Although air travel with little kids is no walk in the park—especially when you yourself are terrified of flying—you at least get to keep your little ones in your line of sight for the entire journey. What about travel scenarios when you need to send your kid on a flight alone, as an unaccompanied minor?
My mom and I remember my first solo flight slightly differently. I remember being a pre-teen thrilled with my newfound independence. She remembers being a ball of nerves and worst case scenarios. Whether or not you consider yourself a ball of nerves, here are some tips to prepare you and your child for their first flight all by themselves.
Know what to expect
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Every airline has a tried-and-true unaccompanied minors protocol. Your kid may be flying without you, but they’ll never be totally alone. When you book your child’s flight, research the specific airline’s policies and resources for unaccompanied minors. Major brands like American Airlines, Delta, and United have much of the same details. Some of the basics to keep in mind:
- Your kid needs to be between the ages of 5-14.
- There’s an additional $150 charge to book them as an unaccompanied minor.
- At the airport, your child will receive a wristband to wear in-flight so the attendants know they’re an unaccompanied minor.
- You’ll be issued a gate pass to bring your kid to their departing flight. Kids are not left on their own to pass through security.
- At check-in, you or the accompanying adult must provide a photo ID, proof of address, contact phone number, and the contact details of the adult meeting the unaccompanied minor at their destination.
- You’ll want to give yourself at least 30 extra minutes at the airport on the day your child is traveling, in addition to the suggested check-in and airport processing times.
Whichever airline you choose, on their website you’ll be able to find a specific checklist and tips for what you and your child can expect.
Do multiple run-throughs
This is for you as much as it is for your kid. Talk with your child about what they’ll experience at the airport, like going through security, finding their gate and boarding the plane, so they know what to expect.
Your child will board before normal boarding so the flight attendants can identify them and situate them on the plane. Before and after the flight, older kids might feel like they can find their way through the airport alone, but most airline’s unaccompanied minor service will require them to wait for a representative. Make sure your kid knows to wait for a uniformed representative to walk them on and off the plane.
Make sure to prepare the designated adult meeting your child at their destination. They will need to show their ID and need to sign a release form that says they’ve accepted custody of your child.
Unaccompanied minor checklist
Like we mentioned above, the airline should provide a list of tips and reminders for sending your unaccompanied minor on their flight. Here’s what that checklist should include:
- Write down phone numbers for your child in case they need to call you or another adult.
- Pack plenty of in-flight entertainment and snacks.
- Fully charge any electronic devices, and don’t forget to pack chargers and headphones.
- Use a single, small carry-on (such as a backpack) for games, books, money, and snacks.
- Attach an ID card and contact information to your child’s carry-on bag or jacket.
- Include a special envelope where they can keep important travel documents safe and handy during their trip, including boarding passes, unaccompanied minor forms, their passport, baggage claim tickets and receipts.
- Point out the airline’s uniforms at the airport. Remind your child to ask for help only from a uniformed team member.
Consider if your child is personally ready
The airline is prepared for the logistics of an unaccompanied minor. It’s on you to weigh factors like your child’s age, maturity, and comfort level before booking their solo flight.
Ask your kid open-ended questions and give them the space to honestly express any anxieties they might have. Some questions to consider:
- Do you think your kid would ask for help if they need it? How shy are they around strangers?
- Is your kid too trusting? Do they understand that they should never go anywhere with an adult who isn’t a uniformed attendant?
- Has your kid flown before? Will they generally know what to expect at the airport?
- Is your kid responsible with personal items like their carry-on backpack?
- How does your kid tend to respond to anxiety?
Ultimately, your decision comes down to balancing your kid’s independence with their safety. Have faith in their ability to be without you, but at the same time, make sure they know they can pump the brakes at any moment if they decide they’re not ready.