The real reason babies and toddlers need ID for domestic flights

Babies can travel cheaper than suitcases — for now.

Sure, all babies need passports to fly over the U.S. border and back, but if you think you can slip through airport check-in and onto the plane for a domestic flight without presenting any ID for your child under 2 years old, you might be making a costly mistake in time as well as in money.

One of the most frequent misconceptions I hear from parents preparing to fly with their babies and toddlers is that they don’t need ID for their child on domestic flights. 

It’s also one issue I hope to clear up right here, right now, so that even those of you who have already flown without presenting ID for your babies (as I have done myself on many occasions) won’t find yourselves in a sticky situation down the road.

First, let’s just be clear. It’s not about security.

There’s only one reason that baby is riding free on your lap within the U.S.—or in his own seat for a reduced “infant fare” that is not extended to children over 2 years: his age.

It stands to reason that at some point, the lap child you may not have been asked to present a birth certificate for at 6 months of age might spark new interest when you arrive to check in for a flight at 22 months. Or perhaps even at 15 months, depending on the person checking you in for your flight and his or her experience—or lack of experience—with babies and young children.

In all fairness, many parents do try to squeeze in one last free flight just before a child’s second birthday—and even just after thinking they’ll still get away with it. A few bold parents have tried to push it even farther, and I’ve heard some hilarious stories about attempts to check in petite passengers who, when asked at the counter, were able to quite articulately explain to the ticket agent how old they are and also how old their mommies told them to say they were.

From a couple of popular airlines:

  • Southwest Airlines: “A birth certificate is required to validate the age of all infants under age two.”
  • JetBlue : “Customers traveling with an infant as a lap child may be asked for proof of age, such as a passport, birth certificate (copies are acceptable for domestic travel) or an immunization record when the infant’s age is questionable.”

The bottom line is this: Airline personnel are entitled to ask for proof of your child’s age any time your child is flying for free or for a reduced fare based on age. And sometimes they do – sometimes when the parent may least expect it.

So hopefully you won’t ever be caught off guard by this yourself, and risk missing a flight or having to purchase an on-the-spot ticket for your child.

What happens after 2?

Generally, children 2 years and older pay the same fare as adults for flights within the U.S., so this is not an issue once your child is riding in a seat that costs the same as your own. You might have other reasons, however, why you would want to have your child’s ID along on these trips.

For more planning tips and advice on planning domestic and international flights with young children, see Part 5 of Travels with Baby. And why take any chances? Keep on-the-go tips for your aiport waits and flight at your fingertips with the new Take-Along Travels with Baby (in pocket-size or ebook edition).

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli
Author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby


  1. HarmSkills

    i ALWAYS keep a photocopy of my sons birth cert in my diaper bag. in this day and age of IDing you never know

  2. Shelly Rivoli

    Yes, there can be enough other surprises during travel – especially when traveling with a baby! 🙂

  3. Shelly

    Great reminder, thanks for clarifying just before an upcoming trip to NYC.

  4. Randy @thelollipoproad

    A great reminder to folks. It is always good to have ID for everyone when you travel because you never know what could come up.

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