Tips to Make Kids Flying Alone Easier on Everyone. Unaccompanied minors rules to know when your child is flying alone.
Summer is upon us and lots of parents who share custody will be shipping their kids off on airplanes alone for the first time.
I understand that you are terrified. I’ve been there! Here are some useful tips to get you through the first time your kids fly alone, plus links to airline’s unaccompanied minors rules and regulations.
1. If Your Child is Flying Alone, Don’t Book Your Child’s Flight On An Online Travel Website.
Use the online travel sites to get an idea of what the flight times and rates are but don’t book her flight there if you’ve got kids flying alone.
Those online sites are super helpful to compare pricing and arrivals, however, DO NOT USE ONLINE BOOKING! The airlines have rules about kids flying alone on connecting flights. If you book online and do not indicate that the ticket is for a minor that will be flying unaccompanied (the only way you would be able to book online without a conflict) your child’s booking may get canceled when you get to the airport. So, check the online sites to get an idea of which flights you’d like but don’t book there.
Which brings me to:
2. Know the flight rules for unaccompanied minors.
Here’s a good article from USA Today outlining unaccompanied minors travel tips. One very important rule: your child cannot be on the last flight of the day for any leg of their flight. There are concerns about the child being able to make their connections in the event that there are flight cancellations. Airlines do not want to supervise a child overnight if their flight is cancelled (and I’m sure you don’t either!). I’ve also included links to the unaccompanied minors rules for children flying alone at the bottom of this post.
3. Airline Booking Agents Are Your Friends
Those people are usually really nice and knowledgeable about the rules for kids flying alone. More than once I’ve had them waive the charge for the phone call. If you treat them with kindness (as you always should!) they might do something nice for you as well. For instance, they might notice that the flight is under booked and put your child in a row by themselves.
Pro tip, open a frequent flyer account. It can be helpful when booking because all of your information has been saved, not to mention you get those sweet mileage points. The charge for the unaccompanied minors service is approximately $150 (depending on the airline). The service means a vetted adult person will have eyes on your child at all times.
4. On the date of departure, head to the Special Services Desk.
On the big day of travel, take your child to the airline’s special services desk to check in. The representative at the desk will have you fill out what basically amounts to a packing slip with your contact info and the information of the person that will pick up your child. The desk agent will also check the travel route for possible problems that may interfere with connections.
5. The Person Picking The Child Up At The Destination, Must Be Listed and Have a Photo ID.
Only the person that is on the form will be able to pick up the child, so maybe a quick text to the picker upper to make sure that you have current, and correct, information for them is in order.
No ID, no picking up child. No exceptions.
6. You Must Accompany Your Child Through Security and to the Gate.
You go through TSA and get to walk your child to the gate. You will need to wait until the plane is in the air before you go. This is not mommy paranoia, the airlines request that you do so. They want you to be at hand if something should go wrong. Any kids flying alone get to board first so the crew can get them settled.
Your child will be seated where they can be supervised in the back of the plane near the crew area. If there are other kids flying alone they will likely be seated together.
If your child has a connection to make, their assigned attendant will walk them to their next flight and will sign them over to the assigned attendant for the next flight. If they have a layover they will be brought to a private room used only for the minors. The room is stocked with games and a TV and your child will wait there with other minor children in this supervised environment until their next flight.
When they reach their final destination the person you’ve put on the form will be able to meet them at the gate. The attendant will ask to see photo ID. Now breathe a sigh of relief that an imposter can’t steal your baby.
7. Be at the Airport 3 Hours Before Your Flight.
Yes, you do need to be at the airport 3 hours before the flight. It takes a while to get the preflight stuff done and if it’s a high travel time, the lines will be longer than normal. If you get there only two hours ahead you are cutting it very close, the ticket agent will shame you, and there is a real possibility your child will miss their flight. So yes, 3 hours.
Some airlines will even let your child’s pet travel in cabin with them. Other airlines will require pets to be crated and travel as cargo. Check with the booking agent when you make the reservation.
8. Pack Snacks.
Yes, your child will get a snack. They will get more than one snack if its a flight with a connection. The snacks are the airline snack boxes (string cheese, nuts, salami, fruit roll up.)
My daughter reported that on one long layover the attendant took a group of the kids to get a burger. That is not necessarily standard procedure, so I make sure that she has a stash of TSA compliant snacks in case of emergency hunger (a must if you have a picky eater) and we eat a big meal before the flight so she’s not famished.
Unaccompanied Minors Rules By Airline
And now to the question you most want to ask…..
Yes, I feel safe sending my child alone on a cross country flight by herself. As safe as one can feel with their child not tethered to their person. I’ve had to learn to do this since I am co-parenting with an ex who lives on the other coast. (Here’s the guest post I wrote on co-parenting with an ex who lives far away.)
Right about the time that flying alone became an issue for us, there was a news story about an airline that lost track of a 10 year old girl. It scared me right back into my shell for a while, no solo travel. The airlines have stepped up their game since this incident, and most have switched to barcoded wristbands. The wristbands are both ID and boarding pass. The band is scanned at several major points during the trip so the airline is aware of your child’s whereabouts at all times.
(I called the dedicated unaccompanied minors phone number and asked if you the parent would be able to track your child in real time. At this point you can’t, but the representative told me that the airline intend to implement that within the year.)
Becoming comfortable putting your child on an airplane alone is a process. The more info you know about the process and safeguards of kids flying alone, hopefully, the more comfortable you will be.
Guest Post by Kyla H, a single mom to a teen.