My family and I travel while I run my company Purveyor of Geekery
Whether it’s to visit another parent, a grandparent or even a friend, sometimes kids have to fly alone. It can be a scary thought, the lack of control over a situation is enough to give any parent a heart attack. Growing up my brother and I were the cause of many parental heart attacks as we often made the cross country trek from Pennsylvania to Texas for summers and holidays with family members. This was well before the days of the cellular tech that keeps information instantly at our finger tips, but we…and more importantly…our parents survived.
While it can be a bit hard to send your child off on their own accord, these tips will prepare you and your child for a fun plane ride.
Laws & Regulations for Unaccompanied Travelers
- Where as there are no federal regulations surrounding solo children passengers, every individual airline has their own rules and regulations regarding kids flying alone, Jet With Kids has a great list of links to the majority of Airlines and their Policies and Procedures around the subject. Even though there is no federal age limit, most airlines prevent children under the age of five from flying without an adult.
- All the major airlines allow unaccompanied minors, though age limits vary, so it pays to check before you by a ticket. The biggest differences between children and adults is ticket prices and the screening process. You won’t be able to purchase the tickets online via sites like Travelocity or even the airline’s own website, so you will need to contact the airlines directly via telephone. It may be a good idea to do some research for similar adult tickets for the same day, just to get an idea of what the cost and added fees end up being.
- Some airlines charge an additional fee for unaccompanied minors between the ages of 5 and 11. Older minors are treated as adults on most airlines, though you should still check before sending your child off.
- When you buy the ticket, you’ll have to fill out a special form and obtain a gate pass for the kid. Here is an example of JetBlue’s Unaccompanied Minor’s form (pdf). Each airline will have its own paperwork, so confirm what is needed at the time you make the ticket purchase.
- For international flights, your child will need a passport. For other flights, most airlines will accept a birth certificate as proof of age in lieu of a passport.
- Some airlines don’t allow unaccompanied minors on connecting flights, so you might need to find a direct flight instead.
Planning for an Easier Flight
- Pack your child’s carry on with fun, quiet activities so they stay busy without getting bored or lonely. If they are old enough, consider a Kindle
or tablet loaded up with books and apps. Coloring books and crayons, board books, kids magazines are also good choices.
- Add some of their favorite snacks, within airline regulations, to the bag so they feel more at home while in the air. Liquids and gels will still have to be under 3oz in order to get through airport security, so plan on purchasing bottled water in the terminal after you get through security. Water…for the love of all that is holy and the benefit of your child’s fellow passengers skip the caffeinated beverages and sugar loaded juices.
- If it’s your child’s first flight alone or even their first flight, you need to take a moment to prepare them. Explain any details about what they might encounter, such as turbulence, how to get help from a flight attendant and how to ask their fellow passengers to move so they can get out of their seat to use the restroom.
- Explain to them that the person that they are meeting may not be directly at the gate when they arrive and that they should as for help from a airline steward or stewardess. Point out the male and female uniforms once you arrive at the gate so they will know who to look for and ask for help. Explain that they can approach the desk at the gate at anytime at both airports but that they should be patient and wait until they can be helped if the person behind it is busy at the moment. Don’t wander off disparaged.
- Pull up a map of the airport that they are traveling to and review where everything is. They won’t need to remember any of it since they will need the be with an adult or airline staff at all times, but it may help them get their bearings in a somewhat scary situation.
- Help them memorize details about their destination, who will be picking them up and all contact information for you and who they’ll be staying with at their destination. Provide them with a hard copy of this information to carry on them during the trip. Using an emergency Child Emergency ID Shoe Band ($2.75) or Travel Wristband ID Bracelets can keep the information from getting lost.
- They should also have a picture of the person they’re supposed to meet with them so they can easily pick out the person at the airport and airline personnel can help them as well.
At the Airport
- Snap a photo of your child on your phone the day of the flight including their luggage and outfit that they are wearing. Send the image to the person’s phone who is picking them up as well.
- You’ll be required to stay with your child as they go through security all the way to the gate so bring your Identification as well and prepare for security.
- An adult must stay until the flight leaves so the child isn’t left alone should the flight be delayed. Of course, you’ll likely want to be there anyway for that last hug before they take off.
- If you are allowed to walk your child onto the plane and get them situated, be sure to introduce them to a flight attendant and show them the different things they need to know on the plane like where the bathrooms are, how to open the bathroom doors, flush the toilets, use the sink, how to located the exits, use the seat belts, call buttons, how to use the television, etc.
On the Receiving End
- Work closely with the person who’s picking them up. Coordinate so someone is at the airport early to ensure your child isn’t left alone. They will need to have proper identification with them when for pick up. Ask them to call you the moment the flight arrives and your kid is safely in tow.
- Use an online or flight tracker app to track the plane’s progress, then call or text the receiving end adult every minute until you hear they arrived and are safe.
- Then cry because your baby is all grown up. 🙁
Preparation is the best way to make sure a kid flying alone is safe and has a good flight along the way.