Kids are flying more and more these days, especially without Mom and Dad. For a while after September 11, security concerns and a series of “misplaced children” incidents during the summer of 2001, unaccompanied minors were not allowed to fly. But, now they are, so you need to know the basics of sending a minor on a flight unaccompanied:
First and foremost, your child can not fly alone unless they are at least five. If your child is around five, you will have to show some proof of age.
Most airlines will not let kids five to seven fly on a flight with connections. However, some airlines do, so if they do you need to be the one who doesn’t. Connections mean opportunities for them to get lost or to get stuck in a foreign place. So don’t put a minor on a connecting flight.
Even unaccompanied minors pay full price, and some pay even more because you have to pay for the unaccompanied minor service where an airline attendant escorts your child on the plane, off the plane, and makes sure a responsible adult picks them up. This means that on top of the regular adult fare, most airlines require you to pay an escort fee for your UM. The rules vary from airline to airline, but escorts are usually mandatory for children ages five to eleven or five to fourteen, and you can opt to pay for one for your twelve or fifteen year old to seventeen-year-old as well. However, JetBlue and Southwest do not charge an escort fee.
Consider an escort especially if your child has a connecting flight, as your airline attendant will be given the very important job of helping your child connect to the right flight(s).
If you pay an escort fee, your child can spend their layover in comfort with big-screen televisions, DVDs, books, crafts and games all geared toward kids. All of these diversions are for the sole purpose of alleviating the boredom the rest of us must suffer while waiting for our planes.
You can get an approved security clearance to go to the gate with your unaccompanied minor. So, do this, and then wait at the gate with your child until the plane takes off. That way you know they got on the plane, stayed on it, did not have trouble getting through security, etc.
Many airlines will require the person picking your child up to show ID and sign a form saying they have been picked up. So, make sure you specify who is to pick them up, and they do not send a replacement, or your child may not be released into their custody.
Make sure your child has ID, contact information, emergency information, medical information, etc. on their person. Also, pack them a carry on bag with snacks, something to keep them entertained, any medications they are on, etc.
Of course the other things you want to consider when putting your child on a flight alone is whether or not they know what is expected of them. Take the time to walk them through the process, talk to them about keeping their safety belt on when the light is lit, about staying on the plane once they have boarded, and about using on the plane bathrooms, etc. It is also wise to give them some cash, and a cell phone so that if they do get lost, stranded etc. you can reach them, and they can get food, etc.