The incidents involving two girls traveling as unaccompanied minors who ended up on the wrong planes may have parents worried about safe trips for kids traveling alone.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has an online guide called "When Kids Fly Alone". Here is some advice from that booklet, along with other tips to make sure your child arrives without mishap.
- Check airline policies on age. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines generally do not allow kids under 5 to fly alone. Most airlines also require children to be 8 before they can be booked on an itinerary with a connecting flight. Airline policies vary on when kids age out of unaccompanied-minor status. On some airlines, it's age 12; on others, it's age 15. Airline fees for unaccompanied minors can run $100 each way.
- Book nonstop when possible so you don't have to worry about changing planes and missed connections. If you can't book a nonstop, the DOT says the next-best options are direct flights that may stop but will not require changing planes, or, if necessary, connecting flights on the same airline.
- Book flights that depart early in the day. They are less likely to be cancelled or delayed than later flights, the DOT points out. Also, if your child must take a connecting flight, the earlier in the day the first flight lands, the more opportunities there will be to rebook if the connection is missed. Airlines do not like to take unaccompanied minors on an itinerary that includes the last flight of the day, because if the child misses that connection, there will be no one to take custody of the child for the night.
- Do what you can to get your child on the right flight. The DOT says many airlines will offer gate passes for unticketed parents; ask for one and escort your child through security to the gate. Ask that your child be allowed to preboard. Give your child a card or badge that clearly shows flight number and destination, and make sure he or she can state the name of the destination. Most airlines announce the destination before takeoff. Tell your child to listen for the announcement and ask for help if he or she is worried about being on the wrong plane.
- Try to arrange cell phone communication options. Give the child a cell phone preprogrammed with your number and the number of the person doing pick-up. You'll have to provide the airline with the name of the adult meeting the child, and that person should try to be reachable by cell throughout the day in case you, the child or the airline needs to get in touch.