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 not uncommon during this time of year to have kids fly alone to see their relatives in other states. Children can start flying alone at age 5, and buying an “unaccompanied minor” service is mandatory, usually, until age 14. Service fees range between $25 per child, each way on direct flights, to $150, depending on the airline. For children aged 15-17 most airlines will not require that you buy an 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 traveling alone specific to the airline you have chosen and the age of your child. These factors will impact the type and time of flight you can book. For example, many airlines allow unaccompanied young children to travel only on direct/nonstop flights and only during the daytime (between 5:00am and 9:00pm).
- Book a suitable flight. Book direct flights, when possible, and minimize lay-overs, when they are necessary. This is not the time to book the cheapest flight. Instead, book the most direct flight.
- Download and complete the forms required by the airline.
- Prepare your child. Talk with him or her 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 and 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, and favorite but easily managed books, toys and/or games.
- Carry both you and your child’s documentation 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. If your child needs to take medication during their flight, he/she will be responsible for that, 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 scheduled departure time.
- Go to the airline ticket counter to check in and get the required passes. Simply printing the boarding pass at home will not work. It usually requires an unaccompanied minor boarding pass for the child (some airlines now have barcoded wristbands that can be scanned for tracking) and an escort pass for yourself to go through security.
- Get to the gate early (usually at least 45 minutes before boarding time) for pre-boarding: your child will be taken onboard before general boarding, will be introduced to the crew and, on some airlines, time permitting, he/she will be 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.
- Wait at the gate until after the plane takes-off. If for some reason the aircraft is unable to depart, you will be required to pick up your child. So, make sure you stick around.
- Coordinate closely with the parent or relative who will be receiving the child upon landing. The person that is responsible for picking up the arrival child should already be at the gate prior to landing. Make sure the airline has good contact information incase 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. Allow plenty of time for unexpected delays, such as heavy traffic and long security lines, or early arrival of the incoming flight. Remember that you will need to get a pass from the ticket counter to allow you 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.
- Be patient. You will have to wait until other passengers have exited the plane; your child will be escorted off the plane last.
Remember early reservations and detailed planning for the trip and your child’s comfort are the keys to success in unaccompanied minor travel.
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