We’ve had our kids take a number of flights as solo travelers and it can be a really wonderful experience for them. Under the right circumstances, it can build confidence, independence, and excitement. Still, flying alone as an unaccompanied minor is definitely a little different than flying as a family, and requires some preparation.
Is My Child Ready to Fly Solo?
While different airlines have different ages at which they will allow children to fly unaccompanied, it’s up to you to decide if your child is actually ready. Here are a few things to look for when deciding if your child can fly alone:
- Able to follow directions
- Can entertain themselves for a good chunk of time
- Is prepared to take care of any personal hygiene on their own (e.g., going to the bathroom)
- Feels confident traveling alone and won’t be super anxious away from you
- Will speak up if there are any issues
- Is independent
- Enjoys flying
How Much Does It Cost to Fly As An Unaccompanied Minor
Another consideration is whether your child will be flying as an Unaccompanied Minor (UM) or truly flying alone. With the former, flight attendants will guide your child through the flight, will be ready to assist with carry ons, and will supervise and walk them to any gate changes. This extra support requires an extra fee to be paid on top of the price of the ticket.
Alternatively, some airlines will allow children as young as 12 to fly alone without paying an extra fee. That is, they simply fly as an adult. Not paying an extra fee also means they are not guaranteed extra support, however, so they should be confident managing the whole process on their own. I would only recommend this for kids who have done a significant amount of flying and are very comfortable with airports. That said, it can be a great and much cheaper option for kids who don’t require extra assistance! Our 12 year old recently did this (with a layover) and did great.
Note that even if a child is not flying as an Unaccompanied Minor (and if you haven’t paid the extra fee), you may still request an escort pass to go through security with them and take them to the gate. The person picking them up on the other end may also request an escort pass to meet them at the arrival gate. This is a great perk without paying extra fees!
Airline Unaccompanied Minor Policies: Age, Cost, Policies
There are a number of airlines that allow children to fly alone, but each differs a bit in terms of the age requirements and route specifications. Be sure to read up in advance to ensure your child is allowed to fly on a specific route, whether there’s an added fee, what the age requirements are, etc. Here’s some info on some of the major US airlines:
|Alaska Airlines||$50 each way nonstop, $75 each way connecting||Required ages 5-12, optional 13-17||5-7 nonstop only, 8+ some connecting|
|Allegiant||No children traveling alone under 15 years of age|
|American Airlines||$150 each way||Required ages 5-14, Optional ages 15-17||5-7 nonstop only, 8-14 some connecting|
|Breeze Airways||No children traveling alone under 13 years of age|
|Delta||$150 each way||Required ages 5-14, optional 15-17||5-7 nonstop only, 8-14 some connecting|
|Frontier||No children traveling alone under 15 years of age|
|Hawaiian||$35/segment, $100 from continental US to Hawaii||Required ages 5-11, unavailable ages 12+ (15+ can accompany 5-11)|
|jetBlue||$150 each way||Required ages 5-14, unavailable ages 15+||Nonstop only|
|Southwest||$50 each way||Required ages 5-11, unavailable ages 12+ (12+ can accompany 5-11)||No connecting flights (only nonstop or stop with no plane change)|
|Spirit||$150 each way||Required ages 5-14, optional 15-17||Nonstop only|
|United||$150 each way||Required ages 5-14, optional 15-17||Nonstop only|
Is there an additional fee for a child flying alone?
See the chart above for the unaccompanied minor fees for various airlines!
Best Flight Time For A Child Flying Solo
I highly recommend scheduling unaccompanied minor flights in the morning when there is much less risk of delays or cancelled flights. Keep this in mind as you schedule! You may also want to think of connection airports and the timing and likelihood of delayed flights there, as well.
When Should I Arrive At/Leave the Airport for a Child Flying Alone?
It’s a good idea to leave extra time before a flight when arriving at the airport with a solo child traveler. I’d recommend arriving to the gate 45 minutes before scheduled departure for a domestic flight to have time to sit down and have a snack, introduce yourselves to the flight attendant, and get ready to board. UMs and young travelers will often either board first or after the priority boarding groups, so it’s nice to get settled beforehand.
Keep in mind that you should plan to wait at the airport until the flight has actually taken off just in case of any issues with the flight.
How Can I Prepare My Child for Flying As An Unaccompanied Minor?
Flying alone is a big step! I loved seeing how excited and proud my kids felt to do it. They felt confident in being familiar with the process and the experience, including spending time with family on the other end. Here are a few ways we prepared them in advance:
- Talked through the itinerary
- Made sure they knew how to use the phone, and made clear when they should call
- When traveling as a family, allow them to look at the screens to find the gates, and guide us there
- Had them talk to the other family members in advance and made sure they felt comfortable spending time with them
- Discussed what to do if there were any issues, either in the airport, on the plane, or with family while visiting
- Made sure they had these essentials with them
Do you have any other questions about kids flying alone? Be sure to check out this post with 10 essentials for solo child travel!