The Well Packed Bag: Regulations Regarding Air Travel with Kids

7 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

Us map with paper cutouts Travel Expert?

As a travel expert, I recommend…oh wait, I'm not an expert on travel. But if you're going to travel with kids, and I do, you better know a thing or two about what TSA allows you to bring through security and onboard, what FAA says about child restraint systems, etc. I may not travel as much as some do, but I have done my fair share of traversing the globe. I have been delayed, stranded, missed flights, without luggage and lost. The trials and tribulations of taking a trip sometimes overshadow the fun that's supposed to be had.

When it comes to packing, I am not the kind of person that throws the bare minimums into a tiny carry-on bag and tosses it into the overhead compartment on an airplane. No, I am the kind of person who packs everything we could possibly need into one very large suitcase and a couple of smaller suitcases: one for each ticketed passenger, plus the two car seat bags stuffed full (they're free to check). Then, we each carry our allotted number of carry-on bags filled with snacks, DVD player and movies, laptop, makeup , medicine, toys, books and other essentials for the Darlings Boys, books and magazine for DH and me (because we are foolishly optimistic like that) and push a stroller or two. Yes, I am that passenger.

Stuck at the Airport

But consider this. We have been stuck sitting on an airplane for two hours with the Darling Boys. And this was OK because we had the afore-mentioned DVD player with movies, books and toys, and a full smorgasbord of snacks, baby food and formula. And then there was the time that I was 5 months pregnant with Darling 2 and Darling 1 and I struck out to visit my parents in Texas. Our original flight was cancelled and we were re-booked before we ever left the house, then once we did make it to DFW, we found out the connecting flight had been cancelled due to severe weather conditions and we had been rebooked – for a 7 AM flight THE NEXT DAY. What? Let me recap: I was 5 months pregnant, toting around all of our "essentials", pushing Darling 1 in a stroller, stuck in an airport, without a car seat (it was checked). Never fear, I found a lovely hotel attached to the airport with great room service and a handy toiletry pack for me. And thanks to my habit of always being prepared and over-packing I had my makeup, computer, a large supply of diapers and wipes, change of clothes for Darling 1, snacks, toys, books, even Darling 1's favorite stuffed animal. We did make that 7 AM flight, and did finally arrive at our destination – with 1 diaper to spare.

We have been stuck and delayed with our Darlings more times than I care to think of, but we have never really had too much difficulty because we were prepared and knew how much formula and baby food was allowed by TSA and exactly how to pack it, etc. We have taken the time to check the travel details. There are a number of travel regulations, and it's important to be aware of them when traveling, especially if traveling with youngsters.

TSA Regulations Regarding Traveling with Kids

Fortunately, there are several Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations that do not apply or are at least modified when they are applied to child travelers. According to the TSA, when carrying formula, breast milk, or juice through the checkpoint, they will be inspected, however, you or your infant or toddler will not be asked to test or taste breast milk, formula, or juice. Security Officers may test liquid exemptions (exempt items more than 3 ounces) for explosives.

Additionally, when traveling with your infant or toddler, in the absence of suspicious activity or items, greater than 3 ounces of baby formula, breast milk, or juice are permitted through the security checkpoint in reasonable quantities for the duration of your itinerary, if you perform the following:

  1. Separate these items from the liquids, gels, and aerosols in your quart-size and zip-top bag.
  2. Declare you have the items to one of the Security Officers at the security checkpoint.
  3. Present these items for additional inspection once reaching the X-ray.

You are also allowed to bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred, or processed baby food in your carry-on baggage and aboard your plane.

Mothers flying with, and now without, her child will be permitted to bring breast milk in quantities greater than three ounces as long as it's declared for inspection at the security checkpoint. Breast milk is in the same category as liquid medications.

TSA encourages those traveling with young children to bring along only as much formula, breast milk, or juice that is needed to reach your destination. But note my afore-mentioned stories of being stranded in an airport with young children. I would encourage you to always bring more than you think you need. I have never found formula, diapers, wipes, baby food or many kid-friendly snacks in an airport.

TSA must screen everyone, even infants, before they can go through the security checkpoint. Car seats/infant seats and strollers must go through the X-ray machine. However, NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray machine. Instead, you should hold your infant or toddler while walking through the metal detector.

Passports/Birth Certificates

If you are taking your kids outside of the United States, you must give yourself enough time to apply for and receive a passport for each person traveling, regardless of age, with a few exceptions listed.

The Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs provides:

  • Minors under age 16 must apply in person
  • All minors regardless of age, including newborns and infants, must have his or her own passport when traveling internationally by air.
  • All Minors Age 16 and 17 shall:
    • Appear in person at the time of application
    • Have a parent or guardian present photo identification if the minor does not have identification of his or her own
    • Provide a photocopy of the same ID document that will be presented at the time of application (applicant or parent/guardian).  See photocopy requirements under STEP 4 of How to Apply for the First Time (In Person)
    • Establish parental consent (You may be requested to provide written parental consent for a child age 16 or 17 if it is not implied on the application)

According to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), beginning June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizen children under age 16 arriving by land or sea from contiguous territory may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.

Additionally, beginning June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizen children under age 19 arriving by land or sea from contiguous territory and traveling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization, or sports team, may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.

The group should be prepared to present a letter on organizational letterhead with the following information:

  • The name of the group and supervising adult,
  • A list of the children on the trip, and the primary address, phone number, date of birth, place of birth, and name of at least one parent or legal guardian for each child,
  • A written and signed statement of the supervising adult certifying that he or she has obtained parental or legal guardian consent for each participating child.


FAA Regulations Regarding Child Restraint Systems

Some parents opt to check car seats (for free) while others choose to bring the child restraint systems onboard. Studies show that children are safest in a child restraint system, rather than in your lap. However, children are not required to be strapped into a seat until reaching the age of 2.

Not all car seats are certified to be used on an aircraft. Make sure your Child Restraint System (CRS) is government approved and has "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it. Otherwise, you may be asked to check the CRS as baggage. If using a special harness-type restraint, check to make sure it's approved and has "FAA Approved in Accordance with 14CFR 21.305(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only" on it. The FAA encourages you to measure the width of your CRS. It should fit in most airplane seats if it's no wider than 16 inches.

While you should always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using a CRS, the FAA recommends that a child weighing:

  • Less than 20 pounds use a rear-facing CRS
  • From 20 to 40 pounds use a forward-facing CRS
  • More than 40 pounds use an airplane seat belt
  • A child may also use an alternative, such as a harness-type restraint, if it's approved by FAA. FAA has approved one restraint appropriate for children weighing between 22 and 44 pounds called CARES.

FAA prohibits passengers from bringing booster seats and harness vests on airplanes for use during taxi, take-off and landing. These restraints should be checked as baggage.

The Scoop

Follow these regulations for a smooth flight with your most precious cargo. Do you have any air travel tips or horror stories to share? On Wednesday, I will post air travel tips for a success trip with your little ones. On Thursday, I will be traveling by air to New York, and I'll be sure to let you know how my flights go. On Friday, I will post a bit of Motherly Advice from NYC. Over and out…



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