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 post has been updated with the latest information.
“Mom, I think I’ll have an easier time walking into summer camp if I don’t have you there to bail me out.”
And with those wise and insightful words, my 11-year-old signed herself up for a flight as an unaccompanied minor from Houston to Philadelphia for her first stint at a two-week-long summer camp.
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. That could include your child traveling to their other parent’s house, visiting their grandparents or, in our case, heading to summer camp.
My first unaccompanied minor flight was at 5 years old and my eldest daughter’s first unaccompanied minor flight was at the age of 6. While we don’t use the airlines’ unaccompanied minor services often, we do have some experience in this area.
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As a parent, I’ll say it can be scary to have your kid flying miles above the ground without an adult, but it’s also one of those situations where the more you — and your kid — know, the less intimidating it becomes. Here’s what you need to know before using an airline’s unaccompanied minor service.
What is an unaccompanied minor?
Starting when kids turn 5, you can pay a fee to many airlines to have your child registered as an unaccompanied minor so they can fly without an adult. In return for that fee, the airline provides the child some additional supervision, assistance getting on and off the plane, escort to any connections and assistance in the event of irregular operations.
Typically, a parent or guardian will complete the paperwork and obtain the boarding pass at the check-in desk, obtain a gate pass, escort the child through security and then wait at the child’s gate until their plane is in the air. On the other end, at arrival, a designated adult will go through roughly the same process and be waiting at the gate when the plane arrives.
Should my child fly as an unaccompanied minor?
Some parents balk at the notion of a child flying without them because of safety or logistical concerns, and those can certainly be very valid concerns. On the other hand, I know that the risks of regularly riding a school bus without me are probably much higher than the occasional commercial flight.
That said, I wouldn’t rush down the unaccompanied minor path until both 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 unaccompanied minor services to children once they turn 12, even if you’re willing to pay.
While all airlines are different, I’ve never seen an area of family travel that varies as dramatically as the rules for unaccompanied minors.
Even within the United States, some airlines don’t accept unaccompanied minors at all; others require the service until a child is 14; and others don’t offer it at all once a child turns 12. It’s not just the ages that differ; the fees range widely from $50 to $150. And at least one airline provides the service for free … as long as your child has elite status.
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.
- Alaska Airlines calls its program Junior Jetsetters, but has limited meals, 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 ages 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 ages 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 ages 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.
Allegiant does not accept unaccompanied minors under the age of 15. Passengers 15 years or older are considered adults. 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, though this fee also includes siblings on the same flight.
- Travel is not permitted if it includes a connection to or 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 ages 5 to 7 can only travel on nonstop or direct flights. Children over 8 can connect through Charlotte (CLT), Washington, D.C. (DCA), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), New York City (JFK and LGA), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Chicago (ORD), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX).
- Children ages 15 to 17 can travel as an unaccompanied minor, but it is not required.
- Children ages 2 to 14 can travel as an “accompanied minor” with someone 16 years or older.
- Reservations must be made over the phone at 1-800-433-7300.
Delta Air Lines
- Delta charges $150 for each direction of travel, which covers up to four children.
- The Delta unaccompanied minor program is required for all children ages 5 to 14 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 ages 15 to 17.
- Children ages 5 to 7 can only travel on nonstop flights. Children age 8 and older may travel on nonstop and some connecting flights.
- Domestic and international travel is permitted.
- 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, a flight to/from Alaska and Hawaii or 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, access to a Sky Zone lounge for kids and a Delta personnel escort for your child throughout their travel day.
Frontier suspended its unaccompanied minor program in 2018. Children younger than 15 years old must travel on the same itinerary with another passenger who is at least 15 years old.
- The unaccompanied minor fee is $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 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 codeshare flights or those connecting to/from another carrier.
- Whether in advance or at check-in, if there’s a possibility an unaccompanied child’s flight may be delayed or there may be a missed connection, 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.
- There is a $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 over 14 by calling 1-800-JETBLUE.
- A child as young as 2 may fly with a child who is at least 14 without unaccompanied minor status.
- Travel is only permitted on nonstop flights. Travel is not permitted on connecting or direct flights or in Mint seats. Flights may be domestic or international.
- Every country requires special documentation, such as a notarized letter, stating that the unaccompanied minor has permission to fly alone. JetBlue recommends contacting the nearest embassy/consulate for more information.
- At this time, unaccompanied minors are not able to travel on JetBlue flights to and from London.
- There is a maximum of three unaccompanied minors per flight — book far in advance to ensure there’s 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.
- Unaccompanied minors are always allowed to bring a carry-on bag on board with them, even when booked on a Blue Basic fare.
- Reservations can be made online.
- Southwest charges a $50 fee per direction of travel per child.
- Children ages 5 to 11 traveling without an accompanying passenger age 12 or older are considered unaccompanied minors. Children 12 and over can use the airline’s Young Travelers service that has no fee, but does allow for gate passes for adults escorting and picking up the child or children.
- The unaccompanied minor service is 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.
- There is a $100 fee per direction of travel per child.
- 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.
- There is a $150 fee each direction. That $150 fee is good for every two children using the service.
- Children ages 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 optional for those who are 15 to 17.
- 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.
- You can book these flights online by selecting “0” adults and the appropriate child age range.
If you’re 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.
There are some things airlines will let you do that I personally wouldn’t outside of an emergency. For example, JetBlue allows children as young as 2 to fly with a 14 year old outside of the unaccompanied minor program. Kids age out of the unaccompanied minor program at Southwest when they turn 12, which is probably great news for some, but perhaps not for others. I do 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 young, unaccompanied 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.
Featured photo by ugurhan/Getty Images
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