"I believe I can flyyyyyy, I believe I can touch the sky," without a kid who looks just like me having identification. True?
August 31, 2011 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Do very young children (she's 20 months) need--as in absolutely required, not simply 'discretionary,' 'recommended,' or 'helpful'--any sort of identification in order to board a domestic U.S. flight and fly in a parent's lap?

Mrs. Exit and I and the baby were getting our boarding passes to fly Southwest domestically and, for the first time despite having flown ID-less with the baby in a lap several times, the Southwest folks demanded either a birth certificate, immunization record, or passport for our daughter to be able to fly. We were puzzled. They cited "FAA regulations, sir, //eyebrows move impossibly higher// with a $20,000 fine, sir." We didn't have time to go back home and get the docs or catch a later flight.

Disappointed, Mrs. and baby just canceled and refunded their ticket and went home, and I flew alone. (You might call me a wuss, and it's true. Short of armed insurrection, in which case I'm with you comrades, I have a policy of never ever mess with anyone who works for, at, or in an airport, all of whom apparently believe themselves to be deputized U.S. Marshals or something.)

I can't find any information online that this is actually a requirement. There is an older AskMe where someone mentions 'take ID to avoid a headache' but there was no followup on that comment.
posted by resurrexit to Travel & Transportation around United States (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: FAA says:

Each airline determines identification requirements for minors. Contact your airline well in advance of your travel date to determine if they have unique policies or procedures for minors.

Typically, minors under the age of 18 do not have to present identification for domestic U.S. travel. Airlines will accept identification from the responsible adult on behalf of the minor(s).

Ok. So Southwest says:

A copy of the child's birth certificate is required to validate the age of all infants under two.
posted by vacapinta at 8:47 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've personally never been asked for ID for either of my kids in the 11 years that we've been flying (since they were born). But, Southwest does post on their site that ID is necessary for kids under 2.

(on preview, what vacapinta says).
posted by noahv at 8:48 AM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: Were they trying to verify that she was under the age of 2 and therefore able to fly as a lap child?

(yeah, what they say)
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: as vacapinta says, it's not to prove identity, but to prove age. you probably had no problem before because a 12 month old doesn't look like a 2 year old, but a 20 month old probably does.
posted by nadawi at 8:50 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes they do, because over the age of two, the FAA requires to have their own seat. So if they're getting close to two, the airlines will want to verify the child's age.
posted by inturnaround at 8:50 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Every time I've flown Southwest with a baby, they have asked to see the birth certificate, even if the child is unmistakably well under two years old. We have flown United without being asked for it, but in our experience, Southwest insists on it.
posted by ambrosia at 9:00 AM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: I've been checking this for our baby's first flight next month. Yeah, it doesn't appear to be a TSA of FAA requirement, but a lap baby requirement, to meet airline policy. (We booked a seat for her, so I think we're ok, but we're bring a copy--not a certified copy, just a toner copy--of her birth certificate just in case.)
posted by stevis23 at 9:01 AM on August 31, 2011

Response by poster: Well there it is.

(My company actually arranged this and just said here's your flights, etc., so I didn't give this the sort of OCD due diligence I would have if booking the flights myself.) I think nadawi's probably onto the meat of why this hasn't come up before: baby's getting older. It was probably the fact that she was talking loudly to her broker on her cell phone and complaining about her new heels the whole time she was in line that gave us away.

And ambrosia points out that other airlines--I believe we've always flown Continental in the past--may not be as fastidious.

Mea ignorant culpa. (But if it's just about people trying to get their kids free flights, I wonder why they didn't offer us the option of selling her a seat? I would have bought one in a second.)
posted by resurrexit at 9:05 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had the same experience as ambrosia -- every time I've flown Southwest, they've asked to see the birth certificate -- even though the baby is obviously under 2. United, American, and Alaska have not asked.
posted by mbidi at 9:07 AM on August 31, 2011

Yes, Southwest vigorously enforces the birth certificate requirement, but less thoroughly at some airports with very young babies. When we traveled with a six week old he had his birth certificate checked one way and not the other. Otherwise, the birth certificate check is part of their process. In fact, they still asked for his birth certificate when we bought seats for the baby, as it was just routine for them when dealing with babies on a flight. Once they realized we had a ticket for him, they backed off, though. I got the impression that it was incredibly unusual for babies to have their own seats, so they might not even have thought of the option. Other airlines don't really care and have never checked anything.
posted by pekala at 9:15 AM on August 31, 2011

I saw an episode of Airline once where a family had this same problem at a Southwest counter....they had a baby in a stroller that they insisted was under two years old but did not have the child's birth certificate. The ticket person did give the couple the option of purchasing a ticket for the child and then later getting it refunded after they got home and presented the birth certificate to the local SA agent as proof. (But noooo, this is reality TV and the couple had to hold up the whole line by demanding to see a manager, and then insisting that she call the hospital where their baby was born to have a copy of the certificate faxed over......)
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:36 AM on August 31, 2011

I have always been asked for baby's ID when we have flown with him, from 5 months to most recently at 13 months. Domestic and International. Southwest and Jet Blue.
posted by katypickle at 9:50 AM on August 31, 2011

I flew last Tuesday and there was a couple in front of me with a kid who was clearly less than two and the Southwest person was saying they were going to have to buy the kid a ticket if they didn't produce something with the kid's date of birth on it right then. Finally the mom realized that his insurance card had his DOB on it but she was quite rattled about the whole thing.
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:02 AM on August 31, 2011

But if it's just about people trying to get their kids free flights, I wonder why they didn't offer us the option of selling her a seat?

Flights are often overbooked to the point where they're desperate to have some passengers give up their seats, so it would make sense for an airline to have a general policy of not encouraging passengers to buy extra tickets on the spur of the moment.
posted by John Cohen at 11:53 AM on August 31, 2011

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