Kids Flying Alone
by Sheena Berg
On a recent inter-state flight, Emily had the pleasure of sitting next to a delightful 12 year old girl who was flying alone to spend a long weekend with her father. After she excitedly told Emily all the fun things she was going to do with her dad, she explained that she had been making this plane trip every month since her parents divorced.
It turns out this pint-sized solo flyer is like millions of other kids whom the airlines label, Unaccompanied Minors (UMs); these are kids who fly without an adult, both within the United states and overseas, usually to visit non custodial parents or to spend vacation time with grandparents and other family members.
With the Holiday season fast approaching many blended family kids will be flying solo to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas/Winter vacation with parents or family. Here are some tips for parents and their kids flying solo.
1. There are no Department of Transportation rules about kids flying alone, and each airline has its own rules, guidelines and fees charged to oversee UMs. Each airline has different procedures so it's best to check when you book the ticket.
2. No child under 5 years of age can fly alone. Between 5 -12 years, most airlines will accept UM's only if parents or guardians accept the UM procedures, complete the required paperwork and pay the fee, which varies among carriers but is generally between $40 and $100 each way. Some airlines allow only non-stop flights, or through flights where the plane has a stop but no change of plane is required.
Kids 12 years and older do not require UM procedures but carriers will implement procedures at the request of parents and payment of the fee. However, if the parent refuses UM services, the airline expects that the child will be responsible for making his own alternative plans if the plane is delayed, diverted, or the flight cancelled.
International airlines have specific guidelines and programs for UM's. Even though kids between 12 and 17 are considered young adults, many airlines insist on UM coverage for travel outside the U.S. Also, UM's leaving another country are often required to have a letter of consent, sometimes notarized, by the parent or guardian.
3. The rule of thumb is, the simpler the itinerary the less chance for problems. So, book non-stop, early morning flights, and be prepared for delays due to weather, technical problems or cancellations. Avoid connecting flights with different airlines even though they may offer the cheapest fare.
Additionally, make sure your child and the pick up person have complete information: all flight numbers, dates, times, and airports of origin and arrival, proof of age of your child, and an airline emergency number to call in case of delays or changes. Always check whether you need a gate pass and photo ID to accompany your child to the gate and for the pick up at the other end.
4. On day of flight, allow plenty of time to get to the airport to avoid the stress of rushing and cutting things tight. Stay at the gate area until the flight is in the air... sometimes planes are delayed, cancelled or have to return to the gate.
5. And finally:
- Make sure your child has books, puzzles and games to pass the time in flight because attendants will not act as babysitters although they are very helpful.
- Check with your carrier about electronic toys and music players.
- Pack a light snack and be aware of liquid limits.
- Explain how important it is to listen to instructions and obey attendant's requests.
- Give your child enough cash to buy a meal in case of a delay.
- Label clothes and the back pack.
- Check on medications because airline personnel are not allowed to administer meds.
- Caution your child never to leave the airport by himself or with a stranger.
- Explain the trip and what to expect, and if your child is anxious or hasn't flown before, visit the airport beforehand and do a walk- through.
- Look forward to hearing about all the fun your child has on his flying adventure to see family or friends.