How to Arrange for Your Child to Fly Alone

Sending your child on a flight by themselves can seem like a daunting experience, but millions of children fly alone safely each year. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 who travel by air without a parent or guardian are known as unaccompanied minors (UMs). Choose a direct flight on an airline that offers perks for UMs, and take the time to prepare your child so that their solo trip will be safe and enjoyable.

Part 1
Researching the Air Carrier

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    Compare UM surcharges. Some airlines charge $100 each way for each child, some charge as little as $25 each way. Do your research to find the most cost-effective way to send your child to another destination.[1]
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    Keep flight arrangements as simple as possible. Some airlines will not allow a UM to travel on connecting flights. Most airlines that do allow a UM to travel on a connecting flight will charge a fee for airline personnel to assist your child with changing planes. Even if the airline allows your child to take connecting flights, it isn’t an ideal situation. [2]
    • Try to book a nonstop flight, or a direct “through” flight, so your child will not have to leave the aircraft. Make reservations; do not allow your child to fly standby even if the airline permits it.
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    Book a morning flight. If possible, arrange for your child to fly in the morning. This will give you the rest of the day to make alternate arrangements in case the flight is delayed or cancelled.[3]
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    Ask about all required paperwork. You will have to download and print out consent and liability release forms and have them filled out prior to the flight. You will have to provide your child’s name and age, as well as details about any medical considerations, including prescription medicine. You will also list the name of the person whom you are authorizing to pick up your child when the plane lands.[4]
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    Read the policies thoroughly. Be very clear about the airline carrier’s policy on young adult passengers. Most airlines consider a child of 12 or over to be a young adult, and don’t assist the child on the flight unless you specifically request the assistance and pay the fee. If you don’t make such arrangements, the airline expects your child to be responsible for making their own plans if a flight is canceled, delayed, or redirected.[5]
    • Ensure the person picking up your child has also read the policies. Upon arrival, your child will be escorted into the terminal and released to the person you have authorized. This person will need a valid ID to be let through security to go to the arrival gate, and they will need to prove their identity before your child is released to them.
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    Arrange for your child’s meals. If food will be served during the flight, reserve a meal for your child, especially if your child has dietary restrictions. Vegetarian, Kosher, and other special meals must be reserved. If there is no meal service, be sure to pack a meal for your child.
    • Make sure your food and beverages comply with the airline’s rules.
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    Request e-tickets. Electronic tickets, stored in the airline’s computer, will help make the trip hassle-free. Having e-tickets means your child won’t have to worry about carrying and possibly losing a paper ticket.
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    Find out if any bonuses are offered for UMs. Some airlines allow your child to step into the cockpit and speak with the pilot. Certain airlines offer free snack boxes, or “kid’s clubs” at their hub airports. Some airlines have a policy about seating UMs together, either in the front or the back of the plane, while other airlines will allow you to choose your child’s seat.[6]

Part 2
Preparing Your Child

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    Introduce your child to the airport ahead of time. If your child has never flown, it’s a good idea to take them to the local airport to have a look around. Take them as far as the security gates and explain the security procedures. Point out where assistance is available. On the day of the flight, you will be allowed to accompany your child to the departure gate, but a little familiarity beforehand won’t hurt.[7]
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    Tell your child to go to an airline employee if they need help. Instruct your child to inform a uniformed airline employee or security guard if they need help or feel threatened. This includes telling the flight attendant if anyone seated nearby is causing them distress.[8]
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    Explain to your child what to do regarding a connecting flight. Put the details in writing and include the name of the connecting airport and flight details and tell your child to keep the paper in a safe place. Include information about the return flight as well.[9]
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    Remind your child to wait for their escort. Explain that an airline employee will escort them off the plane to meet the person authorized to pick them up. Emphasize to your child that they must never exit the plane alone, including exiting if the plane stops en route to pick up and discharge passengers.[10]
    • Remind your child that they are not to leave the airport alone, or with a stranger.
    • If your child has any doubt about whether to get off the airplane at a particular stop, or any other questions or concerns, tell them to ask a flight attendant. Also, let them know about the flight attendant call button above the seat.
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    Instruct your child to be on their best behavior. Tell your child there will be no direct supervision on the flight, and they are expected to behave at all times. Explain the airline’s policy about safety procedures and about standing or walking in the aisle.[11]
    • Tell your child they may be given a badge to wear and that it must be worn at all times.
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    Tell your child to pay attention to all announcements. Tell them that the pilot or flight attendant may make announcements on the flight. Encourage them to listen to all announcements carefully and to promptly comply with any request made by the pilot or flight attendants.[12]
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    Calm your child by explaining the flying experience. Some children may feel nervous about flying alone. Tell them what to expect on the flight and explain that it can be fun to fly on a plane. Ensure them that they will be taken care of and that someone they know and trust will be waiting for them at the destination airport.
    • If your child is has a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket, allow them to take it along on the flight to help them feel secure.

Part 3
Packing and Making Your Child’s Flight Comfortable

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    Dress your child in comfortable clothes. Choose an outfit that is easy to manage in the aircraft’s small lavatories. Explain how to use a lavatory on an aircraft if your child has never been in one.
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    Label all items. Label any clothing that your child might remove during the flight, such as a sweater or a coat. You should also label their carry-on bag and other items, such as a tablet, headphones, or books.
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    Include important items in the carry-on bag. Pack items that your child might need if their checked luggage gets lost or delayed. Include medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and an extra change of clothes.[13]
    • Pack records including a copy of your child’s complete itinerary, your home, work, and cell phone numbers, and the phone numbers of the person meeting the flight on this itinerary. Tell your child to keep this information inside the carry-on bag. Be sure to also send a copy of the itinerary to the person who will be meeting your child.[14]
    • Most airlines will not permit their employees to administer medication to children under any circumstances. If your child requires medication that they cannot take unassisted and which would normally be necessary during the time of the flight, ask your child’s doctor about alternatives.
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    Explain how meals and refreshments are served. Tell your child how to request additional juice, soda, or water. Pack some snacks, even if a meal is to be served. Include gum, for chewing during take-off and landing to relieve air pressure changes.[15]
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    Include some items that will entertain your child. Books, travel games, and a coloring book and crayons are good ideas. If you include a portable DVD or CD player, explain to your child the airline’s rules regarding electronic devices. Be sure to pack headphones for any electronic device.[16]
    • Remind your child that the flight attendant or pilot might make an announcement requesting that all electronic devices be turned off for takeoff and landing and that they must do as requested.
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    Give your child a phone. Add a cell phone or a pre-paid phone and explain to them how to use it. Show your child how to make a call, receive a call, and how to turn the phone on and off. Program in your numbers and the numbers of the person your child will be meeting at the end of the flight. It’s also a good idea to explain how to make a collect long-distance call from a pay telephone.[17]
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    Send your child with a small amount of cash. This will be useful in case they don’t have a phone and need to call you. A little bit of money is also necessary for the child to buy a meal in case their flight is delayed.[18]
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    Allow extra time at the airport. In addition to arriving one to two hours before the flight, you should factor in traffic delays, security delays, and time you might need to fill out any extra paperwork that may be required at check-in.[19]

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