Children Flying Solo

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A father watched as his 11-year-old son, Seth, embarked on a flight alone to visit family. Seeing Seth walk down the runway, he went home, assuming his son would arrive safely. Six hours later, he discovered Seth had walked off the plane before departure. He left the airport, stopped at a gas station for directions and trotted 30 miles along an interstate to his hometown. True, albeit rare, story.

If you are allowing your children to fly alone, be sure to take every necessary precaution to ensure their safety. Millions of children fly alone each year, the majority without incident. But Seth’s case should be a warning to parents: Be sure you and your child are prepared for the trip.

Unaccompanied Minors
Children ages 5 to 14 who travel without a parent or guardian are known as “unaccompanied minors.” Most airlines will not permit children under 5 to travel without a parent or guardian. Many airlines will also not allow children who are under 7 to make connections; but in the event a minor is old enough to change planes, they can usually be assisted by airline personnel for a fee of $75 to $100. Some airlines, Southwest for example, will not allow any minor age 5 to 11, to change planes. On US Airways, a child must be at least 15 years old to take a flight with a connection.

If you intend to send an unaccompanied minor by plane (with or without a connection), you will be required to fill out a form detailing the child’s name, age, medical considerations and other relevant information. Upon arrival, children will be escorted from the aircraft by a flight attendant and released to the person named by you prior to departure.

In addition, you will have to agree that the airline is not taking on any special responsibility of guardianship during the flight. Legally, if not in practice, an unaccompanied minor is treated in the same way as an adult passenger.

Age Guidelines
Airline rules vary, but here’s a good idea of what to expect on domestic flights:

Children ages 1 to 4 may fly only when accompanied by an adult. A child must be at least 5 to fly alone.

Kids ages 5 to 7 can take a direct flight to a single destination, but not connecting flights.

Those 8 and up may change aircraft on most airlines. If they’re between 8 and 11, they will be escorted by airline personnel to their connecting flight. A significant extra charge for this service is likely. Older kids, ages 12 and up, may not be routinely escorted, but you can request this assistance.

Anyone under the age of 17 who is flying alone on an international flight must have a signed note from a parent or responsible adult giving permission, destination and length of stay. This is not always enforced.

Minors must be met at their destination by another parent or responsible adult.

Editor’s Note: As these guidelines vary slightly by airline, be sure to contact your carrier for specific information.

What It Will Cost You
Most major airlines will charge you $75 to $100 each way for an escort fee. The exact fees will depend on the airline, the age of the of the child and whether the flight involves connections.

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