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What Parents Should Know If Their Kids Are Flying Alone During The Holidays

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Is Your Child About To Fly Solo In The US?

Check Out These Guidelines to Ensure a Safe Trip!


The Holidays are a busy travel time, and it’s common to have kids fly alone to see their relatives this time of year. Children can start flying alone at age 5, and buying an “unaccompanied minor” service is usually mandatory until age 14. Service fees range between $25 per child, each way on direct flights, to $150, depending on the airline. Most airlines don’t require children aged 15-17 to pay for unaccompanied minor service, although it will still be available for them.

If you’re planning to send your child on a plane to visit relatives for the Holidays, be sure to read our list of guidelines you should follow so your child arrives at their destination safely. This list will go over guidelines you and your child should be aware of before, during, and after the flight. Share this list with anyone you know whose child will be traveling alone this Holiday season!

Kids Flying Alone Checklist

Before the Flight

  • Check the terms and conditions for children flying alone specific to the airline you have chosen and the age of your child. These factors impact the type and time of flight you can book. For example, many airlines allow unaccompanied young children to only travel on direct/nonstop flights and during the daytime (between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm).

  • Book a suitable flight. Book direct flights when possible, and minimize layovers, if they are necessary.  This is not the time to book the cheapest flight. Instead, book the most direct flight.

  • Download and complete all forms required by the airline.
  • Prepare your child. Talk with them about the trip and what will happen. For young children traveling alone for the first time, it might help to take a trip to the airport to show them the airline counter and point out the staff uniforms, as well as other helpful details.
  • Pack a carry-on with snacks and entertainment, (and include an ID tag,): some airlines offer a complimentary snack and some in-flight activities while others don’t. Determine what is going to apply to your child’s flight. In any case, it may be comforting for your child to have their favorite things from home.
  • Don’t let them fly hungry. Make sure your child has had a meal before the flight, and pack some snacks in case they get hungry.
  • Give your child clear instructions, phone contacts, and, depending on age and specific circumstances, a phone with a small amount of cash for emergencies.
  • Keep them entertained. If your child’s flight offers personal device entertainment, download the airline app on their phone or tablet. They will be able to access kids’ movies and other age-appropriate content during their flight!  Also, pack their carry-on with headphones adjusted for their size, as well as favorite, but easily managed books, toys, and/or games.
  • Carry documentation for both you and your child to the airport. Leave home with their travel itinerary, ticket, passport (or other ID/proof of age), your valid photo ID, and contact details of the person picking up the child at their destination.
  • Medication. Your child is responsible for any medication they need to take during the flight, as most airline staff are not allowed to administer medication to passengers. In any case, check with your doctor for the best solution.

 

At the Departure Airport

  • Arrive about two hours before the scheduled departure time. Checking in and finding the gate can be a stressful experience for kids flying alone. Make sure to arrive early to reduce stress and avoid your child missing their flight if something takes longer than expected.
  • Go to the airline ticket counter to check in and get the required passes. Simply printing the boarding pass at home will not work.  An unaccompanied minor boarding pass will usually be required for kids flying alone. Some airlines now have barcoded wristbands that can be scanned for tracking. You will also need an escort pass to go through security with them.
  • Get to the gate early (usually at least 45 minutes before boarding time) for pre-boarding: your child will be taken on board before general boarding, introduced to the crew, and, on some airlines, shown the cockpit. If you miss pre-boarding, your child will usually be admitted on board after general boarding, or in between boarding groups.
  • Remind your child to ask the staff/crew for help when needed. Staff and crew are trained to handle unaccompanied minors and are knowledgeable about all aspects of flying. Make sure your child knows that they are safe to ask for help, and the staff will be happy to answer their questions.
  • Wait at the gate until after the plane takes off.  You will be required to pick up your child if the aircraft is unable to depart, so make sure you’re still there if something unexpected happens.
  • Coordinate closely with the parent or relative who will receive the child upon landing.  The person that is responsible for picking up the arriving child should already be at the gate prior to landing.  Make sure the airline has good contact information in case they do not make it there in time.

 

At the Destination Airport

  • Parent Identification. Bring a valid photo ID for yourself.
  • Arrive at the Airport Early. You should allow plenty of time for unexpected delays or early arrival of the incoming flight.  Remember that you will need a pass from the ticket counter to pass through the security checkpoints and to the gate to pick up your child.
  • Check flight status – many airlines now have apps for that.
  • Go to the airline ticket counter to sign forms and pick up an escort pass for yourself.
  • Meet your child at the gate. It is easy to get lost in an airport, as they can be quite confusing. Make things easy for you and your child by meeting them directly at the gate when they deplane.
  • Be patient. Be patient while other passengers exit the plane. Unaccompanied minors will be escorted off of the plane after all other passengers have been deplaned, so you may have to wait a while. 

Remember early reservations and detailed planning for the trip and your child’s comfort are the keys to success for kids flying alone.


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