Do you have kids that want to fly on their own, but you are not sure how to book them? We have some details and the fees right here to help make the process easier!
Airlines have different rules when it comes to kids flying solo and each carrier has its own stipulations, as well as rules imposed by customs, and government agencies.
Our number one tip is to check the ‘unaccompanied minor’ fees before you book because they vary by airline and can cost more than the airline ticket itself on some routes. We were told that at any given day during peak summer travel, there can be as many as 20,000 kids flying unaccompanied; which means this is big business for the airlines with lots of dollars at stake they can earn through these fees.
Alaska Airlines currently has the cheapest fees, with charges of $25 for a nonstop or direct flight and $50 for a connecting flight, AirTran charges $50 for nonstop or direct flights, Southwest charges $50, Virgin America charges $75 for short haul (under 2 hours) and $100 for long haul flights and American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit and US Airways charge $100. However, United really takes the cake with a $150 each-way fee. Remember, these fees are on top of the airline ticket cost itself, so you could be faced with a very costly expense at the end of the day.
These fees are one-way, so you could pay up to $300 in unaccompanied minor fees for a roundtrip flight. The fees listed below are for domestic flights and fees for international flights can be higher. If you are sending more than one child as an unaccompanied minor, many airlines will only charge one fee, as long as the children are on the same itinerary.
For example, the average airfare between San Francisco and Los Angeles is $158 roundtrip. If you book a nonstop flight (which we always suggest for minors, if you can), if you booked your flight on United, the fare would be $158, plus $300 in unaccompanied minor fees, bringing your grand total to $458 roundtrip!
However, if you book on Alaska Airlines nonstop between San Francisco and Los Angeles and with the same airfare of $158 roundtrip, you would only have to pay $50 roundtrip in unaccompanied minor fees, bringing you total to $208 roundtrip. Which looks like a heck of a deal, compared to United!
So you should try your very best to avoid booking with any airline that has these extreme unaccompanied minor fees, to reduce your cost in air travel. We think the fee United is charging is just sky-high robbery! But the good news is you have many options to get your child to their destination,without using United.
If your child is older than 12, you could send your child on a nonstop flight on Alaska Airlines and pay only $158 roundtrip, and avoid the fees altogether. As Alaska allows kids 13 and older the option to fly unaccompanied with no fee required. You would pay three times as much to get your child to the same destination, if you chose to fly on United.
If you’ve got a younger child traveling with an older child who is 12 or older, you may be able to avoid the unaccompanied minor fee if you are comfortable with your 12-18 year old being responsible for the younger child. The minimum companion age requirement varies by airline, for example on Southwest and AirTran it is 12, on Frontier it is 15, on American it is 16 and on Alaska, Delta and United it is 18.
If you are flying a 12-14 year old from Dallas to Houston and you are comfortable sending your child without an airline escort, you can avoid the fee on American. You would be dollar foolish to choose Delta because you would be required to use the service and pay $200 roundtrip; and even more so if you chose United which would cost you $300 roundtrip. If you have kids under 12, the rates can vary greatly and on flights from Dallas to Houston, I would choose Southwest and pay $100 roundtrip, versus $300 on United or $200 on American.
On most airlines, kids ages five to seven can only fly on nonstop flights or on direct flights that do not require a change of planes. Some airlines only allow unaccompanied minors on nonstop flights, no matter what the age. When you are shopping for flights, I would choose a nonstop flight or a direct flight over one that makes a stop with a change of planes, even if it costs a little more. That way you don’t have to worry about delays or cancellations that might occur during a layover.
I have heard some horror stories about kids getting on the wrong plane. If there is bad weather, mechanical delays, etc., your child could have to stay overnight, alone in a different city. Most airlines will not allow unaccompanied minors on the last flight of the day if it is not a nonstop flight and many won’t allow children to fly solo from 9 p.m. through 5 a.m. I would suggest choosing morning flights anyway, because you’ll have more options if the flight gets cancelled.
You may be required to purchase your child’s ticket through the airline phone reservations, or through a travel agent, so check before you make any ticket purchases. When you book the ticket, be sure to request a seat assignment. Sometimes if you are nice, the airline may assign a seat in the front of the plane that is usually reserved for elite flyers.
On international flights, some airlines allow kids ages five to seven to fly on flights that require a connection, so check with the airlines. If your child is traveling internationally, you will need to check with government officials because passports, notarized shot records and temporary visas may be required.
When children fly as unaccompanied minors, you will get a pass at the ticket counter that will allow you to pass through security and wait at the gate with your child and the person picking up the child will also get a security pass at the ticket counter at the destination airport so he/she can wait for the child at the gate. We recommend doing this is your child doesn't have to try to navigate getting to baggage claim by themselves.
Many airlines require that you wait at the gate until the flight takes off, but I advise people to wait a little longer in case the plane can’t take off and has to return to the gate. It’s also a good idea to arrive at the airport early to allow plenty of time for paperwork and getting through security. The person dropping off the child will need to have a government issued I.D. and so will the person picking up the child and you’ll need to provide the name address and phone number for the person picking up your child.
Make sure you send your child with a prepaid credit card. If they have a lengthy layover or a delay, they can purchase food or beverages at the airport. During busy times, like summer and winter break, airlines often use interns for jobs like escorts and interns; and they usually don’t have a lot of cash to spare.
Also, pre-paid cards are great if kids want to make purchases on the plane. I can’t think of any airline that isn’t cashless, so they’ll need a card to buy a snack or meal. You’ll also want to keep carry-on luggage to a minimum and make sure your child has snacks and some of their favorite entertainment with them such as toys, books, iPod, DVD player or a handheld game console to help keep the child occupied during the flight.
Most airlines will have the child wear a button or a lanyard around their neck so they can be easily identified by airport personnel and staff. Prior to take off you will be required to provide the following information:
- Child's name, age and flight itinerary.
- The name, telephone number and home address of the person bringing the child to the airport. Give them as many phone numbers as you have, including your cell, home and work, in case there is a weather delay or flight cancellation, the adult will be able to be reached to come back to the airport to pick the child up.
- The name and phone numbers of the person or persons meeting the child at the final destination airport.
- Be sure to give everyone back up numbers, including the child, so they will be able to call home if an emergency arises.
Below is a chart listing the current fees associated with unaccompanied minors. All fees are listed one-way, so remember if your child is flying roundtrip, and will be unaccompanied the entire trip, you will need to double these prices.
|Airline||Kids Flying Solo Age 5-7||Kids Flying Solo Age 8-11||Kids Flying Solo Age 12-14||Kids Flying Solo Age 15-17||Kids Flying Internationally|
|AirTran||$50 (nonstop or direct only)||$50 (nonstop or direct only)||Considered an adult||Considered an adult||Not accepted|
|Air Canada||Not Allowed||$100 *||$100 (optional)*||$100 (optional)*||$100|
|Alaska||$25 (nonstop only)||$25 nonstop $50 connecting||$25-$50 (optional ages 13-14)||$25-$50 (optional)||$100|
|American||$100 + tax (nonstop only)||$100 + tax (no codeshare flights/ nonstop or direct only)||$100 + tax (no codeshare flights) Optional||$100 + tax (optional)||$100 + tax|
|Delta||$100 (nonstop or direct only)||$100 (nonstop or connecting, no codeshares)||$100 (nonstop or connecting, no codeshares)||$100 (optional)||$100|
|Frontier||$50 for Classic, Plus and Economy, or $100 for Basic Fare. Fee Waived for Elite Members||$50 for Classic, Plus and Economy, or $100 for Basic Fare. Fee Waived for Elite Members||$50 for Classic, Plus and Economy, or $100 for Basic Fare. Fee Waived for Elite Members||optional/ with paid fee||$50 for Classic, Plus and Economy, or $100 for Basic Fare. Fee Waived for Elite Members|
|Hawaiian Air||$35 inter island Hawaii and $100 mainland nonstop only||$35 inter island Hawaii and $100 mainland nonstop and connecting||Optional $35 inter island Hawaii and $100 mainland nonstop and connecting||Optional $35 inter island Hawaii and $100 mainland nonstop and connecting||$100|
|JetBlue||$100 (nonstop only)||$100 (nonstop only)||$100 (nonstop only)||Optional $75 (nonstop only)||$100|
|Southwest||$50 (nonstop or direct only)||$50 (nonstop or direct only)||Not Offered||Not Offered||Not Accepted|
|Spirit||$100 (nonstop or direct only)||$100 (nonstop or direct only)||Optional $100||Optional $100||Not Accepted|
|United||$150 (nonstop only)||$150 (nonstop or connecting)||$150 (optional)||$150 (optional)||$150|
|US Airways||$100 (nonstop only)||$100 (nonstop only)||$100 (nonstop only)||$100- Optional can fly with connections||$100 (nonstop only)|
|Virgin America **||
$75 short haul 2 hours or less / $100 long haul (nonstop only)
|$75 short haul 2 hours or less / $100 long haul (nonstop only)||$75 short haul 2 hours or less / $100 long haul (nonstop only)||
$75 short haul / $100 long haul
|British Airways||$50-$150 direct / nonstop only||$50-$150 direct / nonstop only||
|$50 -$150 (optional)||$50-$150|
*Air Canada- If your child age 8 to 17 is traveling as an unaccompanied minor on a flight offering only OnBoard CafÃ© service, the price of a meal or hot snack is included in the service fee charged for the special care of your child.
** Virgin America- Includes free snack pack on short haul and snack pack and free movie on long haul
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