Can children fly alone

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Deciding when can children fly alone is up to both parents and the airlines

Many times circumstances arise in which minors need to travel without the company of a parent or guardian. Flights can be the quickest way to travel long distances, but there's a conundrum: can children fly alone?

Below, we'll delve into airline-specific practices, fee schedules, and the maturity level necessary to handle a long flight away from parents. Read on to find out how best to send your little one on a safe -- and fun -- trip by themselves.

Airline Specific Practices

First, different airlines have different policies on now they handle unaccompanied minors. Here is a list of a few company websites which will give you specific details on travel for a unaccompanied minor:

This list of links comes direct from The Independent Traveler and offers solid information from the airlines themselves. As well, the Traveler site offers a helpful page for contact information of all the airlines operating today. Any specific questions you may have can be answered from an employee working at your airline provider.

General Guidelines

There will be differences between the companies, including fees for travel, connecting issues, and more. For example, Delta allows kids aged 5-7 to travel on nonstop flights only; ages 8-14 may travel on both nonstop and connecting flights.

Southwest will make the distinction for kids traveling by themselves -- ages 5-11 -- that they will be called Unaccompanied Minors (UM). For Southwest, these UMs will only be allowed to travel on nonstop or direct flights.

Most of the major airlines operating will charge an escort fee, each way; these can run anywhere from $75 to $100 for most of the companies. Normally, though, this will cover an unlimited number of related family. So, if you're sending four of your kids on a flight together, you will only need to pay the fee once.

For more general guidelines to help you in preparation:
  • Kids in the age range of 1-4 must be accompanied by an adult guardian. A child will need to have attained at least the age of 5 by the time of the flight in order to board by themselves.
  • Those in the 5-7 age range will be able to take a direct flight; they will not be allowed to board connecting flights.
  • On most flights, kids 8 and up will be allowed to change aircraft on connecting flights. Those between the ages of 8-11 will have a company escort take them from plane to plane. This will incur a relatively hefty extra charge (ex: American -- $100, AirTran -- $59, Delta -- $100, United -- $99, etc.) and certain airlines like US Airways and JetBlue will not allow connecting flights for kids under 15. For Southwest, it's not allowed for children under the age of 12, as well.
  • For anyone under the age of 17 flying solo on an international flight, a note will be required from a guardian or responsible adult giving permission to travel, final destination, and the length of the stay in foreign country.
  • All minors must be met/picked up at the end of their journey by a responsible adult.

Once again, there will be different practices for the diverse set of airlines. It is important to contact them directly as it may save time, money, and hassle on the other end.

Should Your Child Travel Solo?

For many other considerations, head over to The Independent Traveler to learn more. They discuss "red eye" flights, security, checked baggage, and other pertinent information. Most importantly, though, there are maturity issues.

Just because you can send your child on a flight, should you? Can they handle flying solo? Have they ever been on a plane before? Do they understand who to ask for help during the flight?

Is their maturity level such that they can handle what could amount to a fairly scary situation? In these instances, it comes down to common sense thinking and it's up to the parent to decide whether or not they're ready for solo travel.

In the end, the question of can children fly alone becomes a slightly more complex one. Airlines have set up rules and regulations to follow. But it becomes more about whether or not your child is ready for travel on that scale. If so, with the help of the airline, it can hopefully be a smooth experience for everyone involved.

Resources: Children Traveling Alone.

Independent Traveler: Children Flying Solo. Unaccompanied Minors.

Above photo attributed to hoyasmeg

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