wikiHow to Arrange for Your Child to Fly Alone

Children between the ages of 5 and 14 who travel by air without a parent or guardian are known as unaccompanied minors (UMs). Millions of children fly alone safely every year, but you should take all necessary precautions when you arrange for your child to fly alone. Air travel has changed in recent years—there is much more congestion at the airports and in the air. Flights get cancelled, or sometimes delayed for hours. The steps below explain how you can prepare your child for a solo trip that will be safe and enjoyable.

Steps

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    Research the air carrier. Determine first if the carrier flies to your child’s destination city. If the carrier has direct flights to the destination city, inquire about their unaccompanied minor (UM) policies. Most airlines have similar policies on UMs, but it pays to do your homework:
    • Compare UM surcharges. Some airlines charge $100 each way for each child, some charge as little as $25 each way.
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    • Ask the airline representative if they offer any bonuses for UMs. Some airlines allow your child to step into the cockpit and speak with the pilot. Some airlines offer free snack boxes, or “kid’s clubs” at their hub airports. Some airlines have a policy about seating Ums together with all other UMs, either in the front or the back of the plane. Some airlines will allow you to choose your child’s seat.
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    Inquire about connections. 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.
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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. (Upon arrival, your child will be escorted into the terminal and released to the person you have authorized.)
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    Be very clear about the airline carriers 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 his or her own plans if a flight is canceled, delayed or redirected.
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    Keep flight arrangements as simple as possible. Even if the airline allows your child to take connecting flights, it isn’t an ideal situation. 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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    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.
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    Request e-tickets. Electronic tickets, stored in the airline’s computer, means your child won’t have to worry about carrying and possibly losing a paper ticket.
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    Don’t forget about medications. Most airlines will not permit their employees to administer medication to children under any circumstances. If your child requires medication that he or she 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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    Prepare your child for everything he or she might expect before, during and after the flight:
    • Remind your child that he or she is not to leave the airport alone, or with a stranger. Instruct your child to inform a uniformed airline employee or security guard if he or she needs help or feels threatened. This includes telling the flight attendant if anyone seated nearby is causing him or her distress.
    • Explain to your child what to do if he or she will be on 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.
    • Explain that an airline employee will escort him or her off the plane to meet the person authorized to pick them up. Emphasize to your child that he or she must never exit the plane alone, including exiting if the plane stops en route to pick up and discharge passengers. If your child has any doubt about whether to get off the airplane at a particular stop, or any other questions or concerns, tell him or her to ask a flight attendant. Also, let your son or daughter know about the flight attendant call button above the seat.
    • Tell your child he or she may be given a badge to wear and that it must be worn at all times.
    • Instruct your child to pay attention to all announcements on the flight and to promptly comply with any request made by the pilot or flight attendants.
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    Do everything necessary to make your child’s flight comfortable:
    • Dress your child in comfortable clothes that aren’t hard 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.)
    • Label any clothing that your child might remove during the flight, such as a sweater or a coat.
    • Tell your child there will be no direct supervision on the flight, and he or she is expected to behave at all times. Explain the airline’s policy about safety procedures and about standing or walking in the aisle.
    • Explain how meals and refreshments are served. Tell your child how to request additional juice, soda, or water.
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    Pack a small carry-on bag for your child and include the following items:
    • A copy of your child’s complete itinerary, including dates, airline name(s), flight numbers, departure and arrival times, and the reservation record locator number. Include your home, work and cell phone numbers and the phone numbers of the person meeting the flight on this itinerary (Mail a copy of the itinerary to the person who will be meeting your child.) Tell your child to keep this information inside the carry-on bag.
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    • Include some items that will entertain your child, such as books, travel games and crayons. 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 or any electronic device. 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 he or she should do as requested.
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    • Include items in the carry-on bag that your child might need if his or her checked luggage gets lost or delayed. Pack medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids, toothbrush and paste and an extra change of clothes.
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    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.
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    Give your child a cell phone or a pre-paid throwaway phone and explain to him or her 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.
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    Give your child a small amount of cash.
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    Allow extra time at the airport. In addition to arriving several hours early, factor in traffic delays, security delays and time you might need to fill out any extra paperwork that may be required at check-in.

Tips

  • If your child is very young and has a favorite toy, stuffed animal or blanket, allow him to take it along on the flight.
  • Tell your child about pressure changes during takeoff and descent and how those changes can make one’s ears slightly uncomfortable. Explain to your child that he or she can swallow or yawn several times, or chew gum.
  • Discuss with your child the various sounds he or she might hear before, during and at the end of the flight. Explain that the sounds are routine and will include the noise of the engines throttling up, the whining noise made by the wings and the landing gear engaging. Explain that sometimes there are air pockets or weather conditions that can make the plane ride feel bumpy.
  • Introduce your child to the airport. If your child has never flown, it’s a good idea to take him or her to the local airport to have a look around. Take him or her 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.

Warnings

  • Airlines require that UMs be met at their destination by a guardian or other responsible adult. Be sure to remind that person to bring proper identification. They 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.
  • Ask the airline what their policy is should a flight get cancelled, or have to make an emergency landing that would require an overnight stay. Some airlines have special unaccompanied minor centers in their hubs; some have a policy of having your child escorted to a hotel, where an airline employee will stay in an adjoining room.

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Categories: Travel Safety & Security | Travel Tips