The busy summer season is fast approaching, which means a lot of kids will be flying solo. If you’re thinking of sending yours off to visit an ex-spouse, Grandma or friends, you may be in for sticker shock over current fees for unaccompanied minors, warns Tom Parsons in an article for the Dallas News.
On some airlines, the fees can be higher than the airfare
For example, round-trip nonstop flights from Dallas to Houston in peak July on American, Southwest and United cost around $160, according to Parsons. The unaccompanied-minor fee is $300 round trip on American or United, which is almost double the price of the airfare. The fee on Southwest is $100 round trip, which seems like a bargain in comparison. The fees and rules for unaccompanied minors vary by airline, so you really should take a look at each carrier’s rules before you book. One thing the airlines all have in common is that children younger than 5 cannot fly alone.
Many airlines, including AirTran, American, Southwest, United and US Airways, require that you use their unaccompanied-minor service for kids ages 5 to 11. Alaska requires the service for children 5 to 12, while Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit and Virgin America require it for children 5 to 14.
If you’ve got a 12-year-old flying alone, you could avoid the fee by choosing AirTran, American, Southwest, United or US Airways. If your child is older than the required age but younger than 18, most airlines make the service optional.
Alaska Airlines has the cheapest fees, charging $25 each way for nonstop or direct flights and $50 for a connecting flight. Southwest and AirTran charge $50 each way; Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit charge $100 each way; and American, United and US Airways charge $150 each way. Virgin America has a tiered system, charging $75 each way for domestic flights less than two hours, $100 each way for domestic flights over two hours and $125 each way for flights to and from Mexico.
If your child is traveling with an older sibling, you may be able to avoid using the service if the older child meets the airline’s minimum companion age: that would be 12 on AirTran and Southwest; 15 on Frontier, Spirit and Virgin America; 16 on American and US Airways; and 18 on Alaska Airlines, Delta and United.
As well as fees, many restrictions for unaccompanied minors
Children ages 5 to 7 are not allowed on connecting flights, but some airlines extend that restriction to unaccompanied minors of any age. Many airlines do not offer unaccompanied minor service on codeshare flights (when two or more airlines share the same flight) and also have time-of-day restrictions, especially when for evening connecting flights.
One solution: fly early in the day
Airline experts suggest choosing flights for an unaccompanied child early in the day, especially connecting flights. If the flight is delayed or canceled, you should be able to get your child on another flight that same day. If your child misses a connection and has to stay overnight, most airlines will not put your child up in a hotel room, meaning that he/she will have to sleep in the airport with airline supervision.
It’s also a good idea to arrive at the airport earlier than usual; some airlines require it. You will need to fill out paperwork and give contact information for the person who will pick up the child at the destination airport, and that person must show a government-issued ID before being allowed to leave with your child.
For most domestic flights, you can request a pass that allows you to escort your child to the gate. Likewise, the person picking up your child should be able to get a similar pass to meet your child at the arrival gate. Word to the wise: Do not leave the gate area until you know the plane has taken off―sometimes a plane has to return to the gate.
What to expect before, during and after the flight
When your child checks in, he will receive a lanyard that shows he is an unaccompanied minor. This makes it easy for airline personnel to identify him. In many cases, friendly flight attendants will give your child special attention on the plane, making for some nice memories! He will usually be escorted on and off the flight by a flight attendant, too.
To keep your child entertained during the flight, be sure to send plenty of snacks, books, electronics and small toys in a backpack that can fit under the seat. A prepaid debit card for on-board food purchases is also a great idea because most airlines are cashless, plus your child may need money at a connecting airport.
Make sure your child knows how to contact you in case of an emergency (or hopefully to report that all went well), and make a plan for the “what if’s” (what if Aunt Sarah doesn’t show up, what if the person seated next to your child is acting strangely, etc).
A little comfort goes a long way
At Cabeau, we can’t help it if your child’s flight is cancelled or if there’s turbulence, but we can help make it more comfortable. For comfortable, restful sleep, we recommend our microbead-filled Evolution Micro Jr Travel Pillow™ with raised head supports; no bobbing heads and stiff necks. And to keep your child warm and cozy even on the chilliest of flights, we offer our ladybug, panda or monkey BlanKid Buddy™. It’s a backpack, a travel pillow, a super-soft travel blanket and a plush animal toy all in one! To learn more about our entire line of comfort travel products, please visit our website, www.cabeau.com.
With some smart pre-planning and a really thorough checklist, we’re certain your child will have a great time flying solo. Don’t worry!