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Wing Tips For Kids Flying Solo

Not knowing a child’s whereabouts is a parent’s worst nightmare. But can you imagine when an airline cannot tell you where your “special cargo” is? That’s what happened—twice in one week (and once more a few days later)—to children flying on America West Airlines. In one incident, a child was sent on the wrong aircraft to the wrong city. In another, the airline lost track of a child due to a misspelling of the child’s name. Incidents like these create a need to remind parents of what’s involved when they send their little ones flying solo.

According to the Department of Transportation, over nine million children traveled solo on commercial airlines last year. With so many children flying alone, it’s important to inform parents of the airline’s rules for unaccompanied children, and of how to prepare their child for a safer and less stressful flying experience.

Unaccompanied Minors and Airlines

Typically, children between the ages of five and eleven, who travel without a parent or guardian, are considered unaccompanied minors. These children are accepted as passengers with certain restrictions and require extra service fees. Some airlines allow younger, unaccompanied minors to take only nonstop or direct flights. On most carriers, the minimum age for nonstop flights is five.

Although some airlines offer discounts for children, unaccompanied minors are usually charged the full adult ticket price. On top of paying the full price, you should also expect to pay a fee between $25 and $60 each way, depending on the airline. If you have more than one child flying on the same itinerary, most carriers only charge one fee to cover all family members.

To save money, be sure to compare fees among carriers. Below are the fees, services, and other things you should know from the major airlines:

Alaska

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights : $30 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $30 each way
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: five
Special notes: Children ages five to 14 traveling alone will not be allowed on flights departing between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

AirTran

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $25 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $25 each way
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: eight
America West

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $30 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: N/A
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: N/A
Special notes: After the two aforementioned incidents, the airline changed its chaperone procedures to allow unaccompanied minors to travel only on nonstop or direct flights. Unaccompanied minors can no longer fly on connecting flights after September 10, 2001.

American

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $30 each way.
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $60 each way.
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: eight
Special notes: Only one service fee is required when two or more minors in the same family are traveling together on the same reservation. Children cannot travel alone on American Eagle flights that do not require a flight attendant. American will not accept reservations or provide transportation for unaccompanied children for any itinerary that includes the last connecting flight on a given day through Chicago or Miami to a destination. If schedule irregularities occur at any city, American may refuse to provide connecting air transportation services to an unaccompanied child holding reservations if there is a reasonable likelihood that the child will not make a flight connection.

Continental

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $30 each way for domestic flights; $60 each way for international flights*
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $60 each way for domestic flights, $90 each way for international flights
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: five
Special notes: Continental will not allow travel on a flight departing between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless travel is on international flights, flights operating out of Honolulu, or domestic flights of two hours or less. Unaccompanied minors will not be accepted for travel on the last connecting flight of the day to their final destination, or if there is any possibility of a missed connection. Continental’s Young Traveler Clubs located in Cleveland, Houston, and Newark airport provide a secure area where unaccompanied children can wait for a connecting flight or be picked up by the party meeting them. These clubs are supervised by Continental employees and provide entertainment (such as televisions, books, games, and toys) and snacks for waiting kids.

*Fees for international flights apply to travel to/from the U.S. (all 50 States), Canada, and/or Mexico to any other international destination (including the U.S. Territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam).

Delta

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $40 each way for domestic flights; no fees for Delta Shuttle flights; $60 each way for international flights
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $75 each way for domestic flights; $90 each way for international flights
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: five
JetBlue

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: None
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: N/A
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: N/A
Midway

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: None
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $35
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: eight
Midwest Express

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: None
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: None
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: five
Special needs: Midwest Express reserves the right to refuse transport if there is a significant chance that the flight on which the child holds a reservation will terminate at an airport other than the child’s destination airport.

National Airlines

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $25 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $50 each way
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: eight
Special notes: Unaccompanied minors will not be allowed to travel on the last connecting or through flight (where the child doesn’t have to get off the plane) of the day. Nonstop flights will be permitted. The only exceptions are U.S. cities that have only one flight a day, in or out, of their airport.

Northwest

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $40 each way for domestic flights; $60 each way for international flights
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $75 each way for domestic flights; $90 each way for international flights
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: five
Special notes: Children ages five through 17 may fly on nonstop, direct, or connecting flights,
but will not be accepted on the last connecting flight of the day, or red-eye flights (flights that depart between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.). In addition, unaccompanied minors will not be accepted for international travel if their itinerary includes a connection outside North America with an off-line carrier.

Southwest

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: None
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: N/A
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: N/A
Special notes: Children between five and 11 will be accepted for travel provided the child does not require a change of aircraft or flight number.

TWA

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $30 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $60 each way
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: five
Special notes: TWA does not accept reservations for unaccompanied minors on itineraries that include the last on-line connecting flight of the day. This change includes unaccompanied minors ages 12 to 17, who are traveling with or without Special Passenger Handling papers. St. Louis and New York (JFK) airports have designated unaccompanied minor holding rooms. Each room is equipped with a TV, refrigerator, and a wide assortment of books and games. Beverages and snacks are also provided.

United

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $30 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $30 each way
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: eight
US Airways and MetroJet

  • Fees for Nonstop Flights: $30 each way
  • Fees for Connecting Flights: $60 each way
  • Minimum Age for Connecting Flights: eight
Special notes: Only one service fee is required when two or more minors in the same family are traveling together on the same reservation. US Airways will not permit a reservation on the last connection flight of the day. US Airways provides Children’s Rooms in Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh for unaccompanied minors waiting for a connection. Entertainment, including television, movies, and games, along with snacks and beverages are provided.

At the Airport

Parents or legal guardians are responsible for bringing children to the departure gate, and for arranging to have an authorized parent or guardian pick the child up upon arrival. When you send your child as an unaccompanied minor, you will be required to fill out a form detailing the child's name, age, medical considerations, and other relevant information. You will also have to agree that the airline is not taking on any special responsibility of guardianship during the flight. It’s important to double-check the spelling of the child’s name with the airline—check your child’s boarding pass to make sure.

The child will be courtesy boarded and identified to the flight attendant as an unaccompanied child. Unaccompanied minors will also be escorted off the plane and transferred by airline staff. If your child has to wait any period of time during connecting flights, they will be escorted to special waiting lounges, where an airline staff member will be with them at all times. Airline staff is not allowed to turn the minor over to a waiting parent or guardian without seeing the adult's identification and matching it with the information on the form filled out before departure.

Preparing Your Child

To ensure a pleasant travel experience, a little planning can go a long way. There are certain things you can do to make sure your child is safe and happy:

  • Try to book only nonstop or direct flights. This way, your child will not need to change aircraft. Be advised that the majority of airlines will not ticket unaccompanied children on flights departing late in the day, especially if they are making a connection. A cancelled flight could place your child in another city overnight.

  • In case of bad weather. If the weather is bad on your departure day, contact the airline to see if flights are running on time, and if there are any delays. Most airlines will let you reschedule your child's flights without the rebooking fee if the weather could cause cancellations and the possibility of putting your child in a strange city other than the final destination.

  • Paperwork & Documentation. Arrive at the gate early to fill out the proper paperwork. When filling out the paperwork, provide information about how flight delays or cancellations should be handled, including emergency contacts and a means to pay for necessities such as overnight accommodations. Always send a little money with your child for incidentals purchases like food in the airport, etc. For travel to international destinations, the child must possess valid travel documents for entrance into the country of their destination. The flight attendant will hold the child's documents while en route. Children traveling to and from Canada and Mexico are required to have the same passport and visa documentation as adults. Children traveling into Mexico must also be in possession of a notarized letter of consent signed by both parents authorizing travel into Mexico

  • Make sure the person meeting your child has proper ID. Also make sure that the person meeting your child has accurate flight information and will call the airline for flight updates. Make sure they have a proper photo ID when they pick up your child.

  • Children on medication. If your child has a medical condition, be sure to write down any vital information on the forms. Also, keep a separate note with your child just in case, and make another note for the gate agent to give to the flight attendants. Airline employees are forbidden to administer medication prescribed for your child or any other over-the-counter medications. Contact the airline directly to find out their policy should your child need to take medication while flying.

  • Meals. If your child is going on a meal flight, be sure to order them a special child's meal.

  • Make sure your child will be entertained. Pack a goody backpack full of treats and activities like coloring, games, toys, etc.

  • Explain things to your children. Talk to your children about traveling alone and to always contact a uniformed airline employee should they find themselves uncomfortable in anyway.

  • Pre-board the plane with your child. Have them meet the flight attendants and point out important things to know like how to call the flight attendants and where the lavatory is located.

  • In case of sickness, reschedule. If on travel day your child is ill with a cold or flu, it is best to delay travel. Airlines would rather you keep a sick child home. Most will waive change fees to avoid transporting a sick child.
Things Happen

If the weather is bad and it looks like your child's flight(s) may not operate as scheduled, most airlines will advise you to rebook travel for another day. Airlines want to avoid having the possibility of your child getting stranded at another airport. Should your child get into this type of situation, the airline will take care of your child until they can send him or her off again to their final destination. Should hotel accommodations become necessary, the airline will provide a designated special services employee assigned to your child. The airline will keep you continuously updated on your child's situation and whereabouts.

Don't forget, however, that these services are provided for children through the age of 11 only. You will have to make a special request for those 12 and older. If you have a child that is not an unaccompanied minor and becomes stranded, please instruct your child to seek out an airline staff member immediately.

Flying can be both exciting and enjoyable for the younger traveler. Plan ahead to ensure that your child's journey is fun, safe, and memorable.


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