New Guidelines for Unaccompanied Minors during COVID-19

 

Many airlines are no longer shipping pets and are in a continual state of revision regarding services such as unaccompanied minor travel.

While some airlines such as SAS have temporarily suspended the unaccompanied minor travel service altogether due to the unpredictability and disruptive nature of COVID-19, other airlines are taking a less drastic approach and insisting on a more stringent on boarding and off boarding process as well as insisting on direct contact with parents and guardians prior to finalising any booking and eventual flights.

An example of some of the nuanced changes in how unaccompanied information is being shared would be American Airlines who have issued a new warning to parents booking for their children to fly solo : better pack a lunch.

“When booking unaccompanied minor (UMNR) PINRs be sure to advise customers that, due to the current COVID-19 measures in place, food service in the economy cabin of most flights will be very limited. Therefore, we recommend that parents/guardians pack some food in their child’s carryon.

By proactively communicating with customers, this will help ensure they have enough information to prepare their unaccompanied children for upcoming travel.

Additionally, parents will find detailed unaccompanied minor information and more tips on aa.com.”

 

Clearly for parents and guardians making the decision to send your child on an unaccompanied flight has never been more difficult. It goes without saying that it is best to only deal directly with the airlines during this pandemic and not to rely on any third party service or information site during this period.

The links for direct contacts to the airlines can be found on our Airline Reviews page. Please do make use of these and also share your comments and updates so others can benefit from them.

Airlines continue to struggle into Q4 2020

IATA has once again downgraded its full-year 2020 global air travel forecast, reflecting a downturn in European travel demand amid a new surge in Covid-19 cases as well as other new restrictions in portions of the world.

 

Photo for attention only. No copyright infringement intended

The global airlines trade group now projects full-year 2020 traffic to be down 66% compared with 2019. Its previous forecast was of a 63% plunge.

IATA said that the recovery of air passenger service globally came to a halt in mid-August.

In Europe, international demand was down 79.9% year over year in August. But IATA said travel on the Continent is now trending even worse amid a return to lockdowns and quarantines in some markets.

“Absent additional government relief measures and a reopening of borders,” de Juniac said, “hundreds of thousands of airline jobs will disappear.”

Photos used in this blog are for illustration only. No copyright infringement intended.

Time to Fly? – Ready, Steady……. get prepared for the unaccompanied minor flight with these easy steps!

 

As a parent letting your child fly on their own is always a very daunting and challenging time. It requires careful planning and consideration but rest assured that with the necessary steps it can be a smooth and rewarding experience. Many kids will actually say they prefer it due to the added attention and special status they receive when flying!

While there is no prescriptive one size fits all approach to cater for all airlines and each and every jurisdiction there are some common sense approaches that can be adopted.

General points to think about in advance

There is currently no ‘one size fits all’ international regulation for children traveling alone but rather a number of similar but different rules depending on the jurisdiction and airline. unaccompaniedminortravel.com will be looking to centralize as many of these in a user friendly format over the coming weeks to help this and provide this much needed clarity and simplification.

Most importantly as you will note from the airline review section not all airlines allow children to travel without an adult. For those that do, the definition of ‘minor’ varies. Some airlines will allow children as young as 4, but this age differs across carriers. Others accept 12-year-olds without unaccompanied minor paperwork, while still others set the limit at 15. It’s important to check airline policies and procedures before buying your tickets. We try to keep this as up to date as possible on our site and welcome active feedback to keep this current.

Planning the Journey

Most airline will have restrictions, such as not allowing unaccompanied minors to take flights with layovers, or may recommend specific flights (for example, early flights may have better re-routing options in case of delay or cancellation).

Keep the itinerary as straightforward as you can. The best approach involves;

1) Direct flights.

2) Flights with a possible stopover that does not require changing planes.

3) Layover using the same airline for both legs.

The necessary documents most airlines and airports will require.

You’ll need to complete ‘unaccompanied minor’ paperwork to authorize the airline to care for your child. It can also give a friend or relative at arrivals permission to collect your child and take them home. You may need to apply for a gate pass to accompany your child to departures. You will also usually need to pay a fee for the unaccompanied minor service. Please refer to the airline review section of our site to check on the latest fees applicable by airline.

When you receive the final paperwork and ticket, check all details, including your child’s name and passport number, and confirm flight times and airport names. Ask the airline who to call if you have questions. This may seem like obvious advice but it can avoid last minute scrambles or unnecessary inconvenience when checking in at the airport.

The Unaccompanied Child

Airline staff pay special attention to unaccompanied minors and will make their journeys as comfortable as possible. However there may not be constant supervision. You should encourage your traveler to be as self-sufficient as possible.

What You Should Discuss with Your Child(ren):

Safety procedures

Remember that your kids will never be alone while waiting to embark at the airport: they will always be accompanied by official flying personnel to answer all their questions.

As a safety precaution, once on the plane, unaccompanied minors are usually seated on their own. Check your airline’s procedures in advance to ensure you’ve got all the necessary details.

In any case, they should identify whom to speak to on the plane if they have questions or concerns.

Airport procedures

What will happen at check-in and departures?

Who will take them to the airport and who will pick them up?

What to expect at arrivals (an airline staff member will usually take them to meet the person who’s picking them up).

Details relating to any stopovers.

As an adult we so often take many of these points for granted however it is useful to use the above as a simple prompt to ensure that your child feels comfortable And that they understand what is going on and what should normally happen.

The day of the flight – Time to say goodbye 

Travel light and travel comfortable

A young traveler should wear comfortable clothes that are easy to manage (buttons and zips they can do up on their own, etc.). Pack a small carry-on bag with toys, games, coloring or reading books, and some flight snacks (Remember that water bottles may be flagged on the check in scanners). Personal items are great as they will reassure your child.

A phone is a great idea if your child is able to manage this in a responsible way. unaccompaniedminortravel.com is in the process of Beta testing an app that can be downloaded which will (with the help of a mobile phone) allow the child as well as adult and identified family members to store all the required information needed such as passport, identification, visa and many more tips and guides to make the journey as smooth as possible (more to come here!)

A phone even without this travel App however will allow your child to keep you posted on departure, arrival and basic updates and provides further reassurance for both parent and child.

If it’s an overnight flight, pyjamas and a fresh T-shirt are always a good idea in case of food or drink accidents or if the child needs to freshen up. Make sure that consideration is made for a sweater in the event that the cabin is cold. As an adult even this is a common oversight that we all make!

Spending money, toothbrush and medicines if required should also be easily accessible in the child carry on bags.

Prepare the necessary paperwork (Get ready to print!)

Make sure you take all relevant paperwork to ensure your child has everything needed to get through security and departures. That includes the ticket, passport and any visas for the destination, plus all unaccompanied minor paperwork and receipts. The person taking the child to departures should also take their own photo ID. It may be a good idea in advance to confirm with the airline how many copies of each document are required.

Include your full name, address and phone numbers – and those of the person at arrivals – on the Day.

Getting to the Airport

Arrive early to allow time to relax and put your young traveler at ease. Keep them informed about what’s happening at every stage of the journey as being prepared is the key to a hassle free flight.

Make sure the person taking the child to the airport (if it’s not you) understands that it’s not just a matter of dropping the child off at departures. Some airlines will ask that you take her through to the departure gate and wait until the plane takes off.

There may be a designated unaccompanied minor waiting area – ask the airline in advance about their airport procedures. Most airlines in our experience however tend to have a very clear drop off point and there is a clear and defined handover policy. As the adult it is important that you feel comfortable with this.

On the Flight

It’s now really happening! Your child will normally board and disembark with the close supervision of an airline flight attendant. Obviously, flight attendants keep a close eye on unaccompanied minors, but let your child know that Under no circumstances should they leave the plane on their own or with anyone who is not airline staff.

Your child may already have flown with the family and have notions of airline security but it is worth summarizing as much as possible again for them, such as keeping the seatbelt on when seated: it can also help to offer reassurance in terms of how safe flying actually is. Remind them it’s normal to experience airline turbulence and some strange noises. They should know that assistance can be quickly and easily reached by using the button on the remote control.

Check with the airline in advance on any fun and exciting offers they may have for their young travelers. Games, special food and even assistance with the inflight entertainment are all pretty standard depending on the airline.

At Arrivals

Double-check that the person meeting your traveler knows the airline procedures, that they have copies of the unaccompanied minor paperwork, and that they take photo ID with them to the airport. The airline will not sign the traveler over to a person not listed on the unaccompanied minor paperwork.

They should arrive early to ensure they are there in plenty of time to meet the child at the arrivals gate. Make sure they have your number so they can call if the flight is delayed and – importantly – to let you know the child has arrived safely.

As mentioned earlier in the article unaccompaniedminortravel.com will soon be introducing an app that can be easily downloaded by child, family members and Identified person (s) collecting at the airport.

This app will capture all of the above as part of an easy to use “readiness checklist” as well as provide a secure, simple and standardized central point to;

– automatically update on the departure time, flight progress and arrival time Of your child’s flight

– store key information for identification, passports, visa information to avoid unnecessary duplication and facilitate sharing

– provide simple child friendly in app communication features to share messages and pictures all within the security of the app itself

– provide a central repository for everything else you may need to know to support unaccompanied minor travel in multiple jurisdictions and with multiple airlines.

And much more! Keep posted to this site for further information.

Remember to check on country travel requirements before booking unaccompanied minor travel

1085AF39-68AE-43B6-843A-05783889877DIn addition to their own valid passport or ID card, all children travelling:

  •  alone; or
  • with adults who are not their legal guardian; or
  • with only one parent

may need an extra (official) document signed by their parents, second parent or legal guardian(s) authorising them to travel.

As you can imagine as with everything else related to unaccompanied minor travel the rules vary considerably by jurisdiction. It is not just the airline policy to consider when making your booking for your child but also the flight departure, transfer (if applicable) and destination rules at the country level. The airline should be able to advise on what these are as part of the ticket sales process however it is important ideally to understand as much of this upfront before your booking to avoid unnecessary inconvenience.

At unaccompaniedminortravel.com we are working to implement a centralized tool for all of these cross jurisdictional travel rules as part of helping this community to an easier, safer and more enjoyable travel experience. As this site evolves these changes will become more apparent. Your Airline review and general feedback to us on flight and country experiences will help to keep us current (in this rapidly changing COVID environment) and the information up to date.

Please simply remember for now that;

If it requires the child to have an official authorisation from their parent(s) or guardian. Check, before the child travels, the requirements of the country you are travelling both to and from:

Please bear in mind that, even if a country does not require minors to carry an official authorisation to leave or enter its territory, other countries they transit through may ask the child to show one.

When travelling by air it is highly recommended that you check with the airlines before departing as many require official authorisations and have their own specific forms for this purpose.

As each country’s rules may change without notice you are also encouraged to check with the authorities themselves or with the respective embassies and consulates.

Compare Airlines offering Unaccompanied Minor Flights and review actual user experiences of their service

Whether it is the availability of information, the booking process or the general flight experience as an unaccompanied minor please go to the community site http://unaccompaniedminortravel.com for actual airline comparisons.

 

This is the only site that offers actual unaccompanied user travel feedback as well as all of the information you might need on up to 20 popular airlines.

 

This site is new so we are also anxious to hear from you if you yourself have in the past used the Unaccompanied Minor service? Please do take a couple minutes to share your experience of a particular airline! If it went really well and you want others to know or otherwise feel something was lacking in quality or service this is the only site that allows you to compare and share in order to help others with your airline experiences!

 

COVID -19 Impacts to Unaccompanied Minor Travel

Back in 2016 British Airways announced that in a move to cut costs, the airline would end its “Unaccompanied Minor” (UM) service. This caused severe upset to a number of parents who were suddenly faced with having to fly thousands of miles to pick up or deliver their children. BA has always been a popular choice due to its huge footprint and large number of long haul destinations being served. The move was not widely announced instead BA told passengers with children booked as UMs that while existing tickets would be honoured no new booking would be accepted. 

While this move was due to a combination of rising costs as well as apparently a drop in demand for the service it does open up the question of how in May 2020 onwards other airlines will deal with maintaining this UM service in its current form with the impacts of Covid-19.  

A combination of trip cancellations and country specific restrictions on International flights is expected to cost the commercial airline carriers up to $113 billion this year and this cost could keep rising with each day that the disruption continues. Many airlines worldwide face the threat of bankruptcy in the coming months. One thing is certain and that is from airfares to destinations to cabin layouts, things will likely look very different when we start travelling again. Some of the many opinions being put forward seem to suggest a very strong likelihood of higher fares, fewer routes, pre flight health checks and less free food. Added to this will be the as yet to be defined costs of reduced capacity and social distancing measures which will further hit capacity and require higher demands on existing staff and procedures.  

For the Unaccompanied Minor (UM) service it remains to be seen whether airlines will still see this as an integral service with a proven large demand that requires inclusion in any strategic overhaul. Indeed it is precisely by keeping and improving a service like this that airlines may figure that it will give them a competitive advantage as well as a reliable mechanism for retaining customers and growing new business. Alternatively, they may take the view as BA did back in 2016 that given the demand challenges and costs (particularly at this unprecedented moment in time!) it may just be one challenge too far to keep it going as it is without either streamlining or temporarily suspending it. One thing is sure is that the road will be long and bumpy and sharing information on forums like this will help us as a community to keep updated as airlines struggle to regain a level footing. As information becomes available on policies for cancellations, refunds and any suspensions or terminations in this service these will be shared.

The most frustrating part of the Unaccompanied minor process – Booking by phone!

Am I alone in thinking that if there was one place that airlines could make things easier for themselves it would be in the booking process?.  

When I first started booking tickets for my kids I was generally (after some trial and error scrawling across multiple airline websites) confronted with a number to call for both a) Confirming the price of the ticket that my kids would be on as well as the availability and b) Providing manually and verbally all of the details of myself, my ex spouse, addresses, passports, contact numbers and a myriad of other information depending on the airline and jurisdiction of flight. Beyond the fact that this not only took the patience of a saint as well as the organisational skills of an accountant it also has to be done EVERY single time I made a booking. The advantages of an adult booking for themselves or another adult by storing and retrieving information online are simply not available to the parent booking for a child to fly alone.

Needless to say the process was and remains hugely time intensive and subject to multiple misunderstandings and communication challenges. Now I am the first to recognise that the safety of children is paramount here and that the airlines have a duty to ensure full understanding and compliance as well as to maintain an audit trail of conversation. However with that said SURELY it would not be too much to be able to check the full price of a ticket online for an Unaccompanied Minor with all fees and taxes (heavily caveated that it would require verbal confirmation from the airline and may be subject to some change) and to provide a submission and storage mechanism for the transfer of personal details?

Given that there is a charge for the Unaccompanied Minor service and by extension the kids themselves are not just passengers but actually customers then upon sending of this information (requested and prescribed by the airline themselves) then the airline would own the responsibility of the call back to the person making the booking to confirm information submitted?

I am certain this would still provide the necessary checks as well as level of information needed by the airline and also greatly enhance the booking experience. Has anyone else experienced this frustration and are there examples of airlines that do this better than others?  

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A balance between Airline policy and individual care for our Unaccompanied Minors

In todays fast paced and frenetic society there are more children travelling alone then ever before. There is no longer a view that special treatment is always given as it would seem to have been in the past.  

After the attacks of 9/11 and other security scares it is certainly understandable that meeting the pilot and all access trips to the cockpit are a distant memory. At the same time it is worth considering whether perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far in the other direction. As a society are we perhaps guilty of treating children classified as Unaccompanied minors too much as seasoned travellers?

It is obviously not possible for a child travelling unaccompanied to be supervised at all times by the airline.  The fight attendants and duty supervisors have other duties and passengers to whom they must be available also. As a community what is the view here? Are some airlines getting this right more so than others and where is the balance between policy and cost constraints that all airlines experience and the safety and duty of care required for our unaccompanied minor travellers? Please comment with shared thoughts and experiences here?

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Rising demand for Unaccompanied Minor Travel partnered with huge growth in passenger flight numbers results in more rules and complexity!

For a variety of reasons, such as the greater incidence of divorced families or Grandma and Grandpa retiring to a sunny part of the country, children travelling by themselves represent an increasingly important share of the travel demand that airlines experience.  

As far back as 20 + years ago out of the six hundred million passengers on planes, statistics showed in 1997 that an estimated seven million were children travelling alone – U.S. DEPT. OF TRANSP., AIR TRAVEL CONSUMER REPORT

If this rising demand in requests for Unaccompanied minor travel were not enough in itself then imagine the challenge the airlines face with an airline market itself that has exploded in terms of passenger growth and regional footprint and complexity.

The number of scheduled passengers handled by the global airline industry has increased in all but one of the last 15 years. Scheduled passengers refer to the number of passengers who have booked a flight with a commercial airline. Excluded are passengers on charter flights, whereby an entire plane is booked by a private group. Worldwide, commercial airlines’ passengers air traffic revenue is estimated to come to around 567 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.  It is was expected (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) that 2020 would set a new record in terms of the number of scheduled passengers with over 4.72 billion predicted to travel.

Three main reasons are generally cited to explain the ongoing global growth in air travel. First is the increase in low-cost carriers, who have almost doubled their market share over the last 15 years. Second is the growth of the global middle class, especially in China. Both these developments have increased the number of consumers able to afford air travel. Finally, there is also the growth in airport infrastructure spending, led by the Asia Pacific region, which has increased the global carrying capacity.

The rising number of children traveling has created the need for the airlines to develop policies and procedures regarding the special needs of these passengers.

The challenge ahead – Airlines are going to have to rise to the challenge to address this in terms of ensuring safety for unaccompanied minors as well as ensuring that the logistics and information required to support this service are fit for purpose.

Currently there can be little doubt that the lack of harmonisation between airlines in their policies and procedures in terms of rules, price transparency and service provided means that unaccompanied minors will continue to be a growth area but perennially underserved in terms of customer experience.  Country and regional rules make this landscape even more changeable.

Some airlines will no doubt rise to the challenge and others may simply decide that it is a task too hard to deal with and remove themselves from even offering the Unaccompanied Minor Service.  One thing is sure and that is that there is currently and will continue to be huge demand of unaccompanied minors travelling.

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UNACCOMPANIED MINOR TRAVEL EXPLAINED


THIS ARTICLE IS INTENDED AS INTRODUCTION INFORMATION ONLY.

If you are allowing your child to fly alone as an unaccompanied minor, be sure to take every necessary precaution to ensure his or her safety and check with the airlines directly. Millions of children fly alone each year, the majority without incident. But there are important steps and points to ensure you are prepared on before even starting the booking process. That’s why it’s vital that both you and your child are fully prepared for the trip. Read on for important family travel tips on children flying alone.

WHAT IS AN UNACCOMPANIED MINOR?


An ‘unaccompanied minor’, commonly known as ‘UM’ is a child who is travelling alone without a parent, guardian or responsible adult. The term is frequently used in airline policies, however, the specific meaning varies from airline to airline. In many airline policies ‘unaccompanied minor’ refers to an airline passenger aged between 5 and 14 years old. Unfortunately, there is not a single clear definition that is agreed upon by all airlines so it can be confusing to the passenger as some airlines state different ages. Many airlines will not allow unaccompanied minors to make connections at all (involving changing planes) and with each country and different jurisdiction there are also specific rules to adhere to. In short the process is very complex!

CAN AN UNACCOMPANIED MINOR TRAVEL ALONE ON AN AIRPLANE?

It depends on the specific airline rules. Some airlines do not allow minors to travel without an adult; other airlines allow them to travel only if they purchase the airlines Unaccompanied Minor Service (UMS), other airlines allow unrestricted travel between certain ages.

UNACCOMPANIED MINOR SERVICE

Unaccompanied Minor Service is the special service which airlines provide for unaccompanied minors. This service is commonly abbreviated to ‘UMS’. The quality of the service may vary depending on the airline, and the staff delivering the service.

Booking UMS: The person who requests the unaccompanied minor service (typically the parent or guardian) will need to complete and sign a UMS booking form, naming the responsible adult who will deliver the child to the airline staff on departure and also naming the adult who will collect the child at their arrival destination. It is essential that this information is accurate, and the adults have official ID to show the airline staff. The airline staff may refuse to allow the child on the flight or release the child into the care of the adult on arrival at their destination if they do not have acceptable ID.

Departure: Airline staff will collect the UM from the check-in desk, escort the minor through immigrations and customs, take them to the gate, and ensure they board the flight.

Transit Connections: If the flight includes a connection, airline staff will escort the minor throughout the connection period. The airline staff will collect the minor from their flight, stay with them throughout the stop-over, take them to the gate of the connecting flight and ensure that the minor boards the plane. If a minor misses a connection, the escort will assist with ensuring they catch an alternative connection.

Arrival: When the minor reaches their destination airport, the responsible adult named in the UMS booking form will need to show formal identification before the airline staff release the minor into their care. The person who collects the minor must have ID to prove who they are, and this must be the identical to the named person on the original UMS booking form. A different person cannot represent the named person, even if they have the original person’s ID with them as proof of representation

IS UMS COMPULSORY?

It depends on the airline’s rules. Most airlines have specific rules about unaccompanied minors. UMS is compulsory for certain ages, but the compulsory age is different for different airlines. Some airlines will allow unaccompanied minors to travel if they pay an additional fee for UMS. Other airlines will not allow an unaccompanied minor to travel at all. For airlines that provide UMS, the service can be requested even if it is not compulsory.

HOW MUCH DOES UMS COST?

The principal direct cost for UMS services is the cost of the support itself (i.e. what the airline charges): Each airline has a different UMS rate but typically these can cost anywhere from 50 to 300 USD. The rates change frequently so it is very important to check upon booking. The process is complicated and often involves manual intervention either through an agent or using the airline telephone reservations. To date there does not look to be any form of portal where prices can be calculated in full and compared similar to what one might expect for adult travel services like Kayak and Expedia.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN TRAVELLING AS A UM

Some minors may require extra documentation when travelling as an unaccompanied minor. For example, passengers with Russian nationality are sometimes required to have a notarised statement in Russian from both parents confirming that they consent to the child leaving the country unaccompanied. Check with your airline if this is necessary when you book your plane ticket and make your UMS booking.

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