Summer brings warm weather, beach days and some of the busiest travel days of the year. Generally it’s a time for families to vacation together, but it’s also a time when some kids needs to travel without their parent or legal guardian. Planning ahead helps ensure your young flyer’s trip goes as smoothly as possible.
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Many airlines allow children ages five to 11 to travel as an unaccompanied minor (UM or UMNR). As always, policies vary from airline to airline but the programs generally have an associated fee to have an airline employee escort your child to their seat, check in on them throughout the flight and escort them off the plane to the parent or guardian at their final destination. Individual policies can vary on everything from cost of the service to age requirements to which types of flights are permitted, so always check with your carrier before booking your child’s flight.
Here are links to information on the UM programs for several North American passenger airlines:
Many airlines only allow UMs to travel on nonstop flights; some carriers permit UMs to fly only on domestic flights, while others restrict UMs from flying on overnight “red eye” flights. In most cases the rules and restrictions for UMs vary by age range so review the policies and see which one works best for you.
Check out the Department of Transportation’s helpful “When Kids Fly Alone” fact-sheet.
Booking the Flight
Booking a flight for a child traveling alone is different than making a reservation as a family or for an adult. Some airlines require that UM reservations be made over the phone while other carriers also allow them to be made online. However the reservation is made, be sure to specify that your child will be traveling as a UM.
Gather all of the following information prior to making the reservation and have it on hand:
- Child’s full name, date of birth and home address
- Your relationship to the child
- Full names, home addresses and phone numbers for the parent/guardian dropping the child off at the departure airport and the one picking the child up at the destination airport
- Contact information for an alternate person who can pick up the child at their destination airport
And make sure that the parents/guardians dropping off and picking up the UM have a copy of the child’s full itinerary.
Getting Your Child Ready to Fly
It is essential that your child understands the process and that they be prepared to follow any instructions given by flight attendants or other airline representatives.
A flight attendant will check in on a UM periodically throughout the course of the flight but they won’t be able to continuously supervise your child so pack their carry-on with snacks, small toys and other forms of entertainment, like coloring books or games.
Since check in with a UM can take a little longer than a usual flight, arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to the departure time. Most airlines will provide your child with a badge or lanyard that will identify them as a UM and they will grant the parent/guardian a pass that will allow them to accompany your child through the security checkpoint to the departure gate.
Some airlines have special, supervised areas at certain airport terminals where UMs can enjoy TV, toys, games and snacks while waiting to board their flight at the departure airport or to be picked up at their destination airport.
At the Gate
Most airlines with UM programs require you to wait at the departure gate with your child until the flight departs. You will not be permitted to escort your child onto the aircraft, but an airline employee will greet the UM and seat him or her before general boarding begins.
In the Air
Many airlines offer children’s meals and activity packs and have children’s games and programming on their in-flight entertainment systems so be sure to check with your carrier so you and your child know what to expect.
If your child has a connecting flight and is traveling as an unaccompanied minor (UM), he or she will be escorted to the connecting gate.
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Picking Up Your Unaccompanied Minor
The parent/guardian picking up a UM must go to the ticket counter and present a government-issued photo ID that matches the information provided to the airline when the reservation was made. Most airlines will then provide that person with a special pass that will allow them to go through the security checkpoint and pick up the UM at their arrival gate. An airline representative will escort the UM to the designated parent/guardian.
Delays and Cancellations
The parents/guardians dropping off or picking up UMs are encouraged to check the status of the child’s flight but should a delay or cancellation occur, the person who was designated to pick up the UM at their destination airport will be notified via the contact method that was provided when the reservation was booked.
Remember that all of the airlines’ UM policies and procedures are there for the safety and well-being of your child. Check with your carrier for details about their UM program and make sure to properly prepare your little one for the flight to ensure that their trip will truly be an adventure!