Traveling with Someone Else's Child — Reader Mistake Story
Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Phong, who brought his nephew along on an overseas trip:
I planned a recent trip to Paris for three families with a total of six adults and five children. After booking the group on one itinerary, my wife informed me that her 10-year-old nephew would be joining us without his parents. I booked a separate ticket for him and asked Delta customer service to attach his reservation to ours, since he is a child. The agent I spoke with said that would not be a problem.
Before flying out of the US with our nephew, we decided to get a notarized minor travel consent form. His parents found a template online and had it notarized with all the necessary information of whom he would be traveling with, which countries and cities we would visit and where we'd be staying. I made sure to bring the original and a copy just in case.
Everyone else was able to check in and get a seat assignment the day before our trip, but the separate child ticket was flagged because no adult traveler was on the reservation, so he had to check in at the airport. When we got to check-in at SFO, I provided our minor travel consent form and we were able to get our nephew a seat assignment. Unfortunately, the seat was by itself, so he had to sit alone during his first international flight, but we let him know someone would be only a few aisles away if needed.
Fast forward to our last day: we arrived three hours early to CDG airport for our flight home, thinking we would go through the same process as in San Francisco. We presented the minor travel consent form and asked to check in our nephew. The Delta representative asked for his parents, so I explained they were not present and that is why we had the form. They said the parents IDs or passports were needed, and I again said they were not present, but that the form showed they authorized him to travel with us.
After 90 minutes of back and forth, we were finally able to get him a boarding pass. By the time we got the ticket, the line at security had backed up, and the plane was boarding by the time we got through. Next time, we will be sure to buy all child tickets with an adult ticket. We will also be sure to get a copy of the parents' passports just in case the agents demand to see them. That was one of the most stressful flights we have taken, so I hope this helps other families with their international travel.
Much like allowing a child to travel alone as an unaccompanied minor, traveling with someone else's child requires extra planning. Phong took the critical step of obtaining a notarized consent form, but further documentation may help. Copies of the child's birth certificate and parents' IDs are useful to establish identity, and one TPG reader advised carrying a letter that grants you medical power of attorney in case you have to authorize treatment. Consider bringing those documents when traveling with your own children if they don't share your last name or if the other parent isn't traveling with you. No matter how much documentation you have, however, build in time for delays at the airport, especially when traveling internationally.
Phong is right that you should aim to put children on a reservation with at least one adult, but if you do have to book separately, that doesn't mean you have to sit separately. A simple solution in this case would have been for Phong's nephew to switch seats with one of the adults so he could sit among people he knows. If you don't have the benefit of traveling in a group, consider paying extra for seat assignments together. If nothing else, you can always ask other passengers for a swap. Seat swapping is sometimes considered a breach of etiquette, but most flyers will hear out a polite and reasonable request — though they're free to say no if they don't like it.
Related: Are Solo Moms and Dads Treated Differently?
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Phong a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!