Most U.S. airlines have the following age-based unaccompanied minor qualifications (but call your airline to get all the information):
Age 5 and younger: Cannot travel alone.
Age 5 to 7: Can travel alone on nonstop and through flights.
Age 8 to 11: Can usually travel alone on any flight.
Age 12 to 17: For domestic flights, can travel alone on any flight without restrictions. For international flights, can travel alone on any flight but many carriers require unaccompanied minor procedures.
For ages 5 to 11, unaccompanied minor procedures are required on all flights.
Booking a flight
When booking flights for children, always try to book a nonstop flight, or if no nonstop flight exists, then try for a direct or “through” flight, where children won’t have to change planes.
If the flight has meal service, ask about reserving a child’s meal if available, because these have to be arranged in advance.
Ask the airline about “electronic ticketing” where no paper ticket is issued (and therefore, no ticket is lost).
Check all itinerary and ticket information to make sure names, destinations and other information are correct.
Ask the airline about getting a gate pass so that you may accompany your children through security to the departure gate.
Preparing for the flight
If your child hasn’t flown, visit the airport before the trip to have them be familiar with their surroundings. Be sure they know where assistance can be found.
Have your child dress in comfortable clothes. Put their first initial and last name on any article of clothing, like a jacket, that may be taken off during the flight.
Get to the airport at least one to two hours before departure for a domestic flight and two or more hours for an international flight. Don’t plan to just drop your child off at the entrance or ticket counter.
Bring to the airport the address and phone number of the person meeting your child. The airline will request this information.
Have your child use the bathroom in the gate area before boarding.
Stay in the gate area until the flight has taken off.
What to pack
Consider having your child bring a small carry-on bag. It could include books, small toys, games, crayons, and even a surprise or two. Also include a light snack and any essentials your child may need for the next 24 hours, in case of delays. Be sure to pack a copy of the child’s complete itinerary, including the names and cell phone numbers of the person meeting them. Make sure your child knows this is in their carry-on bag.
Things to tell your child
The most important to tell them is NOT to leave the airport unaccompanied or with a stranger.
Tell them if the flight will have a stop or connection.
Let them know there will be pressure changes in take-off and landing, that can bother their ears. Tell them they can yawn or chew gum or swallow a few times to help with this.
If it’s their first flight, explain the different sounds they’ll hear and that there may be some patches of bumpy air that pose no threat to the aircraft.
Advise your child to keep their seat belt fastened at all times.
To see all of their tips and procedures, go to http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/pubs.htm and click on “When Kids Fly Alone” under “Other Publications.”
My mom, “Gwennie,” comes into town about twice a year from Connecticut. While here, she usually packs in a few trips to the local country western outfitters, a visit to a BBQ joint and, of course, enjoys some Mexican food.
For putting up with the craziness her trips usually entail, I’m entitled to some gift … usually of the purse variety, and of a brand I wouldn’t be able to afford for myself.
So there I am last week, searching for my perfect new bag. Alas, I find it but the store is down to two.
Can they hold it for me? Of course – but only until the end of the day … a full week before my mom’s arrival.
Can she charge it over the phone? Of course! So my mom ensures I have my dream bag and charges it over the phone for me. Here’s how that went …
Saleslady: “Ma’am, would you like us to send the bag home with your daughter or would you like it held in customer service until your arrival?”
Me: Super excited to take home my bag.
My mom: “Leave it customer service. She can wait.”
Me (to the saleslady): “Is she serious?”
Saleslady (to my mom): “Ma,am, are you serious?”
My mom: “Yes. I’m absolutely serious. Please box it up and we’ll pick it up Friday.”
After the disbelieving salesgirl shared this with her fellow salesgirls and they all expressed their sympathy for me, I called my mom back and asked “how could you??”
The explanation is this:
My mom wanted us to go pick it up together. She knew how much I wanted it and she wanted to be there to see my excitement to pick it up. She didn’t want it to be “old hat” by the time she arrived a week later. Part of the fun in getting for me was seeing my reaction to having it in my possession.
Three years ago, I wouldn’ t have had an ounce of understanding about this, and thought it was just plain cruel. But being a mom, one of the greatest joys I have is seeing my boy happy. I treasure those moments – the ones of utter surprise, of excitement, of bliss. And I probably will still treasure them when he’s my age. I guess some things never change.
-Erica Smith, Copy Editor