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.
*Photo for attention only.