Flying to the USA with a child or baby

Are you planning a USA flight with a baby or toddler? Then there is a lot to think about and prepare for. Find answers to the most important questions about long-haul flights with children and get useful tips for traveling to the USA with the whole family.

ESTA

The official travel authorization for your trip to the USA!

Preparation for a USA flight with a child

To prepare yourself and your child well for your first flight to the USA, you should do some good research. What rules does your airline have for traveling with children? What are the age limits and fares? What is the safest way for children to fly?

Especially when flying with babies, unanswered questions can throw off the entire schedule at the drop of a hat. Therefore, inform yourself thoroughly on your airline's website and read the entry regulations for the USA.

Flying to the USA with children

Flying means stress. But with good preparation, you can make a USA flight a great experience for your child.

Documents for flying to the USA with children

Not only do adults need a complete set of travel documents when traveling to the USA, but so does any child traveling with them. Take care of the following documents and authorizations for your USA flight early:

  • A biometric passport
  • The ESTA authorization
  • Certified copies of birth certificates, custody orders, and similar documents that can prove the legitimacy of your trip with the child
  • Airline tickets or booking numbers

If you are a parent traveling alone with a child, you should also bring a certified power of attorney from all other legal guardians, including copies of their identification.

This is because of the controls by the international authorities for the protection of minors to prevent child abduction and human trafficking. Power of attorney, copies of identification, and, at best, even the child's declaration of consent for the trip ensure that you do not get into trouble when entering the USA.

Filling out the ESTA application for children

You can complete the ESTA application for your kids at the same time as your own application by first increasing the number of travelers in the question "How many people join the trip?" and later answering all ESTA questions for each person.

Email address and phone number can be the same as yours in the ESTA application for your child. The question about their employer is answered with "No," and you can also tick "No" when it comes to social media profiles.

USA flight with a children's passport

If your child only has a child's passport, they will not be able to travel to the USA with ESTA. Instead, they will need a US visa. However, applying for a visa is much more expensive and time-consuming than an ESTA, so we recommend applying for your child's biometric passport in time to be able to apply for an ESTA before your trip to the USA.

→ Apply for ESTA to travel to the USA

Preparing toddlers for a flight

Flying means stress - especially for little ones. If your child is a bit older, start talking about the upcoming trip early and explain all the stages on your way to the United States. Check out picture books about flying together, write a shared packing list for the in-flight hours, and maybe even design a flight timetable to keep track of the order of events.

Flight timetable for Kids

With a flight timetable, you will enable your child to prepare for all the events at the airport, on the plane, and during takeoff and landing.

Flight timetable for a flight to the USA

→ Download: Flight schedule for kids

Little surprises during the flight

When making your flight arrangements for the USA, be sure to plan for surprises you won't tell your child beforehand. These can be small gifts or fun game ideas that will provide instant joy.

These "wild cards" can help you navigate dicey situations on the long flight to the United States and keep the typical squawking and yelling from impatience and boredom at bay.

Visit the airport beforehand

Taking a trip to the airport together can help prepare your youngster for the upcoming journey. On a walk around the airport grounds, you can clarify the following questions:

  • What exactly is an airport?
  • How does an airplane fly?
  • What does it feel like to fly in an airplane?
  • What kind of sounds are there in an airplane, and where do they come from?

Take this opportunity to talk through what happens at the airport. This includes, for example, handing over stuffed animals at the security check, being patted down by security officers, and other things that may affect your child's well-being but are non-negotiable.

Prepare flight to the USA with child and baby

Prepare your child for flying and explain all procedures before, during, and after a flight to the USA.

USA flight: Do children need their own airline tickets?

As a rule, children over the age of two need their own seat on the plane and, therefore, their own airline ticket. You may take a baby on your lap without an extra ticket. However, a carriage fee may apply.

Depending on the airline, different child fares are available for different age groups. Check the website of your airline before flying.

Beware of the bureaucracy

If your infant turns two years old during your flight to the USA, they usually need their own seat. It is best to clarify with your airline whether exceptions can be made to this rather unreasonable rule.

Baggage rules for children on USA flights

Normally, flight baggage rules state that you cannot bring large amounts of liquids through the security check. However, baby food is not subject to the strict carry-on baggage rules and may be taken on board.

Also, formula and baby milk do not have to be packaged in 100 ml portions and transported in Zip-Loc bags like other liquids. However, be prepared for security officials to look inside the bottle closely.

Likewise, there are exceptions to the baggage allowance, as strollers and baby carriages as well as child seats, infant carriers, toy cases, and diaper bags can take up an enormous amount of extra space.

Tip

Before you fly, calculate the amount of luggage you have, including the stroller, buggy, travel cot, child seat, and all bags, and check with your airline whether you can have everything transported free of charge. An additional booking may be necessary for low-cost flights, but two pieces of bulky luggage are usually free of charge.

You can usually take the buggy or stroller to the gate, where the crew will bring it to the baggage compartment of the plane. However, this option is not available on all flights, so you will need to check with your airline.

Also, have a carrying bag ready for your stroller or buggy, as they will need to be packed to protect them from damage.

Baby seat or on your lap? Child safety on the plane

If you decide to have your infant under the age of two on your lap during your flight, you will usually be handed a special loop belt to attach to your own seatbelt before takeoff.

However, in the USA this special belt is not permitted. Instead, a parent is recommended to hold the baby tightly.

Loop belt user experience

Many parenting forums describe traveling on a parent's lap with the Loop Belt as unsafe. The reason is inadequate securing in turbulence and incidents, and thus an increased risk of injury.

Therefore, the general recommendation is to reserve a separate seat for babies and toddlers under the age of two and place them in a child restraint device (infant carrier or child seat).

Flight safety with children on the plane

Is it safe? Opinions vary when it comes to flying with children and babies.

Flying with a baby seat

If you are flying with a children's seat or infant carrier, we recommend a window seat directly next to your own seat (rows of seats with emergency exits would be a no-no, of course).

Also, note the following special features when flying with a baby seat:

  • You must register the carriage of a children's seat with the airline.
  • Your seat must be approved for use on flights.
  • Your children's seat must not have any damage or defects.
  • The suitability of the infant seat will be checked at the check-in counter. Web check-in or self-check-in are therefore not possible.
  • You must be well acquainted with the use of the booster seat.
  • You must book a separate passenger seat for your child.

An alternative to the child seat: Cares harness

A secure harness system for children from 1 - 4 years, between 10 and 20 kg, and with a height up to 100 cm, is the so-called Cares system. The belt, which is reminiscent of a safety harness for climbers or parachutists, can be purchased on the Internet for about € 130. However, be sure to check with your airline whether it is approved for use on your USA flight.

Are there baby cribs on the plane?

On many flights, baby cribs can be attached to the wall. However, the family seats in the front rows suitable for this are usually in high demand and must be reserved well in advance. Also, there is often an additional fee for this "comfort."

The maximum permissible body height and weight for the use of baby cribs on the plane differ from airline to airline, which is why you should definitely take a close look at your airline's website before making a reservation.

Attention

The baby crib in the aircraft does not replace the security provided by child seats, infant carriers, or the Cares harness. During takeoff and landing, as well as in turbulence, your child must be removed from the crib and properly secured.

No tears on the plane: pressure compensation & Co.

Takeoff and landing can cause your child terrible pain. An excellent trick to combat ear pain on the plane is to use a decongestant nose and ear drops about a half-hour before departure. You can get the drops at any good pharmacy - also as a spray.

For babies, breastfeeding or giving a bottle during takeoff can work wonders, and for older children, chewing gum or chewy sweets. However, the most effective remedy for discomfort during takeoff and landing is to let the child sleep. Therefore, the time of your USA flight is also crucial for stress-free flying with children.

The best time to fly with children

If you board your flight to the USA overnight, the likelihood of a sleeping (i.e., quiet) child is the highest, at least for the first few hours of the flight.

Shorten waiting times

Children waiting calmly and patiently for something is rare. Combine this with the excitement of an upcoming flight and all the new sensations, and things can get stressful.

That's why you should keep waiting times as short as possible before check-in, at the gate, on the plane, and after landing. These tricks can help you do that:

  • Discuss the optimal arrival time for families with your airline.
  • If you're not taking child seats or bulky luggage, use online check-in.
  • Before arriving at the airport, find out how to handle bulky luggage (such as strollers) and how to take strollers to the gate to avoid extra laps.
  • Ask for a family check-in counter. If there isn't one, you may be allowed to use the business counter as a family.
  • Don't board the plane first, as recommended, but stretch your legs with your child at the gate until boarding is almost complete.
  • Always have the essential documents handy to get through check-in and security checks quickly.
  • Ask for a "fast lane" for families at the security checkpoint.

How to avoid boredom on the plane and at the airport

There's a lot to discover at the airport. You can usually shorten the waiting time for your offspring on children's playgrounds, in toy stores, or in entire children's areas with game consoles, crawl corners, and children's cinemas.

Keeping children occupied on an airplane is much more difficult, as the severely restricted range of motion and constant fear of disturbing fellow passengers put families under stress.

Books, coloring materials, puzzles, and favorite toys are, of course, included. But how long will that be enough to keep your child's unbridled energy in check? We've put together a few entertainment tips for your USA flight:

Provide spontaneous surprises

If you want to keep your child in line for a longer period of time, you can pull little surprises out of the hat at regular intervals. This shouldn't happen in response to grizzling and yelling but to keep the flight interesting throughout. A few ideas:

  • A fun riddle
  • A spontaneous magic trick
  • A brand new glitter or shiny pencil to paint with
  • A great rainbow scratch picture
  • An important task for the child to complete
  • A new card game

A look through the outside cameras

On some airplanes (e.g., Airbus A330, A380, or B747-8is), you can watch all the action during takeoff and landing through the "pilot's camera." This is an exciting experience, especially for children!

Inflight Entertainment

Be sure to bring headphones for your child on your USA flight because the entertainment program on long-haul flights is something to behold! With a great Disney movie or an exciting radio play, the time "flies by."

However, the screens are often at an awkward height for children, so be sure to bring your own entertainment program as well.

Sound quiz on the plane

There's a lot of rushing, rumbling, and beeping on a flight! Getting to grips with the individual noises in the passenger cabin can not only ease children's fears but can also be a great way to pass the time.

Add in fellow passengers snoring loudly or other bodily malfunctions, and you've got some real laughs!

Question time with seatmates

After boarding the plane, check with seatmates to see if they like kids and would be up for a Q&A session or two. Conversations with new and interesting people can be a great way to pass the time for your child.

USA guessing game

Since you are flying to the USA with your child, they should learn something about the country and the people in the United States. Therefore, prepare a little USA quiz before the flight, ideally with funny pictures and little stories.

What animals do live in the USA? What do people in the United States speak like? What does an American look like? Even a little English lesson can be really fun for your child if you come up with funny words to translate.

Flavor guessing

Gummy bear, pea, potato chip, chocolate, banana, cookie? Have a snack box ready with lots of little ingredients that your child has to guess. This is not only fun, but the offspring will also get their fill.

Child or baby food on flights

You are allowed to take baby food and drinks for your child on board your USA flight. During the flight, you can also ask for hot or cold water to mix baby formula or milk at any time on most flights.

Of course, there are often special snacks for children, such as colorful fruit salads and sometimes even baby food on board. Check with your airline to see if there are special children's menus.

Children's menus on the USA flight

Good airlines have special children's menus available.

Clothing for children and babies on flights

On an airplane, the temperature can be crisp due to the air conditioning, which is why you should choose the layered look on a USA flight. This means dressing your child in multiple layers that can be taken off as needed.

Thick socks are also a great comfort giver on flights, as it's much nicer to kick around in your child's seat or between rows of seats without shoes when your feet are swollen due to flying.

Packing list for USA flights with children

Are you sure you haven't forgotten anything? To be on the safe side, go through our family packing list for the flight to the USA once again:

  • Biometric passport for the child
  • ESTA application for the child
  • Flight ticket or booking number
  • Stroller, travel buggy, child seat, Cares harness, baby carrier, baby sling
  • Thick socks, spare clothes
  • Nose drops, ear drops
  • Pacifier, favorite (cuddly) toy
  • Blanket and pillow
  • Diapers, changing pad, wet wipes
  • Snacks, drinks, chewing gum, chewy sweets
  • Painting materials, puzzles, puzzle games, card game
  • Tablet computer, headphones

FAQ Flying with children

Do you have further questions about USA flights with toddlers and babies? Then you will surely find what you are looking for in our FAQ:

At what age is a baby allowed to fly?

As a rule, babies under 14 days of age are not allowed to travel by plane or only with a doctor's certificate.

Are there baby seats on the plane?

Most airlines do not provide child seats and infant carriers but only loop belts for strapping babies and toddlers onto parents' laps. However, flight safety experts advise against using loop belts, so you should bring your own child seat.

Check with your airline to determine which child restraint systems may be used on the plane. As a rule, your child's seat needs to be approved for use on the plane (label: "For use in aircraft") and must not exceed certain dimensions.

Are there changing tables on the plane?

On most airplane toilets, you will find changing tables that fold down. However, these are rather small, and changing diapers can be a real adventure for parents of larger children.

From what size do I not need a child seat on the plane?

For children up to a height of 1.25 m - i.e., up to about six years - you should use a restraint system on the plane.

Can children fly to the USA alone?

Many airlines offer a childcare service for unaccompanied children for a fee. The important thing here is a written statement of consent from the parent or guardian with accompanying documentation and, in most cases, a childcare form that you can download from the airline's website.

Can I fly to the USA with more than one baby or toddler at the same time?

Typically, one adult must travel with each infant or baby unless a seat is reserved for additional children. So if you are traveling alone with multiple children, all but one child will need a permanent seat reservation and a booster seat.

Can I fly to the United States when pregnant?

Pregnant women can usually board a plane without any problems up to 36 weeks of pregnancy. However, United States border officials are particularly suspicious and occasionally require proof that the pregnant woman will return to her home country before giving birth.

Be sure to check with your airline about any special considerations before traveling to the US as a heavily pregnant woman. Flying while pregnant is also not recommended in some cases, such as multiple pregnancies, cardiovascular disease, or past miscarriages.

How can I tell if my infant carrier or child seat is suitable for air travel?

A child restraint is suitable for flying if it has "For use in aircraft" printed on it. Child seats must have ECE approval for use with 2-point harnesses.

Apply for ESTA now