Traveling with a 3 year old can be hard work, believe me I know, but also very rewarding. As they say, “traveling broadens the mind” and that is very true for children. So it is important to know the rules.
Does a 3 year old need a plane ticket? Yes they do need a ticket, in fact, every child once they reach 2 years old must have their own plane ticket and their own seat. Only children under two may sit on their parents lap – at least during take off and landing.
Although I have majored on 3 year olds in this post, most of this also applies to any child from a 2 year old to a 9 year old and beyond.
Does a 3 year old pay the full adult fare?
Normally 3 year olds do not pay the full adult airfare. They can pay anything from:
- nothing (apart from taxes) on some airlines or with certain “kids fly free” initiatives and offers.
- a percentage of the adult fare is charged by many airlines which can be anything from 10% of the adult fare upwards (plus taxes). Unfortunately it is more common for the child’s fare to be two thirds to three quarters of the adult fare. It tends to be higher on international flights than on domestic US flights. Discounts can vary from airline to airline and at different times of the year.
- the full adult fare is charged by some airlines, particularly on some international routes.
Does a 3 year old need their own seat?
Yes but as they also need their own ticket, with that comes their own seat. You may have to pay extra to ensure that is next to one of the parents with some airlines, particularly on budget airlines.
Does a 3 year old need a car seat on a plane?
A car seat is not mandatory and they are not supplied by the airlines.
If you choose to take a car seat for the child to sit in then it must be FAA approved (or approved by another national safety body in Europe or elsewhere such as the CAA in the UK). You can read the FAA rules here.
Taking a car seat has the advantages that it is generally safer in an accident than using the adult seat belt and they child is more likely to be comfortable and perhaps sleep on a long flight.
If you choose not to take one then they child will be restrained by the adult seat belt attached to the seat.
An alternative, and less bulky alternative to a car seat (so easy to take with you) is one of the FAA approved child travel harnesses. Here is a selection – FAA approved child airplane travel harness
Do children get their own baggage allowance?
This does depend on the fare being paid for the child normally. When the child’s fare is 50% or more of the adult fare then they generally get a full baggage allowance. Anything less may depend on the airline. All children generally get a free car seat or stroller baggage allowance, and sometimes both.
What ID will I need for a 3 year old?
A birth certificate or passport are the most common types of document required for age verification. If traveling internationally a passport is always required.
What to take on a plane for a 3 year old
Keeping your 3 year old happy, particularly on a long flight, will not only make you happy but also the passengers around you. To do this you need to try and keep them occupied as much as possible.
Some things you should consider taking to entertain them, keep them quiet and clean are:
- A tablet loaded with their favorite cartoons, films etc. Don’t forget some earphones too.
- Paper, pens, crayons, coloring-in books etc
- A few of their favorite reading books
- A selection of their favorite snacks
- Perhaps buy them a new small toy/book etc to give them once on the flight
- Some candy that takes a while to eat such as lollipops
- If it is a long flight then a blanket and their favorite cuddle toy so they can sleep
- Tissues and wet wipes
- A change of clothes in case of an accident
Some airlines will give out packs of some of these to children during the flight but I wouldn’t rely on them doing this or on them being suitable for your child.
Flying business class with 3 year old
Some airlines have rules which do not allow children to travel in Business Class or First Class or in certain parts of those cabins. Others have age-restrictions so very young children (such as 3 year olds) may not be allowed.
In some ways I can understand this. If I had paid quite a bit extra to ensure a more comfortable, relaxing long haul flight I would not be too happy to find a boisterous 3 year old sitting next to me.
But on the other hand, if you can afford for all of your family to travel in business class (or even first class) then why shouldn’t you be able to?
Some business class cabins these days would not be so suitable for flying with young children. Many have individual “pods” which would make keeping an eye on the child more difficult.
Consideration for other passengers
Anyone who has flown with a young child sitting in the seat immediately behind you will identify with this. The child keeps kicking his legs and his feet continually hit you in the small of the back. It cannot only be painful at times but is also very annoying, particularly when it goes on for a long time.
Normally the child doesn’t do this deliberately of course but if you dare to say anything to the parent/s it is often met with an unhelpful reaction. So keep an eye on your child’s feet and watch out that they are not doing this.
How can I help my toddler’s ears on a plane?
Young children can suffer from earache on a flight due to the changes in air pressure. To help prevent this give them something to such while taking off and descending such as a pacifier or a lollipop.
How do you make sure you sit together on a plane?
Firstly, ask the airline what their policy is. Some will not separate young children from their parents (and rightly so). With others you may need to pay extra to reserve your seats together.
Read our full article on 20 things you need to know about flying with a baby or toddler