Think it's stressful traveling with your children? There may come a day when you have to send Junior off into the wild blue yonder all by himself. What should you know before sending your minor into the skies? Airfarewatchdog.com has 10 important tips for you.
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Paperwork and identification: Most airlines request proof of age for your child, as well as your own ID. Expect a plethora of forms to be filled at check-in, which ask for the name, address, and phone number of the adult picking up your child upon landing. Some airlines, such as United Airlines, will want this information even before you arrive at the airport, so do call ahead.
Age restrictions: All U.S. airlines agree that all unaccompanied minors must be over 5 years old. The upper limit, though, is different depending on the airline. Some airlines — including AirTran, Spirit, and United Airlines — will allow children to travel alone at 12 years old. Others, such as Delta, American, Northwest, and Frontier, agree that 15 is a more appropriate age.
Children under the age of 5: Even though these children can't travel alone, some airlines allow them to travel with a young sibling. For example, Frontier Airlines will allow a child less than 5 years old to travel as long as he/she is with someone over 15 years old.
Fees: Sending away the children unaccompanied comes with a fee, unless you're flying with Southwest Airlines. JetBlue, AirTran, and Alaska Airlines charge the least, at $25-$30 each way, while United Airlines charges $99 each way. On average, most airlines will charge about $40-$60 each way.
Escorting your child: Airlines expect the adult at the departure airport to accompany the child to the gate and wait until the plane has left. You can pick up an escort pass to ease through security at the time of check-in. The adult at the destination airport will often be granted access to the gate terminals to meet the child as he or she exits the plane. Otherwise, an attendant will escort the child to the designated arrival area. The adult receiving the child should be at the airport 20 minutes prior to the arrival time, and have proper identification.
International flights: Rules, fees, age restrictions, and necessary documentation are different for change for international flights. Double-check the requirements before sending an unaccompanied minor abroad.
Optional assistance: If you think that your 12- or 15-year-old still shouldn't be traveling all alone, then you can request assistance for your unaccompanied minor. This service is usually available for children up to 17 years old.
Connecting versus non-stop: Some airlines, such as Frontier, JetBlue, and Southwest, will not allow your child to travel alone on connecting flights. Most others will allow children to fly on connecting flights if they are 8 years old or more. However, you'll be charged extra for that connection. For example, Continental charges $50 for a direct flight and $95 for a connecting flight.
Red-eye flights: Most airlines don't allow unaccompanied minors on red-eye flights or on the last flight of the day. These restrictions can vary, depending on the destination and flight length.
The more the merrier: It's customary for airlines to charge the unaccompanied minor fee only once, when two or more minors travel together.
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