To avoid complications and to make sure journeys are as smooth as possible, both children and their parents should be aware of the requirements for minors flying to the US. There are industry-wide rules and procedures, set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) concerning minors flying to the US.
The TSA requirements concern both screening and security. However, although the TSA set the guidelines, each airline has its own set of policies.
Minors are considered to be children who are under 18-years-old. Children from eligible countries need to apply for ESTA regardless of age
Consult the airline beforehand if the child is traveling alone as their rules vary. The older the child is, the more likely the chances of being able to travel without a chaperone. Also find out the airline’s policy on what identification a minor needs to show.
Although each airline has slightly different policies, children are generally allowed to travel alone from the age of five. There is extra paperwork to complete and some airlines have their own minimum age requirement for connecting flights.
Direct flights are simpler as there is no change of planes, less interaction with flight attendants and other personnel, and a smaller chance of things going wrong.
Minors who are under 15 are often required to use the airline’s unaccompanied minor service. For a charge, the child is accompanied throughout the journey and the airline needs to be told in advance, normally at the time of the booking.
A form needs to be filled out in which the name of the person picking up the child is stated. The adult collecting the child at the end of the journey needs to show photo identification.
Again, each airline has its own policy whether a child needs to show identification, so check this beforehand. If in doubt, take the child’s birth certificate or passport just in case. Children normally need to obtain an ESTA visa waiver to travel to the US. Learn about ESTA for babies before traveling.
The Federal Aviation Administration recommends that babies should travel in a properly secured booster seat. However, this is not a regulation and babies who are 2 or under can travel on their parents lap for free. Some airlines have their own policies on newborn babies and discourage very young babies from flying by requiring extra documentation.
Toddlers cannot travel on their parents’ laps after the age of 2, and need to have their own ticket. Children 3 or older need to have their own seat on the plane with a secured booster seat. Few airlines have discounted rates for children.
There is a reduced screening procedure for under-12s. Items such as toys, bags, and blankets, are checked, but pat-downs are not typical. Liquids need to be presented at the checkpoint but baby formula and milk can exceed the normal 3-4 ounce limit.
Children who are traveling with parents who have the ‘TSA PreCheck’ on their boarding passes can go through the expedited screening with them. Children who are 13 or over need to obtain their own ‘TSA PreCheck’ otherwise they cannot pass through.