Maybe your mom wants to see her grand kids, but you cannot afford to fly with your kids to see her. Or, perhaps your child is going to spend the summer with his dad, but the cost of flying with your child only to drop him off at his dad's is just not within your budget. These and similar dilemmas cause parents to consider allowing their children to fly as unaccompanied minors on an airplane. If you are considering this option, make sure that you fully understand the rules and regulations of the airline you will be using.
The age in which children are allowed to fly as part of an unaccompanied minors program varies depending on each airline, but ranges from age 5 to 14 for most U.S. airlines. Age restrictions exist on the type of flights that children can take. For example, on United Airlines, unaccompanied children between the ages of 5 and 7 can fly only on direct flights with no connections. Southwest Airlines has that same restriction for unaccompanied kids between the ages of 5 and 11. Many airlines also do not allow unaccompanied minors to fly on the last flight of the day, in case the flight gets cancelled and the child becomes stranded in an airport. An airline may also turn away children at the airport, if weather conditions might cause significant delays or cancellations. Make sure that you contact the airline your child will be flying, so that you know exactly what the regulations are for your child's age.
Because the airline is essentially supervising your child, you have to pay additional fees so that you child can fly as an unaccompanied minor. Prices vary, based on the airline. Some airlines charge more for international flights. Most airlines charge per child, but others will charge a flat rate for a certain number of children. For example, Delta Airlines allows up to four children to fly together for one fee.
All airlines have similar procedures for checking in unaccompanied minors. You must book the flight in advance and you must inform the booking agent that your child will be traveling alone. Parents or guardians must check in with the child at the airline ticket counter. You must provide your identification and contact information, and information about the person picking up the child. Some airlines will give your child a wristband to identify his status. All airlines will give your child a packet with a boarding pass and identification information. Typically, this is in the form of a lanyard that includes a pouch, which goes around his neck. You will be given a pass to proceed through security with your child, and to escort him to his gate. Unaccompanied minors will be among the first to board the plane, escorted by a flight attendant. You cannot leave until your child has boarded the flight and the flight has taken off. Upon arrival at the destination, the person picking up your child must be at the gate and he must show identification that matches the identification the airline has, so that your child can leave with this adult.
Consider the age and maturity level of your child, if you are considering letting him fly alone. Flight attendants check on unaccompanied minors periodically throughout the flight, but the attendants do not sit or stay with unaccompanied children. Pack an activity bag to keep your child entertained on the plane. This activity bag can include coloring books, a music player, and an electronic tablet filled with games and movies. If your child doesn't entertain himself well while staying in his seat for a couple of hours, you may want to wait until he is a little older.