of their parent, they must be under 2 years of age.

We are taking advantage of the free lap infant on a US domestic flight. International flights cost a portion of the ticket for lap infants.
Free lap infant on a domestic US flight: Photo Credit – Family Travel Fever

Many airlines will allow a lap child for free or a small fee when you are flying domestically (United, American, Delta, Southwest, and Frontier all do). International airlines similarly offer a lap infant for free within their own region. If the ticket is not free, the fees are generally 10% of the full fare.

Plus, if you fly at during low traffic, the airlines will likely seat you next to a free seat. Your lap child is generally welcome to use that seat.

International fees for a lap child flying between the different countries vary. Generally, the fee will be 10% of the full fare plus fees and surcharges (for example, Delta). What the airline defines as full or applicable fare makes a big difference in the price of the ticket.

Note: If you’re using miles to calculate the ticket for your lap infant, the cost will vary depending on the airline. For example, Air Canada fixes a flat fee of 50% for economy tickets, while others like Cathay Pacific will require you to pay 25% of the standard charge in addition to taxes and fees.

We like to take advantage of this period when our babies and toddlers can be included in a family vacation with free airfare.


How much does it cost to buy a separate airplane seat for a baby?

For both comfort and safety, buying a separate seat for your baby is a good a good option. You will likely have to pay for the seat but some airlines still offer an infant or child discount.

Infant on an airplane sitting in an extra seat
Breaking the rules – infant in a separate seat needs to be restrained in car seat – Photo Credit – Family Travel Fever

Unfortunately, many US carriers will charge between 90% and full fare for the extra seat. Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Allegiant Airlines, and Virgin America all charge full fare for an infant with a separate seat.

Southwest has a baby and a child fare that is a percent of the full fare. With their huge discounted fares, you may or may not save money.

American Airlines also offers both domestic and intentional fares for infants; you’ll also have to call 800-433-7300 to book.

Hawaiian Airlines only offer special infant fares for international flights.

Here’s where some of the carriers outside the US become more family-friendly. Child fares for a seat on carriers outside the US vary from 10% plus fees to full fare. For example, Brussels Airlines charges 25% to 30% plus fees, Air France charges 20% plus fees, Qantas charges 10%.

From Norwegian Air International long haul, children aged between 2 to 11 years on the date of their return flight …travel on a child ticket, at 90% of the adult fare, plus any airport taxes.

Norwegian Air

Note: For children older than two years, you have to pay for the seat on the flight. If the baby turns 2 years while on your trip, they have to get a separate seat from their parents as they can’t travel as lap infants.

The good news is that many airways charge reduced fares for children aged between 2-11 years. Child fare tickets can be 25-50% cheaper. So contact the airlines directly to get information on whether they offer discounted rates for children on international flights.


Do I need an ID for my baby to fly?

When flying with a baby, the identification and documents that you will need are dependent on the where you are going and the airline that you are traveling on.

Traveling within the US will not require much documentation. In fact, you can see from the TSA website that you do not need identification while traveling domestically.

“TSA does not require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling with a companion within the United States. Contact the airline for questions regarding specific ID requirements for travelers under 18.”

TSA Identification

However, if you have a lap infant, the airline will likely need proof of the baby’s age. A birth certificate or passport will need to be presented to the airline at check-in.


What documents do I need for flying with a baby internationally?

When traveling internationally, the amount of documentation increases to the same amount as required for adults. Depending on your destination you will need a passport plus possibly a visa, proof of vaccination, and Letter of Consent (if required). The passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date you enter a foreign country.

Travel documents for International flight iwht baby include boarding pass, passport and sometimes visa and immunization records
Travel Documents for Baby Photo Credit: Nicole Geri

Note: To apply for an American passport follow these directions for applying at the USPS. You will require the following documents when applying for a passport for your minor:

  • REQUIREMENTS TO APPLY FOR PASSPORT
  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship(e.g., a birth certificate)
  • Photo identification(for the parents)
  • Proof of parent relationship(such as an adopting decree or birth certificate)
  • Passport photo
  • Passport fee( apparoximately$100)
  • Application forms( available on http://travel.state.gov/)

In addition to a passport, some countries require a visa to enter. For more information on passport requirements for various countries the travel center website has a great search engine.

Vaccines may be required depending on where you are traveling to and from. In order to enter some countries, you will be required to bring proof of vaccination. Check the CDC website for vaccines that are required for your destination.

The documentation required for international travel becomes more complicated if the infant is traveling with a guardian or one parent. The solo parent or guardian must get written consent from the biological parents of the child alongside their child’s original birth certificate.

American Airlines: ” If you’re traveling internationally with anyone under 18, you may be required show documentary evidence of your relationship and a Letter of Consent or permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present.”

American Airlines

Getting through TSA Security

Getting through security with your child can be stressful but knowing the rules will make everything go much smoother. When traveling with a baby it’s essential to arrive early, at least 2 hours for domestic and 3 hours for international flights.

TSA has developed a thorough procedure for screening children 12 years or younger. These guidelines are a security measure to ensure all passengers and crew is safe during the flight.

The TSA agents will check all the boarding passes including for the lap infant. So make sure you have a boarding pass even if your baby does not have a seat.

Knowing the procedure at the screening area will help you.

All equipment and items you’ll use for your baby while on the flight must be screened at the airport. This includes strollers, carriers, toys, etc. are screened either by the use of x-rays or checked manually.

 You breast milk, formula, or juice may exceed 3.4 ounces but tell security
Yes you can bring milk, breast milk, formula, or juice through TSA security

If you have breast milk, formula, or juice excess of 3.4 ounces, you need to inform the security agent before the screening. These items must be X-rayed or screened for explosives.


Can I wear my baby through security?

Yes, according to the TSA rules, “infants may be carried in a sling” I have successfully worn my babies through security in an Ergo.

After walking through the metal detector, the security wipes my hands and maybe a pat-down.

Wearing a baby through the airport allows you to have hands free for luggage and other things. You are allowed to wear the baby through sector in a sling but must remove the carrier during take off and landing.
Baby wearing through airport security – Photo Credit – Family Travel Fever

Note: you cannot get through the security checkpoints with your child in a carrier or a stroller. You must first get them out and hold them in your arm as you go through screening.

In the screening process, your child can have their shoes, diapers, belts other appropriate clothing.

From TSA:

Children 12 and under can leave their shoes, light jackets and headwear on during screening.

Children will not be separated from their parent/guardian.

Remove infants and children from their carriers and carry them in arms through the walk-through metal detector.

Infants may be carried in a sling through the walk-through metal detector but may be subject to additional screening.

Modified screening procedures are in place to reduce the likelihood of a pat-down.

TSA

Can I take breastmilk, formula, or other liquids on the plane?

Yes, you can take milk on a plane for your baby and as much as you need, within reason. Don’t worry, take what you need for your baby to drink, it is exempt from the 3.4 oz rule.

In addition, you are allowed to take with you cooling packs to ensure the milk remains fresh.

From TSA “Formula, breast milk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk.

Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in carry-on. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above. You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage..”

TSA

Can I take a stroller through security and to the gate?

Yes, you are allowed to take a stroller through security and to the gate with you.

Actually, you have quite a few options for traveling with a stroller.

In the age of paying for bags and everything else, you get some relief here. Most airlines will check a stroller and car seat for free.

The gate agent will give you this claim check tag to gate check your stroller. Strollers are free to check.
A claim check tag to gate check your stroller. Strollers are free to check.

You can check a them through with your luggage at the ticket counter.

Or.. you can take a stroller through security (see the section getting through security above) and checked at the gate. When you get to the gate ask the agent for a gate check tag for your stroller. Then set it on the jetway before entering the plane.

With new small collapsable strollers, some airlines allow you to take it on the plane with your. For example, this is United’s policy:

Strollers and folding wagons may be checked to your final destination free of charge, in addition to your normal baggage allowance. This also applies to customers who are traveling on a Basic Economy ticket.


Feel free to use your child’s stroller or folding wagon throughout the airport, but please keep in mind that most strollers and wagons must be checked at the gate.

If you have a compact folding stroller, like the gb Pockit Stroller, you can bring it on board in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item.

United Airlines

Can I bring a carseat on the plane?

Yes, you can bring a car seat on the airplane for your child. In fact, if bought a separate seat for your infant, you may be required to have a car seat to safely use on the plane.

Infant safely sleeping in a car seat
Infant safely sleeping in a car seat : Photo Credit Family Travel Fever

If you have a lap infant, you have a couple of options. You can bring your car seat through security and out to the gate, in hopes of getting an open seat next to you. When you arrive at the gate, check-in with the agent if there will be room on the plane for an extra seat for the baby.

If there is no extra seats, you can gate check the car seat. The agent will give you a tag to place on the handle. When you board the plane, leave it on the jetway before the door.

The other option is to check your car seat with the luggage at the ticket counter. This way you do not need to carry to through the whole airport and will be waiting at your destination.

Car seats are always free to check. (I have yet to see otherwise, but you are welcome to tell me your story in the comments.)

When I travel with a lap infant, I choose to check the car seat with the luggage.


Final Thoughts on Flying with a Baby

To sum everything up, although rules for flying with a baby differ between airlines, some general guidelines that apply include:

  • Infants may travel without medical approval provided them if they are over 7 days old (some airlines require 2 weeks).
  • For domestic U.S. flights, a child under 2 years of age can travel without a ticket while sitting on the lap of a paying adult.
  • If you decide for the baby to fly in a car seat you’ll pay for a ticket regardless of the age of your child.
  • All children over 2 years of age must have a ticket.
  • When flying with your baby, you must prove the age with a birth certificate or passport.
  • Any child under 2 years must be accompanied in the flight by a passenger who’s at least 16 years of age.
  • An adult passenger can only travel with a maximum of 2 infants and only one on their lap.

One last thought. You should keep copies of the TSA guidelines and the rules for the airline that you are flying on. I have heard of stories where TSA or gate agents are misinformed. Having a copy of the rules in hand will help you navigate the situation.

We have many resources for you if you are planning a vacation with your baby. You may find these articles helpful:

What has your experience been traveling with a baby? Do you have more questions about the rules for flying with an infant?

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