It’s hard to imagine when your children are small, but eventually the day will come when they begin to take on more responsibility. One milestone you may face: sending children flying alone. It can be a scary prospect, sending your child on their first solo flight. But there are steps you can take to ensure that you and your young traveler have the best experience possible!
How Old Does a Child Have to Be to Fly Alone?
If your child is between the ages of 5 and 14 and is flying alone, they are technically considered “unaccompanied minors” by most airlines. So how old does a child have to be to fly alone? Typically:
- Ages 1-4: Your child may fly only when accompanied by an adult.
- Ages 5-7: Your child can take a direct flight to a single destination, but cannot take a connecting flight.
- Ages 8-11: Your child may take connecting flights on some airlines, and will be escorted by airline personnel to their connecting flight. If your child is 12 or older, you may need to request an escort, which may require an additional fee.
Keep in mind that all airlines are different; before booking a flight, be sure to read up on their rules and regulations regarding children traveling alone. There may be additional restrictions for minors flying alone (for example, some airlines forbid unaccompanied minors on overnight flights).
Do Airlines Charge a Fee for Unaccompanied Minors?
Though it varies by airline and the age of your child, fees typically range from $50 to $150 each way, per child.
Inform the Airline About Unaccompanied Minors Flying
Your first step is contacting the airline and making sure they have all the information they need to ensure your child has a comfortable, stress-free flight. You will need to specify that your child will be traveling alone. You will also need to provide the airline with information like:
- The full name, telephone numbers and address of the person dropping your child off.
- The full name, telephone numbers and address of the person picking your child up at their destination.
Preparing Your Child to Fly Alone
Once you’ve booked your flight, be sure to prepare your child for their trip. Go over their itinerary, and make sure they have all their travel documents in one safe place. If they’ve never flown before, take them to the airport a day or two in advance and point out things like the service desk and how to recognize uniformed personnel. For younger children especially, it might be beneficial to go over what they’ll expect as they go through security. They can practice removing their shoes, placing their items in a bin, and walking through metal detectors. Most airlines will allow you to accompany your child through the security checkpoint and wait with them at the gate until their plane takes off, which can help alleviate your anxiety — and theirs!
Packing for Your Child’s Flight
You don’t want your child to have to wrestle with luggage. Make sure they pack light; a single carry-on that can be stowed underneath the seat in front of them and a personal item is ideal. Pack some TSA-approved snacks, and, if needed, you can buy them something to drink after you’ve gone through security.
Give your child items to entertain them during their flight, like a book or tablet. If the latter, make sure they understand the importance of turning electronic devices off during takeoff and landing. If your child doesn’t have a cellphone, you may want to consider purchasing a pay-as-you-go phone for him or her.
As an added measure, make sure your child has some cash or a pre-paid gift card on hand for emergencies or extra snacks.
Preparing Your Traveler for the Unexpected
Delays and cancellations are common with airlines, so make sure they know what to do and whom to contact if an issue occurs. Make sure they also have a picture of the adult picking them up at their destination with their address and phone number printed on the back. The person picking up your child should also have a photo I.D. to confirm their identity with airline personnel.
Successful Solo Travel
While the idea of your child traveling alone can be stressful, it’s also an opportunity to teach them skills that will serve them well in the future. With a little preparation, your child’s first solo flight will be a smooth one!