The holiday season is a busy one for air travel, including children flying alone. November to January sees the highest number of unaccompanied minors as kids travel to visit parents and other relatives. Recently, our 11-year-old son Calvin flew alone on Alaska Airlines when he traveled from a Portland, Oregon soccer tournament to join us for a family vacation in Orange County, California. What could have been a stressful process was made easy by remembering the following tips.
1. Plan on additional forms.
After booking a flight online for an unaccompanied minor, almost all airlines will direct you immediately to a Guardian Contact Form. Fill this out carefully, because your child will not be released to anyone not listed on the form.
2. Plan for additional fees.
We paid a $25 unaccompanied minor fee on Alaska Airlines, but fees can reach as high as $50 each way. Plan accordingly! Also bear in mind that likely, your minor will check luggage (to keep hands free), so luggage fees may apply as well. No doubt about it: children flying alone will cost more. On some airlines, younger children incur higher fees than older children.
3. Plan on arriving early.
This goes for departure and arrival: children flying alone need to be at the airport 90 minutes before departure to ensure the adult escort has time to procure an escort pass. An escort pass allows the parent or other guardian to walk the child all the way to his or her gate. This means going through security like any other passenger. Try to be at the gate 30 minutes before departure and check in at the podium. In most cases, children flying alone can board first.
At the arriving end, the guardian escort will also need to secure an escort pass and allow time to go through security to pick up the child at the gate. Make sure this adult is the same one listed on the escort form: the airline representative at the gate will not release the child to anyone else. Have ID ready.
4. Keep your child’s age in mind.
For most airlines, including Alaska Airlines, which we used when Calvin flew alone, children ages 5-17 can fly as unaccompanied minors. Kids ages 5-7 are restricted to direct flights only. I recommend booking only direct flights for older children as well, when possible. Make sure your child has easy access to in-flight entertainment such as books, magazines, or video games. Check bags even if you usually fly carry-on only as a family: it will be easier for your child to keep track of only a backpack or tote. Tip: stock up on snacks because on most airlines, children cannot buy snacks in flight with cash.
5. Choose your airline carefully.
I am not paid to say so, but I recommend Alaska Airlines for their friendly service, helpful website, and easy booking process. When buying tickets for kids flying solo, picking a family-friendly airline will eliminate stress.
Have you booked a flight for children flying alone? What tips helped ensure it was a smooth process?
Photo credit: E-Guide Travel