When kids travel this summer, make sure they're armed with proper travel documents, or they won't be able to reach their destination -- with or without you -- in a quick, easy and enjoyable manner, AAA Southern New England said.
"Travel plans could be interrupted, possibly ruined, if parents or guardians don't know the travel document requirements for kids," said Fran Mayko, public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. "This is especially critical when a child travels solo, with one parent, or a family member other than the parent."
Travel requirements are complicated for kids traveling solo with adults other than their parents, or with children whose last name different from their parents or guardians. To help you maneuver travel document issues, AAA has issued tips:
Passports for children
All U.S. citizens, including infants and children, must have a valid passport to travel internationally by air. However, things differ if you're driving or cruising to Canada and Mexico from the U.S. In this case, a passport card will suffice. AAA recommends obtaining a passport for U.S. citizens of all ages for all international travel including auto and cruise travel to Canada and Mexico. In the event of an emergency which would require re-entry into the U.S. by air from either of these two countries, travel will be easier. Be aware, however, both parents -- whether they're married, divorced or separated -- must provide consent to obtain a passport for minors under 16.
If you or family members already have passports, examine the passports' expiration dates. If documents are due to expire within six months of travel, renew it prior to travel. While adult passports are valid for 10 years, passports for children under age 16 are valid for five. Double check child travel documentation requirements at travel.state.gov, or seek the assistance of a knowledgeable travel agent
Cruising with Children
Cruise lines generally require at least one adult age 21 or older who is a legal guardian or parent to occupy a stateroom with a child. Cruise lines also require a notarized letter of authorization to travel if a child is sailing with only one parent, other non-custodial adults, or if the child has a different last name from the responsible legal adult. For more information, visit the applicable cruise line website or speak to a knowledgeable travel agent.
Solo parent travel
If one parent or guardian is traveling with a child under 18 years of age, additional travel documentation is needed to prove the adult-child relationship and the adult's legal right to travel in and out of the country with that child. This helps prevent cases of parental abduction and international child trafficking.
In addition to the child's valid U.S. passport and entry visa (where required), a notarized letter of permission from the absent parent(s) is needed. The letter should include a statement of authorization for the child to travel, trip details, and legal names and contact information for the child and accompanying adult.
Single parents, grandparents, stepparents, guardians and any adult with a last name different from the child also needs to be prepared at border crossings, airport immigration check points and cruise line check-in desks. A travel agent can assist in securing the appropriate documents.
Children flying solo
Most airlines offer fee-based unaccompanied minor programs to facilitate air travel for children without an accompanying adult. These programs provide an affordable travel option to link geographically separated family members with the children. But these programs, policies and procedures vary among airlines. Most require an authorized adult to escort the child to the departure gate and take custody at the arrival gate. In flight, unaccompanied minors are under the care of the cabin crew.
When planning an itinerary for a child flying solo, carefully check the specific airline requirements, including age requirements, and fees on the airline website. For example, some airlines require solo child travel be on a nonstop flight, while others might allow one or more stops if a plane change doesn't occur.
Medical care authorization
When a child travels without a parent, a medical facility can refuse to provide emergency medical care to the child unless the emergency is deemed life-threatening. The adult accompanying the child should carry a medical proxy -- an original notarized letter from the non-traveling parent(s) that grants permission to authorize emergency medical care for the child. The letter should include the permission statement, the child's health insurance information, social security number and the full legal names of the child and accompanying adults. If the child remains at home while a parent travels, this important medical authorization documentation should be supplied to the child's caregiver.
AAA Southern New England is a nonprofit auto club with 46 offices in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.