Many families purchase tickets for children who will be flying solo to visit a parent, to see grandparents or to go to camp. With the summer travel season approaching, it’s a good time to review airline policies.
When children fly as unaccompanied minors, they will be escorted onto the plane by an airline employee, they will be escorted between flights, and they will be escorted off the plane at the final destination.
When you check in, you will have to fill out paperwork that includes information on who will pick up your child. You should request a gate pass so that you can escort your child to the gate.
Because each airline has its own policy on unaccompanied minors, it’s not easy to figure out which will offer the best deal. Fees for children flying alone vary, and that cost isn’t the only consideration.
Rules that all airlines share are that children younger than 5 can’t fly solo, unaccompanied minors can’t fly on the last flight of the day, and check-in times may be longer. Only one fee applies on most airlines when two or more kids travel together.
Most U.S. airlines don’t allow unaccompanied kids ages 5 to 7 on itineraries that require a change of planes.
Most airlines require the unaccompanied minors service for kids ages 5 to 14, but it is required only for 5- to 11-year-olds on AirTran, Southwest and United and 5- to 12-year-olds on Alaska and JetBlue. If your child is older than the required age, most airlines will provide this service for kids up to age 17 for the same fees.
Even if your child is old enough to make a connecting flight, stick with a nonstop or direct flight (has a stop, but no change of planes) so you don’t have to worry about cancellations or delays.
Know fees and age restrictions before you book a flight. Southwest offers the best deal because it doesn’t charge a fee, but it offers the service only to children ages 5 to 11.
Many airlines require children to travel with someone 18 or older to avoid being considered an unaccompanied minor.
On American, kids who are flying with a passenger 15 or older do not have to use the service. The carrier charges $75 for unaccompanied minors.
For details on domestic carriers’ unaccompanied minor policies, go to www.bestfares.com and enter “kids flying solo” in the search box.