Traveling With Kids Checklist

BY Ed Perkins TIMEMay 9, 2022 PRINT

Family travel typically involves kids, and traveling families with kids can encounter some unexpected gotchas. Many of you will be traveling with kids or arranging for kids to travel fairly soon. Here’s a checklist of arrangements you need to consider.

1. ID. Even if you’re just taking a road trip, it’s a good idea for each kid to have a government-approved photo ID of one sort or another. And if you’re flying, you need the obvious ID required by TSA. Fortunately, TSA’s latest deadline for REAL-ID driver’s licenses is now May 3, 2023. A few situations even require that you show a birth certificate. Also, vaccination records can still be required by private facilities even if governments don’t.

2. Consent Forms. Many of you travel with a kid or kids that aren’t legally yours—maybe an ex’s kid, maybe your own kid’s friend—and you need to be prepared to show paperwork that proves it’s OK for you to take those kids in the absence of their legal guardian. And the requirement isn’t just from government agencies. When my wife and I were guardians of a grandson, for example. we invited a friend along on a family trip: Two kids are easier than one. But when we schlepped the group over to Grants Pass, Oregon, for a very low-risk jetboat excursion on the Rogue River, the operator refused to allow the friend on the trip because we didn’t have notarized permission from his parents. You can face this problem in unsuspecting places, including some adventure/thrill rides.

Official permission can also be a problem with kids of divorced or separated parents: There’s always the possibility that local authorities will challenge the status of a kid other than your own. Agencies are really antsy these days about “kidnapping” by one parent or the other during custody disputes.

You can avoid problems by having a joint guardian of your own kid or the legal guardians of any different-family kids fill out a consent form, which you either improvise or download (free) from eForms at If possible, have the form notarized. Official permission is especially important if you’re going out of the country. You do not want a hassle at an arrival airport or border.

3. Family Flying with Kids. U.S. airlines do not offer any discounted fares for kids or students. And, at least for now, if you buy the cheapest tickets you may have to pay extra to assure family seating together. Anyone two years old or over needs a full-fare ticket. If a kid age 12 or under is with you, he or she needs no special ID to fly domestically, and TSA offers some special protocols for screening kids of that age. But TSA treats kids 13 or over as adults. That means they also need regular ID.

4. Kids Flying Alone. Family situations often dictate that kids travel on their own. Surprisingly, U.S. airlines have set different minimum ages for kids to travel independently as adults: 12 years on Hawaiian and Southwest; 13 years on Alaska and Breeze, 14 years on Avelo, and 15 years on the others. Age limits also vary on international lines. If your kids need to travel without an accompanying adult, Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Southwest, Spirit, and United offer “unaccompanied minor” service for kids between 5 and the minimum solo travel age—a service that monitors them closely, with lots of details and schedule constraints, and a fee up to $150 each way; the other lines do not. Check with airlines for details.

Amtrak offers 50 percent discounts for one minor age 2 to 12 accompanying each full-fare adult; not applicable to sleeper accommodations or first class on Acela. The minimum age for solo travel on Amtrak is 13, with no youth discount, and all kids younger than 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Reservations for solo kids 13 to 15 must be by phone or at a station, with limitations on itineraries.

©2022 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Ed Perkins
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at Also, check out Ed's new rail travel website at (C)2022 Ed Perkins. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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