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):
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.
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.
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.