Pro Tips for Flying as an Unaccompanied Minor
Have you ever considered allowing your child to fly unaccompanied? For many parents across the world, they encounter a situation where they may need to send their child on a flight by themselves. Sometimes a road trip isn't a possibility. A child flying alone can be emotionally overwhelming for both parent and child. However, many airlines have strict policies and procedures in place for just this type of situation. My nephew has been flying unaccompanied for over a year. He has put together his tips to make the trip easier for both the parent and the child.
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Hudson’s Tips for Flying as an Unaccompanied Minor
Hello all! I am Hudson and I am 13 years old. I have been flying by myself for a while now. I was nervous the first I time flew alone, but now I really enjoy it. Some background on me: I live with my mom in Virginia and fly to visit my dad in Atlanta several times a year. My last flight as an unaccompanied minor was just last week! I am going to explain everything you need to know about flying without an adult.
The very first thing you need to know about flying is what an unaccompanied minor is and what the exact airline guidance is. The airlines define an Unaccompanied Minor as a child older than 5 years old, but younger than age 12-15 years old. While the airlines differ in which age determines what level of service, all the airlines agree that no child under the age of 5 is allowed to fly unaccompanied. Unaccompanied minors may or may not be allowed to fly with a layover, so be sure to read the policy the airlines offer thoroughly.
Each airline has its own policy on the unaccompanied minor program and you can see the exact regulations of each airline listed below:
Southwest: Unaccompanied Minor Policy
Frontier: Children Flying Alone
American Airlines: Unaccompanied Minor Policy
United Airlines: Special Travel Needs Policy
Allegiant Airlines: Does not allow children under the age of 15 to travel alone.
Alaskan Airlines: Children Traveling Alone
Spirit Airlines: Policy for Children Traveling Alone
Flying alone is fun, but there are many things that need to be in place for you to have a successful travel day. Below you will see what the process is for your travel day.
Prior to Booking:
Check the airline's policy (above) to see whether they offer connecting flights or direct flights only to unaccompanied minors.
Be sure to know the cost of the Unaccompanied Minor service and be ready to pay with a credit card at the time of booking or at the counter the day of the flight.
Consider where you want the unaccompanied minor to sit. Preferably toward the front of the plane an in aisle seat so that the flight attendants have maximum visibility.
Time of day. Preferably a late morning or mid-day flight to maximize the visibility and attentiveness of the staff. Try avoiding late night or overnight flights all together.
Be absolutely sure your child is mature enough to fly alone. Not all 5 year olds would be able to handle it. Not all 10 year olds would be able to either. Talk with your child and be sure this is the right thing for their maturity level.
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Prior to the Travel Day:
If the unaccompanied minor is traveling internationally, visit http://www.travel.state.gov to see if a letter of consent is required for entrance or exit of any country traveled.
Check the status of the flight
Pack a carry-on for with activities, any necessary medications, and snacks.
Ensure that the unaccompanied minor has had a meal prior to the flight.
It is recommended for the child to have a debit or credit card for inflight purchases. Cash is not accepted for inflight meals or entertainment tablets.
It is highly recommended that the Unaccompanied Minor have a cell phone or prepaid phone card and important phone numbers so they can contact the parent/guardian or someone else if needed en route.
Update or print your online guardian contact form
Bring the guardian contact forms (departure and return) with you to the airport.
If you’re planning a trip in the future with your entire family, check our tips for Keeping Your Family Safe on Vacation.
Be sure to get to the airport at least 2 hours early for a domestic flight and 3 hours early for an international flight.
When you arrive, you (& your parent/guardian) need to go to your specific airline’s ticketing booth so you can notify them that you are flying alone. Here are the documents you will need for this process:
Proof of the child’s age (birth certificate or government issued ID)
The minor’s flight information
A valid, government issued identification for the guardian
The customer service agent will ask for your parent/guardian’s I.D., your name & age, information on who will be meeting you at your destination and then they pull out a big envelope and put your information and tickets inside of it. The customer service agent will then place a bracelet with a barcode on your wrist that will be scanned when you board & exit the plane. Your parent will be provided with a pass that will allow him/her to escort you to your departure gate. Your parent or guardian will be allowed to go through security with you which makes it less stressful.
PRO TIP: My mom likes to snap a photo of me at the gate and text it to my dad so he knows exactly what I am wearing- for safety reasons.
Get used to being call a ‘U.M’ or unaccompanied minor. It means you’re a child between the ages of 5-14 flying without a guardian. Children under 5 years old cannot fly alone and children 15-17 can typically fly without a guardian (See the airline guidance above).
Going through security. If you are under the age of 13 you do not have to remove your shoes. You will need to pull out any electronic device bigger than your cell phone and don’t forget to leave unapproved items at home. Check the TSA guidelines for up to date information regarding what can and cannot fly with you. You will walk through the scanner and once through, you’ll grab your personal items and head to your departure gate.
Once you arrive at your gate, let the gate agent know you are an Unaccompanied Minor. When the plane is ready to board- UM’s will have a choice of boarding first or last. However, when you land, you will always exit the plane last. There is no special seat for unaccompanied minors, so whichever seat you selected when you booked your flight will be your assigned seat on the plane.
PRO TIP: Your parent/guardian cannot leave the terminal until the plane is airborne. So, make sure they plan ahead and know that the wait time can vary.
When you board the plane the flight attendant will help you put your carry on item in the overhead compartment. If you have a backpack or hand bag you just put it under your seat. Once you’re in your seat you can sit back and relax.
Once you land, stay in your seat and wait for all other passengers to exit the plane. After all of the passengers have deplaned, the flight attendant will come to your seat and escort you to your designated pick up person. Congratulations! You have successfully completed your first solo flight! You can now enjoy the rest of your trip!
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Here are my suggested items to make your air travel as an Unoccupied Minor as easy and fun as possible:
Snacks on snacks. Bring your own or wait for the in-flight service. As long as you don’t have any allergies, the flight attendance usually offer you food and drinks when you’re in the air
A phone or an iPod to listen to music or watch a movie (and a charger in case you need it)
Headphones so you can listen without bothering your neighbors
Bring a list of important numbers written down in case you can’t access your phone
Wear comfortable, but respectful clothes so you can relax on your journey
Bring a water bottle on to the plane. The in-flight service may take a while to start, so bring something to sip before and after the service
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When looking into flying a child as an unaccompanied minor be sure to follow all of the specific airline regulations. This is a process that has been perfected over time, so the airlines have detailed procedures in place. You can ensure the booking, airport and flight go as smoothly as possible by knowing what you are responsible for.
After many flights as an “UM”, I know it may seem overwhelming, but it isn’t. This is such a cool way to visit family when your parents or guardian can’t make the trip. If I can do it, so can you!
For any additional information on family travel, visit Big Brave Nomad.
Nephew of Tavia
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