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The Rules for Toddlers on an Airplane

by Julie Christensen, studioD

Flying with a toddler can be a harrowing experience, especially if you're traveling without a partner. However, flying as a family is much safer than driving, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. To make your trip as enjoyable as possible, plan. Call the airline or visit its website to learn about the current policies concerning children. Don't hesitate to ask for help from airport staff. Schlepping a young child, stroller and car seat through an airport is exhausting, but most airlines are willing to assist you.


Children younger than 2 can fly free, with certain restrictions, according to Delta Airlines. To qualify for a free ticket, you must be at least 18 years old or the child's legal guardian. You must be flying within the U.S.. Additionally, only one child can fly free for each ticketed adult, regardless of age. The reason for this rule is that the child will sit on your lap if you opt not to buy a ticket. If your child is turning 2 years of age during your trip, you will need to buy a ticket for the flight home.


The FAA strongly recommends that infants and toddlers sit in a hard-backed child safety seat labeled for use in both vehicles and on airplanes. Most car seats qualify, so long as the car seat is labeled for aircraft use. Children under 20 pounds should sit in a rear-facing car seat while children weighing 20 to 40 pounds should sit in a forward facing seat. Children who weigh more than 40 pounds can sit safely secured with the aircraft seat belt. As of 2012, the FAA doesn't mandate that parents use a safety seat. Parents can opt to hold a child under age 2 instead. The FAA approved a harness-type device for children weighing 22 to 44 pounds. This device is more compact than a car seat, but is not approved for use in vehicles. Many airlines offer discounted fares for children under age 2, if you decide to buy a ticket for your child. If a seat is available, airlines will allow you to use it for your child even if you didn't purchase a ticket.


Luggage rules for toddlers vary depending on the airline, so check with your airline before flying. In general, toddlers who fly free are not given a baggage allowance. Their baggage will be included in your baggage allowance and you might have to pay additional fees. Toddlers with a paid ticket have the same baggage allowance as adults. Car seats, strollers and bassinets do not count toward your baggage allowance. These items can be checked for free. In most cases, airline staff will bring your stroller to the gate for you after your flight.


If you opt for a free ticket for your toddler, bring a copy of her birth certificate. You'll be required to show the birth certificate at check-in and possibly again when you pass through security to verify that your child qualifies for a free ride.

Tips for Success

In addition to the official rules of travel with a toddler, a few more strategies can simplify flying with a toddler. First, to get through airport security quickly, place all your documents in a fanny pack. Wear slip-on shoes, such as sandals or flip-flops and dress your toddler similarly. Bring a lightweight stroller that folds quickly. Bring a small bag with snacks and novel toys, such as stickers, small cars, or an e-reader. Pack a change of clothes for your toddler and plenty of wipes. When the drink cart comes around, ask for a lid on your toddler's cup.

About the Author

Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

Photo Credits

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