Flying solo: Airline unaccompanied minor policies and fees in the US
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To The Point
Airlines have dramatically varying policies and fees when it comes to children flying alone under the designation of an unaccompanied minor. Here is a round up of the United States based airlines policies and fees for unaccompanied minors…
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.
There are all sorts of reasons why you may find yourself in a situation where your child needs to fly as an unaccompanied minor while you stay behind on the ground.
Those reasons may include traveling to their other parent’s house, visiting their grandparents, attending summer camp (at least in a normal year) or a host of other very reasonable situations where a parent or guardian flying with them simply isn’t feasible. My first unaccompanied minor flight was at 5 years old and my oldest daughter’s first unaccompanied minor flight was at 6 years old. While we don’t use the airlines’ unaccompanied minor services often, we do have some experience in this area.
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Should my child fly as an unaccompanied minor?
Some balk at the notion that a child would fly without them because of safety or logistical concerns. I understand and share many of those thoughts. On the other hand, my child rides a school bus by herself, and I’d bet money the statistical risks of that ground transportation are greater than when she is in the sky.
That said, I wouldn’t rush down the unaccompanied minor path until you and your child are ready. That may be at 6, 9 or 11 years old. However, if your child is 12 years old before the need arises for a solo flight, you may be shocked to find that some airlines won’t provide any unaccompanied minor services to children once they turn 12, even if you are willing to pay.
Airlines have various rules and policies and they can vary widely, but I’m not sure if I have seen an area of family travel that varies as dramatically as the rules for unaccompanied minors.
Even within the United States, fees range from $50 to $150, some airlines don’t accept unaccompanied minors at all, some require the service until a child reaches 14 years old, while others will not offer it at all once a child reaches 12 years old. Some airlines let you connect on international itineraries to other airlines and some only permit nonstop domestic flights. The rules and fees for unaccompanied minors are truly all over the place, so let’s look at them:
- Alaska Airlines calls its program “Junior Jetters,” but has suspended meals and entertainment tablets, so asks that caregivers pack meals and entertainment.
- Fees are currently $50 per direction per child for nonstop or direct flights and $75 per direction per child for connecting flights.
- Children 5 to 7 are considered unaccompanied minors and may only travel on nonstop or direct flights. Travel may not begin between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- Children 8 to 12 are considered unaccompanied minors and may travel on a flight that requires a connection, but not with a layover of more than two hours or on the last flight of the day unless there is no other option. As with the younger age group, travel may not begin between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- Children 13 to 17 may request the unaccompanied minor service (it is optional) and are subject to the same rules as children 8 to 12.
- Unaccompanied minor service fees are waived for children who have attained MVP, MVP Gold or Gold 75K Mileage Plan status.
- Unaccompanied minors are not accepted if weather or other factors are likely to interrupt the routine operation of their destination or connecting-point flights.
- Children may not travel alone to or from Sun Valley, Idaho (SUN) between Dec. 1, and April 1.
- During normal times, children will receive a complimentary main cabin meal on flights more than two hours in length and an entertainment tablet for use during the flight on most flights — available on most coast-to-coast and Hawaii flights.
Allegiant does not accept unaccompanied minors under the age of 15. Passengers 15 years or older are considered an adult. Passengers younger than 15 years old must be accompanied by an adult who is ticketed on the same reservation.
- The unaccompanied minor service fee is $150 (plus tax) each way. If two or more unaccompanied minors are from the same family and traveling on the same flights, the fee is still just $150 (plus tax) each way.
- Travel is not permitted if it includes a connection to/from another airline (including partners), requires ground transportation/co-terminal connections, is the last flight of the day from the final connection city (unless that is the only option) or involves overnight connecting flights.
- Children 5 to 7 can only travel on nonstop or direct flights. Children 8+ can connect through Charlotte, NC (CLT), Washington Reagan, D.C. (DCA), Dallas Fort Worth, TX (DFW), New York, NY (JFK and LGA), Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Miami, FL (MIA), Chicago, IL (ORD), Philadelphia, PA (PHL) and Phoenix, AZ (PHX).
- Children 15 to 17 can travel as an unaccompanied minor, but it is not required. Children 16+ can book online.
- Children 2 to 14 years old can travel as an “accompanied minor” with someone 16 years or older.
- Reservations must be made over the phone at 1-800-433-7300.
- Currently, food and drink service is limited, so American recommends packing snacks like a sandwich, chips and cookies for your child.
Delta Air Lines
- $150 fee each direction of travel, which covers up to four children.
- The Delta Unaccompanied Minor Program is required for all children 5 to 14 years old when not traveling in the same compartment with an adult who is at least 18 years old or the child’s parent/legal guardian. The program is optional for children 15 to 17 years old.
- Children 5 to 7 can only travel on nonstop flights. Children 8 and older may travel on nonstop and connecting flights.
- Domestic and international travel is permitted. Unaccompanied minors can only connect to Delta, Delta Connection, Air France and KLM.
- Travel is not permitted on the last connecting flight of the day.
- Travel is not permitted on “Red Eye” flights between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless it is an international flight, a domestic short-haul flight of two hours or less, flights to/from Alaska and Hawaii or it is in a market with only one connection per day.
- Reservations must be made over the phone at 1-800-325-8847.
- All children will receive features like a trackable wristband, Sky Zone lounge for kids and a Delta personnel escort for your child throughout their travel day.
Frontier no longer offers an unaccompanied minor service for flights booked on or after Nov. 1, 2018. Children younger than 15 years old must travel on the same itinerary with another passenger who is at least 15 years old.
- An unaccompanied minor fee of $35 per segment within Hawaii and $100 per segment for flights between North America and Hawaii. The fee covers up to two children from one family.
- Children who are 5 to 11 years old, and traveling without a companion 15 years of age or older on the same domestic flight and in the same compartment are considered unaccompanied minors; for international flights, the travel companion must be at least 18 years of age.
- Passengers 12 years old and above may travel alone on domestic flights (State of Hawaii/North America) without the use of the unaccompanied minor program.
- Unaccompanied minors are not permitted on international flights.
- Fees must be paid by a parent or responsible adult upon check-in.
- Unaccompanied minors are not permitted on flights departing between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless the flight operates out of Honolulu and is the only flight of the day. Travel is not permitted on the last connecting flight of the day or on connecting flights where the connection time is longer than two hours.
- Travel is not permitted on flights that require an overnight stay to make a connection, on any code-share flights or those connecting to/from another carrier.
- Whether in advance or at check-in, if there is a possibility that an unaccompanied child’s flight may be delayed or there may be a misconnection, Hawaiian Airlines may change the child’s flight schedule, including the departure date.
- Unaccompanied minors may travel in economy or first class.
- Contact reservations to book an unaccompanied minor’s flight at 1-800-367-5320.
- $150 fee per direction of travel per person.
- Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are considered unaccompanied minors. You can request additional assistance for children 14+ by calling 1-800-JETBLUE.
- A child as young as 2 may fly with a child who is at least 14 without an unaccompanied minor status.
- Travel is only permitted on nonstop flights. Travel is not permitted on connecting flights or direct flights (a flight that makes a stop but does not change aircraft) or in Mint seats. Flights may be domestic or international.
- Every country requires special documentation, such as a notarized letter, stating that the UMNR has permission to fly alone. JetBlue recommends contacting the nearest embassy/consulate for more information.
- Maximum of three unaccompanied minors per flight — book far in advance to ensure there is availability.
- Unaccompanied minors are seated in seats A, B and C in the last row of the aircraft. They may not fly in Mint or Even More Space seats.
- Reservations can be made online.
- $50 fee per direction of travel per child. If travel does not take place, the charge is nonrefundable.
- Children 5 to 11 traveling without an accompanying passenger age 12 or older are considered unaccompanied minors. Children 12 and over cannot use the unaccompanied minor service.
- Only valid for travel on domestic nonstop or direct flights. A direct flight is one that makes one or two stops but does not require a change of planes or flight number. Not valid for international travel.
- You can book these flights online by simply entering the child’s birthday on a reservation with no one 12 years old or older or you can call 1-800-435-9792.
- Southwest reserves the right to not transport unaccompanied minors on flights that may be diverted or canceled due to inclement weather or other operational abnormalities.
- $100 fee per child, per direction of travel.
- Children 5 to 14 years old must travel as unaccompanied minors when not traveling with a person at least 15 years old. Children 15 and older may request and pay for the unaccompanied minor service.
- Unaccompanied minors are accepted only on direct flights that do not require a change of aircraft or flight number.
- Only valid for domestic travel (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
- The unaccompanied minor fee does include an onboard snack and drink.
- Reservations can be made online.
Sun Country Airlines does not offer an unaccompanied minor service. Children 14 years old or under must travel with an adult. For domestic travel, including Puerto Rico, one passenger 15 to 17 years of age may travel with up to one child 5 to 14 years of age on the same reservation.
- $150 fee each direction. That $150 fee is good for every two children using the service.
- Children 5 to 14 are considered unaccompanied minors unless they have a parent or guardian 18 or older on the same flight.
- Unaccompanied minor service is not available for children ages 15 and older. Young adults ages 15 to 17 may travel alone on any United- or United Express-operated flight.
- Only valid for travel on nonstop United or United Express flights.
- The unaccompanied minor fee includes an assigned seat, a complimentary food item when available, and preboarding at the beginning of the boarding process.
- You can book these flights online by selecting “0” adults and the appropriate child age range.
If you are considering booking your own child as an unaccompanied minor, here is an article sharing some tips and logistics to consider when making that decision.
Personally, even if an airline allowed a connecting flight for an unaccompanied minor, I would not put my own child on that sort of itinerary until they were truly ready to handle potential disruptions on their own. In terms of seating, I feel best when my child is seated as close to a flight attendant as possible, preferably at the front of the plane and in an aisle seat for maximum visibility. I would also avoid overnight or late-night flights where visibility and supervision are decreased.
I’m legitimately shocked that JetBlue allows children as young as 2 to fly with a 14-year-old outside of the unaccompanied minor program. I’m also surprised that Southwest will not allow a child in the unaccompanied minor program at all after they reach their 12th birthday. I love that Alaska Airlines provides free unaccompanied minor services to its elite flying children, and I appreciate that many airlines, even the low-cost carriers, provide a snack and drink to their UM flyers.
At the end of the day, it is up to the parents to decide what their child can handle, even if the airlines have rules that permit flights and connections beyond those limits.
Which airline does your family use to fly your children as unaccompanied minors and why?
Featured image by ugurhan / Getty Images
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