Kids flying solo guide

Helpful hints for children traveling alone

Many airlines have accommodations for the anxious parent to ensure their child’s, or children’s, safety when flying and traveling by themselves. Below is a chart summarizing key information for a number of airlines and advice on how to go about the process from start to finish.

Air CanadaEight to 11 years old – non-stop flights only$100 each way per childSnack or meal included on flights with Air Canada Café
Alaska AirlinesFive to 17 years old – domestic and international flights$25 each wayOnly ages 13 through 17 allowed connecting flights for $50 each way
American AirlinesFive to 14 years old – nonstop or direct flights only; service may be requested for ages 15 to 17 but is not required$150 each way (only one fee applies for two+ family members flying same itinerary)Flights for unaccompanied minors cannot be booked online.
British AirwaysFive to 12 years old; service may be requested for ages 12 to 18$100 per child each wayFlights for unaccompanied minors cannot be booked online and your child must be registered with the Solo Flyer service 48 hours before departure.
Delta Air LinesFive to seven years old – nonstop or direct flights only; Eight to 14 years old – nonstop and connecting flights; service may be requested for ages 15 to 17$150 fee each way for up to 4 children traveling togetherUnaccompanied minors must be ticketed at the adult price and are not permitted on Red Eye flights (between 9 pm and 5 am), with the exception of flights departing from Alaska or Hawaii, connections to / from international flights, and domestic flights 2 hours or less.
Frontier AirlinesFive to 14 years old – nonstop flights only$100 each way Fee includes a beverage and snack!
Hawaiian AirlinesFive to 11 years old – nonstop flights only; service may be requested for ages 12 to 17$35 for flights within the state of Hawaii; $100 for flights between North America and Hawaii Fee covers up to two children.
JetBlue AirwaysFive to 14 years old – nonstop flights only; assistance may by requested for children over 14$100 each way The Unaccompanied Minor form is available online and must be completed prior to travel.
Southwest AirlinesFive to 11 years old – nonstop or direct flights only$50 each wayThe child must wear an “Unaccompanied Minor” lanyard through the airport and for the duration of the flight.
Spirit AirlinesFive to 14 years old – nonstop or direct domestic flights only; service may be requested for ages 15 and up$100 per child each wayFee includes a snack and beverage!
United AirlinesFive to 11 years old – nonstop only; 12 to 17 years old – nonstop flights only when assistance is required, otherwise connecting flights are permitted if no assistance is needed$150 each way
US AirwaysTwo to four – “accompanied minor” with someone 16 or older; Five to 14 years old – nonstop only$150 each wayChildren eight to 14 can travel on connecting flights operated by either US Airways or American Airlines for an additional fee.
Virgin AmericaFive to 14 – non-stop flights only; services can be requested for ages 15 to 17$75 for short-haul flights (less than 2 hours), $100 for long-haul flights (more than 2 hours), and $125 for international flights arriving or departing from MexicoFee includes a snack!
WestJetEight to 12 – flights between Canadian cities that do not require a connection; services can be requested for ages 13 to 18$100 each way per childFee includes a headset, snack, and beverage!

What to pack:

  • Cell phone: If your child doesn’t have a cell phone, get him or her a pay-as-you-go phone – an easy form of communication for emergencies. Pay-as-you-go phones can be purchased from any cell phone retailer for as little as $30. Make sure your child knows how to place a collect call and provide a calling card which can be used at public telephones.
  • Gift cards: Invest in a few pre-paid gift cards worth $25 or $50, which will let your child purchase food or any unexpected expenses along the way. This will eliminate the worry of traveling with a tremendous amount of cash. Visa gift cards are available in many locations.
  • Family/friends contact information: Give your child a complete list of names, numbers and addresses of the people who are picking your child up at the airport.
  • Photographs: Provide a picture of the person(s) your child will be meeting at the airport, and write out the person’s complete contact information on the back.
  • Medication: Make sure your child has all medications he or she needs and is comfortable taking medications on their own.
  • Details of the day’s schedule: Make sure your child knows what to do in an emergency. For example, provide instructions on how to handle flight delays or cancellations. Let him know how to handle overnight accommodations if necessary. Provide at least two copies of this information and store it in two different places.
  • Snacks: Pack some popular munchies such as chips, sandwiches, trail mix, grapes, berries, gum, etc. Also consider buying a bottle of juice or water for your child after passing through the security checkpoint.
  • Entertainment: Make or buy a travel pack to keep them entertained during the flight. Include such items as coloring books, crayons, books, Play-Doh or handheld video games – wonderful distractions for little ones.

Before the flight:

  • Contact your preferred carrier in advance of making a reservation for specific information and guidelines regarding children traveling alone.
  • Try to book a morning flight. If it is delayed or canceled, you have the rest of the day to make alternate plans.
  • Anyone under 17 flying alone on an international flight must have a signed note from a parent or responsible adult giving permission, destination and length of stay.
  • Parents must provide information regarding who will be dropping off and picking up their child from each airport. Children are escorted off the aircraft by a flight attendant and released to the designee or another designated employee.
  • Familiarize your child with his or her itinerary and make sure all travel documents are kept in a safe place – especially if they’ll be needed for a return flight.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t wear any clothing that has his/her name on it, which would make it easier for an impersonator to convince a child that they can be trusted.
  • Make sure your child’s luggage is easy for them to carry and recognize.
  • Register your child’s travel plans with the U.S. State Department, which can provide assistance in an emergency. This is a free service.

At the airport:

  • Early arrival is important. Unaccompanied minors are usually pre-boarded, so airlines recommend allowing plenty of time to check in and get through security. A relaxed pace will also be less stressful for your child.
  • Make sure the flight attendants know that your child is traveling alone. Confirm that he or she will be seated in an area of the aircraft that’s convenient for attendants to keep an eye out – the very front or very back of the aircraft is ideal.
  • If a connection has to be made, pay any extra fees necessary to have a flight attendant assist your child to that connecting flight. Siblings flying together usually pay only one escort fee.

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(Featured image: Sagie)