Putting your child on a plane unaccompanied by another parent or other adult can be a stressful experience, especially when you’re watching them take off solo for the first time. You may not be sure what is required before, during and after takeoff.
If you have questions about unaccompanied minors on flights, learn what to expect and how to prepare.
What is an unaccompanied minor?
Different airlines have different guidelines and rules for unaccompanied minors, depending on their age and the route the minor is flying. Generally, an unaccompanied minor is between the ages of 5 and 14, though the upper end of the age range varies, with optional unaccompanied minor services sometimes available for older travelers up to 17.
Registering younger travelers as unaccompanied minors is typically required, depending on the airline.
How traveling as an unaccompanied minor works
When you purchase airfare for an unaccompanied minor, you are purchasing extra services to help their travel go smoothly while giving the crew a heads-up that a child is traveling solo.
Some airlines provide kids with wristbands or lanyards at check-in. On domestic flights, adults will often be given a pass to take unaccompanied minors to their gate and pick them up upon arrival. If the child is permitted on an international flight, airlines are likelier to send an agent to accompany them to and from the plane.
Whoever picks them up must show a valid form of ID and sign for their release.
Kids may have access to special kid-friendly lounges during travel if they’re available during connections. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, for example, offer these lounges in a handful of airports in the U.S. Delta and American also allow unaccompanied minors to board first and receive extra attention from flight attendants. Many even get to meet the pilots.
Keep in mind many airlines impose restrictions on what flights unaccompanied minors can book. For example, some don’t permit international travel or layovers longer than two hours, while others only allow travel on nonstop flights.
How to book an unaccompanied minor flight
Flights for unaccompanied minors usually have to be booked differently than flights for typical adult passengers and they are always accompanied by additional fees. Every airline is different, but some charge one fee per traveler, others one fee for a group of siblings.
Most airlines allow you to book unaccompanied minor flights online, but some, like American Airlines, require booking by phone. When searching for flights, select how many people will be flying from the appropriate age-group menu. Then, during checkout, you may be asked if they’re traveling without an adult.
If unaccompanied minors are traveling without an adult, you may have to include more info about the traveler, the people dropping them off and picking them up, plus additional emergency contact information. Some airlines, like JetBlue Airways, may also require you to submit this information in writing at the airport.
An unaccompanied minor fee may also be added to your total cost at this point, though some airlines require you to pay at the airport during check-in.
Every airline’s process is slightly different, so check their rules and regulations before booking so you know what to expect.
When you arrive at the airport, you’ll likely have to check in in person (as opposed to online) to ensure all the necessary guardian paperwork is completed, the child receives any identifying articles — like a wristband or lanyard — and the guardian gets their gate pass.
Getting to the airport earlier than usual is a good idea to ensure everything is sorted before you accompany your child to the gate if permitted.
Airlines that allow unaccompanied minors and their fees
While there may not be a “best” airline for unaccompanied minors, each offers a little something different in the way of fees, age restrictions and more. Here’s a peek at the policies for a few major U.S. airlines.
Southwest Airlines: Southwest is unique in that it only allows children 5-11 to travel as unaccompanied minors with no option to book the service for older children. If they are within this age range, they either must be traveling with someone over the age of 12 or booked as an unaccompanied minor. The service costs $100 per traveler per direction of travel.
Delta: Travelers ages 5-14 are considered unaccompanied minors on Delta and are required to register as such, while children ages 15-17 can voluntarily opt to use the program. It costs an additional $150 each way but covers up to four children on one booking.
United Airlines: Kids 5-14 are required to use United’s unaccompanied minor program if they’re traveling alone or with someone under 18, but it’s optional for kids 15-17. It costs $150 per one-way flight for up to two children, and an additional $150 per direction of travel for every two kids after that.
American Airlines: You can request your child be treated as an unaccompanied minor when they’re 15-17, but it’s required for kids 5-14 traveling alone or without someone who is at least 16. The fee is $150 per one-way flight, but it covers siblings traveling together.
JetBlue: Kids ages 5-14 must register as unaccompanied minors on JetBlue. However, if children are accompanied by someone who’s at least 14, it’s not required. The fee is $150 per direction of travel for each minor. You’ll have to fill out a JetBlue Unaccompanied Minor Form and bring three copies to the airport with you.
Alaska Airlines: Kids between 5-12 traveling alone or with travelers under 18 are required to use Alaska’s Junior Jetsetter program, but kids from 13-17 can opt in if they wish. It costs $50 per child per direction of travel for direct flights and $75 for connecting flights (when they’re allowed).
Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian considers an unaccompanied minor anyone who’s 5-11 and traveling without an adult or someone who’s at least 15 (18 for international flights). Travelers between 12-17 can register as a minor if they wish. It’s $35 per flight segment per passenger within Hawaii and $100 between Hawaii and North America. The fee covers up to two children.
When booking airfare for an unaccompanied minor, it is important to know what restrictions your preferred airline imposes, be prepared for required fees, and arrive at the airport early so you can complete any necessary paperwork before you and/or your child head to the gate. Do your research beforehand and everyone will be set up for a less stressful travel day — minors included.
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