What to do if your unaccompanied minor is stranded overnight

Sep 6, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Earlier this year, three unaccompanied minors spent the night in a Melbourne airport lounge after a Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane to Sydney was diverted due to bad weather.

Nine-year-old John Meredith and two other children were given a late-night snack of McDonald’s and built a fort out of cardboard boxes inside a meeting room of the Virgin Australia lounge to entertain themselves for the night. Meanwhile, John’s family was frantic with worry because the airline didn’t reach out to them until several hours after the flight had been due to arrive in Sydney, where his grandparents were waiting to pick him up.

“When you’re dealing with a minor, you should always call the parent,” Katie Meredith told News.com.au. Katie said that Virgin Australia, despite having full contact information for both her and her parents, didn’t give John’s grandmother any information regarding his whereabouts until 2:30 a.m. Katie herself wasn’t notified about the incident until the following morning.

“He’s a pretty happy-go-lucky kid, but he just had heart surgery last month and I would never have allowed him to sleep on the floor of an airport,” Katie said. “It isn’t so much about where he stayed. It’s about not knowing where your child is 100% of the time.”

Flying alone: Unaccompanied minor policies and fees in the United States

While all’s well that ends well, John’s reverse-Home Alone experience is the stuff of parental nightmares.

Last summer, two young siblings ended up in different hotel rooms after a flight diversion left them similarly stranded in Atlanta. Much like with John’s family, the parents claim that Frontier Airlines didn’t reach out to notify them about their children’s status or whereabouts; their son borrowed a cellphone to reach out to his parents. Meanwhile, a teenager was booted from an easyJet flight in 2017 after his plane was overbooked, while another was similarly bumped involuntarily from an oversold United Express flight.

“Hundreds of thousands” of unaccompanied minors traverse the skies these days, according to a Today report. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of those children end up exactly where they ought to be, when they are supposed to get there. But every now and then, things go awry.

Best practices for when kids travel solo

While living in fear is no way to live, the best course of action is to be over-prepared. TPG Family’s Summer Hull, whose oldest daughter flew solo at age 6, offers a number of tips on minimizing the possibility of mishaps when sending kids solo:

  • First and foremost, make sure your child is mentally and emotionally prepared to travel alone. Every child is different and matures at a different pace; one child may be ready to go solo at age 6, while another won’t be ready even at age 16. Think through worst-case scenarios (but knock on wood): Will your child be excited, calm or traumatized under uncertain circumstances?
  • Book nonstop flights for your unaccompanied minor whenever possible to keep his or her travel experience as simple as possible.
  • Choose flights that depart earlier in the day to account for potential delays, diversions or rebooking that would be more likely to require an overnight stay if they happened later in the evening.
  • Provide a cellphone for travel use for your child to reach you in case of an emergency. Or make sure they at least have an iPad or similar that can FaceTime while on Wi-Fi.
  • Make sure your child has access to money for food and other incidental expenses that may arise.
  • Include a printed list of emergency contacts for your child, and teach them to insist on having an airline employee reach out to you or other designated guardians.
  • If your child is on any medications, make sure he or she knows how and when to take each dose.

Bottom line

If your child is flying as an unaccompanied minor, track the flight and contact the airline in the event of a delay or diversion if they don’t reach out to you first. Call the airline, the airport, use social media and don’t give up until you are given up-to-date information and assured that everything is fine.

Featured photo by Westend61/Getty Images

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.