If the thought of sending your child on a plane by herself sends you into instant panic mode, you’re not alone. Tons of parents who have no other choice but to send their son or daughter alone on a plane feel the same way.
Thankfully, most airlines have established specific procedures to assist unaccompanied minors and ensure your child gets to her destination safely. Since the rules differ with each airline, you should first and foremost research the particular airline before booking any flights to make sure your child will have the care she needs.
Parents, here’s what you should know:
- Age matters: Most airlines don’t allow children under five to travel alone. Generally, those under 12 (or 15 for some airlines) can travel alone but must follow unaccompanied minor procedures. Kids ages 12-17 (or 15-17) may travel on any flight and can opt out of unaccompanied minor procedures, unless they are traveling internationally. Be sure to ask the airline about their specific policies and age requirements.
- Extra fees: Most airlines charge extra for the unaccompanied minor service, which can cost up to $200 for a round-trip flight.
- Flight restrictions: Depending on the age of the child, airlines often limit the time of day when minors can travel. Many airlines also prohibit young kids from traveling alone on connecting flights. Even if it’s not mandatory, book a nonstop flight—it’s a safer option, and you won’t have to worry about connecting flights being delayed or cancelled.
- Prepare your child: This is especially important if you have a young child who has never flown before, or who may fear traveling alone. Tell her everything that will happen at the airport and during the flight and address any specific concerns she may have. Let her know that you’ll stay with her for as long as you can, and teach her how to identify a flight attendant in case she needs help on the plane. You should also discuss safety issues as well, such as to keep her seat belt on at all times and to ask a flight attendant when she needs to use the bathroom.
- Arrive at the airport early: Since there are additional rules and paperwork that come along with unaccompanied minor services, you should plan to get to the airport early and be prepared to stay with your child at the gate until the plane takes off, which is required by all airlines. Children flying alone are also permitted to board early so they can meet the flight crew and learn about plane safety.
- At the airport: If you didn’t already pack healthy snacks for your child, you may want to grab some food and a bottle of water at a nearby kiosk. Make sure she uses the bathroom before getting on the flight, and give her chewing gum to help relieve the air pressure changes in the cabin during takeoff.
- Monitor the flight: Take advantage of real-time flight status updates that you can find on airline websites or from their mobile apps. This will inform you if the flight will arrive on time, if there are any delays, etc. and keep your mind at ease.
Photo from momlogic.com.