Most airlines have a special policy on minors flying alone. Many have services designed to make your child’s flight experience as easy as possible. But you can also help out your children by teaching them ahead of time what to expect both in the airport and when they’re soaring through the air.
Can a Child Fly Alone?
Children, even young children, are allowed to fly alone on most major airlines. This is true even if they’ve never flown before. But you can’t simply book a normal ticket for your child, drop them off at airport security, and wave goodbye as they head off to their gate. The process is different for minors.
When minors fly alone, there will almost always be additional paperwork and fees. An adult needs to accompany them to the gate, and another one needs to be at the gate when the plane arrives. In between, flight attendants help them:
- Find their seats
- Stay comfortable throughout the flight
- Navigate layovers
- Find a previously specified adult at their destination
Airline staff will also help your child take care of any problems like delays or cancellations that could happen in the middle of a trip.
The exact details can be very different from one airline to the next. Contact an airline directly if you have specific questions about their unaccompanied minor policies.
Is There a Fee for Unaccompanied Minors?
Almost all airlines include an additional unaccompanied minor fee on top of the cost of the ticket. The prices can vary dramatically depending on the airline and type of flight.
Fees can vary from $200 to $300 round trip for many U.S. airlines. But it’s always good to double-check pricing if you haven’t flown in a while. Airline pricing and policies can change at a relatively fast rate.
Make sure to shop around for both ticket prices and unaccompanied minor fees when you’re booking a flight for your child. It’s possible that a steep added fee can outweigh the benefits of an airline’s cheaper ticket.
Luckily, the fees are often flat rates even if you have multiple children on the same flight. This means that you may only have to pay one additional fee for two or more children.
How Old Does a Child Have to Be to Fly Alone?
Federal agencies don’t monitor unaccompanied minor policies. So the age requirements differ between airlines.
Some airlines allow kids to fly alone when they’re as young as 12. But your child may need to be 15 or even 17 before they can fly alone. Many international flights, for example, require unaccompanied minor services for anyone flying alone under the age of 18.
You can still pay for these services even if your child is older than an airline’s required age. If there are any delays or cancellations, the airline will expect your child to deal with it on their own — just like an adult passenger. Ultimately, you know best when your child is ready to fly alone. You can also decide whether or not to use the service on a case-by-case basis.
How Young Can a Child Be to Qualify for Unaccompanied Minor Services?
All children under the age of 5 years old always need to be accompanied by an older companion when flying. The age requirements for this older person can vary from 12 years old to 18 years and older.
Many airlines let children five and older fly alone. But some only let older children use unaccompanied minor services. Or they only let younger children fly on certain kinds of flights.
What’s the Necessary Identification for Minors Flying Alone?
In most cases, your child won’t need any identification to fly. Airlines usually only need to see identification from the involved adults.
International flights are an exception. Your child will need the same identification as an adult when they travel outside of the country. This identification includes a passport.
You may want to bring your child’s birth certificate with you if they look younger than their actual age. You want to be able to prove to the airline that your child isn’t too young to fly alone.
Can Unaccompanied Minors Take All Types of Flights?
Not all unaccompanied minors are allowed on all flights. For example, some airlines only let kids between the ages of five and seven go on direct flights. This way, they don’t need to deal with layovers.
Layovers are scheduled stops that occur before your trip has reached its final destination. They almost always involve transferring to a new plane at a brand new airport. This can be an overwhelming experience for inexperienced young fliers.
You need to pay careful attention to details when it comes to unaccompanied minors on international flights. These flights often involve additional documentation. For example, your child may need notarized consent forms from both of their parents.
Your best bet is to contact a country’s embassy for the most accurate information on how to enter that country safely and legally.
What to Know About Airline Drop-Offs and Pick-Ups
There are a lot of important details to keep in mind when it comes to dropping off and picking up your unaccompanied minor. Make sure you’re aware of the following facts:
- Both the adult who drops off the child and the one that picks them up have to bring identification to the airport.
- Adults at both ends of the flight need to get a special gate pass so they can get through security — the way that you get this pass depends on the airline.
- There needs to be an adult at the gate until your child’s plane takes off — this means that if the plane is delayed, you’ll be delayed too.
- You can’t switch the adult that’s picking up your child at the last minute because the airline can only release them to the adult that you specify in your initial paperwork.
Tips for Minors Flying Alone
When it comes to children flying alone, many different aspects can be confusing and overwhelming. But there are tons of ways to make the process a little bit easier for your child. Some helpful tips to consider when your child is flying alone include:
- Choose your child’s seat wisely — window seats are fine for older kids, but flight attendants have an easier time seeing smaller kids when they’re in aisle seats.
- Make sure to pack plenty of activities and snacks so your child can entertain themselves — entertainment isn’t part of the flight attendant's job.
- Try getting an electronic ticket — this way, your child won’t have to worry about keeping track of a paper ticket between flights.
- Remind your child to keep their ticket in a safe, secure place if they do end up with a paper copy.
- Teach or remind your child that they can summon a flight attendant by pressing the overhead button.
- Warn them about turbulence and the loud sounds that airplanes make when they’re first taking off.
- Make sure to keep your phone on you throughout the flight — the airline will need to get in touch if any unexpected complications come up.
- Check to see if your airline provides a free app that lets you message back and forth with your child throughout the flight.
- Talk to your doctor about alternatives if your child is supposed to take medication during the flight — most airlines don’t allow their flight attendants to administer medicines to minors.