Once school is out for summer, kids are on the move. That might mean going to Space Camp in Alabama, visiting the grandparents in Maine, or spending time with a non-custodial parent who lives in far away. When children have to fly without an adult companion, they are called “Unaccompanied Minors.” Each airline has rules to ensure the safety and supervision of unaccompanied minors, as well as the peace of mind of the child’s guardians.
Airline Policies for Unaccompanied Minors
Age requirements, flight limitations, and fees for unaccompanied minors vary for each airline. Your travel advisor can let you know the rules for a specific carrier.
Age Requirements: Airlines only allow children who are five years or older to travel alone. Some require unaccompanied minor service for kids up to the age of 16 and do not offer it beyond that age, while others make it optional for 12- to 18-year-olds.
Flight Limitations: Unaccompanied minors are normally not allowed to take the last flight of the day, lest there be any delay that strands them overnight. Generally, unaccompanied minors aged 5 to 7 are only allowed to take nonstop and direct flights. Travel Maestro tip: It’s important to understand the distinction between the two. No stop flights are self-defining, while direct flights may make an intermediate stop but do not require a change of planes. Ages 8 to 17 (ages 12 to 17 on international flights) are often allowed to take connecting flights (change planes), although the specifics vary by airline. Age restrictions are usually older for international flights.
Cost: Airlines require documentation of the name, address, and phone number of the adults dropping off and picking up unaccompanied minors. If the child is making a connection, airline personnel will escort them from one gate to the next. Upon arrival, the child is only released to the person listed on the form and government-issued photo identification is verified. For these additional services, a fee of $25 to $150 each way, per child is collected in advance.
Tips for Unaccompanied Minors’ Safety and Comfort
- Book morning flights. Should there be any delay you have more time to adjust plans if necessary.
- Talk about the airport check-in procedure with your child so they know what to expect. Explain that they must follow any directions by flight attendants and other airline personnel until they are met by their guardian. Travel Maestro tip: Take a familiarization trip to the airport before travel.
- Arrive at the airport early. Unaccompanied minor check-in takes a little longer than for regular passengers. A relaxed pace is less stressful for both you and your child.
- Guardians are usually allowed to accompany the child to the departure gate. Make sure the flight is actually airborne before leaving. Travel Maestro tip: Use the airline’s mobile app to track the flight in real time.
- Dress your child in comfortable clothes with fasteners that they can manage on their own in small lavatories. Travel Maestro tip: Your child’s clothing shouldn’t display their name. A stranger could use the information to lure them away.
- Pack a backpack of a manageable size and weight with a light snack (just in case), a complete flight itinerary, guardian contact information at both ends of the flight, and some travel activities like coloring or a handheld video game. Travel Maestro tip: Consider a pay-as-you-go cell phone and a prepaid gift card for emergencies.
It can be nerve-wracking to put your precious cargo on an airplane as an unaccompanied minor; however, airline procedures are designed to ensure their safety from departure until they are met upon arrival. With proper planning, you and your child will feel comfortable with the process and confident in undertaking a travel adventure.