When I was a child, we lived in Pennsylvania while the rest of my family was in Louisiana or Texas. My parents felt it was extremely important for me to know my extended family so when I turned six, they began sending me to my grandparents’ down south for two weeks every summer. Since money was tight, they paid for me to go while they stayed home and worked. In the beginning, they drove me three hours away to the Philadelphia Airport so I could take a direct flight to New Orleans or Houston. My grandparents would then pick me up and take me to their home. As I got older and a little more experienced, I felt more comfortable dealing with connecting flights. I started leaving from Harrisburg which was only an hour drive for my parents. On the plane, I usually had the luxury of sitting in a bulkhead seat and I had my own personal airport employee watching over me. It was nerve wracking and exciting to be traveling on my own. I can’t even imagine how my parents must have felt. I never had any problems and I always felt safe and secure.
There are many reasons that your child may have to fly alone. Sometimes there is an emergency and you have to get them to a destination right away. Camp, traveling to see the other parent or a family member is also a common situation. If circumstances do require it, know that your child will be safe and well cared for on their journey and there is no need to worry. Read below to find out more details on unaccompanied minors and what airlines do to keep your child safe.
What to Expect
While each airline has its own policies regarding unaccompanied minors, these are what most have in common:
- Most unaccompanied minor programs take kids as young as 5 years old.
- U.S. airline fees range from $50-$150 one way per unaccompanied minor in addition to the ticket price.
- Most programs are optional for ages 15 and over.
- Your child will be seated near the flight attendant and watched closely and cared for as well as escorted to any connecting flight they may have.
- One parent or guardian will have the ability to walk the child to the gate and stay with them until they board.
- One parent or family member will receive a boarding pass to bypass security at the final destination.
- An unaccompanied minor form must be completed by a parent at the ticket counter.
- Children under 18 may be required proof of age, such as a birth certificate or passport.
Every Airline has different policies when it comes to unaccompanied minors. Here’s a list of major U.S. airlines and links to their information page.
Tips and Tricks
- Arrive at the airport early so you can familiarize your child with their surroundings and work out any last minute issues.
- Be sure your child has some kind of ID and some money to buy food or headphones on the plane.
- Pack them plenty of activities and snacks to keep them busy. This article: How to Entertain Kids on a Plane, will give you some good ideas.
- Stress to them the importance of putting everything back in their carry on so they don’t forget that plane ticket or oh, so important iPad.
- familiarize your child with the process, what to expect and the logistics involved. Print out an itinerary to carry with them.
- Keep the itinerary as simple as possible. Avoid connections, if you can, and evening flights.
- Make sure your child has the address and phone number of the person meeting them at their destination as well as all of your contact information in case of an emergency.
- If you child does not have a cellphone, it would benefit you to purchase a prepaid one for the trip.
- In their carry on, pack any essentials that your child will need in the first 24 hours, in case his or her checked bag is delayed (e.g., medicine, eyeglasses, a change of underwear).
- Be sure they have a pair of socks and a sweatshirt for drafty air conditioned planes.
Summing It Up
Although it is never ideal to put your child on a plane by themselves, sometimes it is necessary. Following this quick guide on unaccompanied minors will take the mystery out of the process and ease your mind.