Sometimes you don’t have time off, but you want the kids to see grandma, or tía, or your great aunt on the other side of the country. Sometimes the other parent is a flight away, and it’s necessary to fly without an adult. That is where airlines have come up with a great service called Unaccompanied Minor. This is when you pay for the airline to ensure that your minor child gets safely on a plane, is safe on the flight, and gets picked up by a responsible adult on the other side. But what do you need to do to get this service? And what is the experience? Check out more below.
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Both my kids flew unaccompanied minor this summer from San Francisco International Airport to Newark International Airport on Alaska Airlines. My daughter wanted to share her experience from her point of view:
Experience – Kids Point of View (As told by my daughter)
There has never been a trip that has made me so nervecited (nervous and excited) as my first unaccompanied minor trip. It was nerve-racking to think that I would be on two whole flights without my parents, and that I would be multiple states away from them. However, it was also exciting to imagine how mature I was flying without them, and everything I could get away with. Here’s how it went.
Although I was already imagining all the fun I would have without my parents, there was still a lot to do before the fun would start, so at six in the morning all packed up it was time to head to the airport. When we got there we headed to the Check In Desk to get our unaccompanied minor passes. At the desk our parents got their gate passes and me and my sibling got our boarding passes. Mom and dad tried to get their TSA Precheck on the gate pass which took an extra couple minutes. Finally me and my brother with our neon lanyards and wristbands and our parents with their gate passes headed to security.
At security the line was long and we were short on time. When we finally got to the front, mom and dad got kicked out of the line because their TSA Precheck didn’t work. Me and my brother, being the mature people we are, took mom’s purse and got through security smoothly. After we got through, we waited patiently for mom and dad. Once they did we were very short on time so we grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the gate.
At the gate we went to the bathroom, ate our breakfast, and said our goodbyes. Me and my sibling, eager to get on the plane, went up to the gate agent to ask if we could board first being unaccompanied minors. The gate agent just turned us down and told us to get our parents. Although before we were able to get our parents we learned that since we were unaccompanied minors we do get to board first. So with one last hug and a quick picture me and my sibling were on the jet bridge.
The flight attendant who brought us across the jet bridge dropped us off with another flight attendant who had the sheet of paper we had gotten at the desk at the entrance. They questioned us on our birthday, name, and the date which was written on the paper. After we answered correctly they brought us to our seats and walked us through the process of flying unaccompanied minor. Soon all of the passengers were on and it was time for liftoff.
On the flight there was no one sitting in the aisle seat so my brother moved there and we both were able to stretch out. We had pre-ordered food so a couple of minutes after the plane took off we were munching on some PB&Js. There was inflight entertainment but I had downloaded some movies so I watched them instead. The flight attendants checked on us a couple of times and gave us some free soda. I got some sleep, since I woke up at 3am and after a pretty peaceful flight and some really cool pictures of clouds, we were in New Jersey.
When we boarded the flight, the flight attendants warned us we were going to deplane after everyone else. Because we had to wait for everyone else to deplane I decided to entertain myself by watching the checked bags get taken off the plane, while simultaneously making sure my suitcase, which we had checked, was there as well. Finally there was no one left but the flight attendants and us unaccompanied minors so it was time to get off.
I took a deep breath as the flight attendants walked us off the plane and to the jet bridge. The flight attendants were really sweet and talked to us as we walked from the plane, across the jet bridge, and into the airport. Finally I saw my grandpa and went to him to give him a great big hug. Although we couldn’t leave just yet. Grandpa needed to give his license so the flight attendants could make sure he is the one supposed to pick us up. Once that was all done it was finally time to get my suitcase and head to my home away from home.
Since we were on two different flights with two different groups of flight attendants there were some differences and some similarities. On both flights we pre-ordered food and were snacking on PB&Js just a couple minutes after takeoff. Also on both flights we got free sodas and the flight attendants checked up on us. I got to sleep both times, and we definitely enjoyed both flights.
Some differences were on the flight where we had no one sitting in the aisle from the beginning, but on the flight home there was someone sitting in the aisle who was eventually brought to sit somewhere else once we were in the air. Also on the flight back a nice flight attendant gave us some extra ice cream that my sibling thought might have been from first class. The flight there was much more peaceful because it was a day flight and I had no trouble napping. But on the flight back it was night and though I was able to get some sleep I didn’t get much and woke up cranky.
If you’re flying unaccompanied minor and you’re nervous or scared to leave your parents, here are some tricks to make it easier. First, you can think of everything fun you’re going to do or if you have nothing planned think of fun things you can do. You can’t be scared or nervous to have fun. Secondly, bring something that can comfort you or remind you of your parents/guardians when you’re missing them. I brought my favorite stuffy and I was never nervous. Lastly, if you really really miss your parents try to call them. I was lucky enough to have a phone but if you don’t, ask whoever you’re staying with. Also, make sure to have entertainment on the flight or it’s going to be long.
Experience and Logistics – Adults Point of View
As a mom, you always worry about your kids. But you have to let them grow and experience independence so when it comes time for them to go out into the world, they are ready. Sending my kids on this solo trip to visit their grandparents was part of my letting them branch out. I wanted to share a few logistics that helped make this possible.
Unaccompanied Minor Policies: Different airlines have different ages where they both allow and require unaccompanied minors. The majority of airlines require a child to be at least five years old. When it stops being required varies. Southwest, a family friendly airline, is the youngest I’ve seen, allowing children as young as 11 to fly without the unaccompanied minor protections. Alaska requires it until 13 and United is one of the oldest, requiring it until you are 15. Note that until you are 18, most airlines will allow you to purchase the unaccompanied minor service, even if it is no longer required.
Booking the flight: Thanks to the modern day internet, it’s actually pretty easy to book unaccompanied flights online. We used Alaska, and were able to book online, using our companion pass. The one thing was that we were NOT able to pay the unaccompanied minor fee online, THAT was paid at check in. Other airlines’ policies may vary. Note that, dependent on policies, the flights from which you can select may be limited. I myself was surprised because I had planned to have the kids fly a red-eye to New Jersey. I hit a snag when I found out Alaska will not allow unaccompanied minors on flights that depart after 9 PM. Some airlines will only allow unaccompanied minors to take direct flights. Make sure you have the right ages selected in your search to ensure you are looking at flights you will actually be able to purchase.
Costs: The unaccompanied minor service is a paid service. With this you get security in knowing that your kids are looked after and in the event of an emergency, they will make sure that your kids are taken care of. It usually also includes some sort of meal or snack box, so you don’t have to worry about them starving on the flight. Note that the cost is per flight, NOT per trip, so if they are flying unaccompanied minor round trips, it’s double the price.
|Airline||Age Required||Costs||Includes Food?|
|American||5 – 14|
(5 – 7 non-stop flights only)
|$150 one-way (covers siblings)||Yes, complimentary Kids’ Kits by Quaker (comes with 2 snacks)|
|Alaska||5 – 12|
(5 – 7 non-stop flights only)
|$50 per child, one-way|
$75 for connecting flights
|Yes, a complimentary Main Cabin meal on flights more than 2 hours in length.|
|Delta||5 – 14|
(5 – 7 non-stop flights only)
|$150 one-way for up to 4 children||No|
|JetBlue||5 – 13|
Non-stop flights only
|$150 per child, one-way||No|
|SouthWest||5 – 11|
Only on non-stops or flights that don’t require a change of planes
|$100 per child, one-way||No|
|United||5 – 14|
Non-Stop flights only
|$150 per 2 children, one-way||Yes, one free snack box|
At the Airport – Note that you will have to go to the service desk to check in your child, you will not be able to do it online. Some airlines require forms be pre-filled out, some will allow you to fill them out at the airport. You will need to be able to provide the adult who is picking them up on the other end, and provide their phone number, as well as an emergency contact, just in case. At this point, you need to also have your ID in order to get a gate pass to bring your child to the gate. Note: Even if you have TSA Precheck, you can NOT add your known traveler number to your gate pass because you aren’t traveling. It’s super annoying. If your kids have Known Traveler Numbers, it can cause some confusion and issue, and manage to trip us and security up on both ends. Once past security, make sure to get to the gate early. Unaccompanied minors are pre-boarded. Note, that doesn’t mean you can leave the airport. You are required to stay until the plane takes off. This is in case the flight gets brought back to the gate. Once the flight takes off, you are free to leave.
Preparing the responsible adult on the other side – Grandpa was the responsible adult on the other side. I let him know ahead of time the flight details and reminded him to get to the airport 30 minutes before the flight landed. They will have to go to the check in counter to get a gate pass. They should go through security and wait at the gate where the flight is arriving. If you have a technology challenged family like I do, make sure to remind them to look at the boards or ask if they are at the right gate. The nice ticket counter agent tried to help my dad by writing down the gate, but wrote down the wrong one, and he panicked a little. Once the flight lands, the kids are the last to deplane. Make sure they are prepared to show ID and claim the children (Though they didn’t stop my kids from running up and giving him a huge hug).
Preparing your children for the experience – My kids have flown no less than 50 times in their lives, so they knew airplane etiquette. But for little ones or those who travel less, make sure to talk through that etiquette with them. Things like not kicking the seat, using headphones with their devices, being independent, please and thank you, etc. Make sure you send plenty of entertainment and plenty of snacks. Make sure devices are fully charged, and send a battery backup in case there isn’t power on the flight. My fear is always delayed flights, time on the tarmac, diverted flights, etc. Make sure your kids know what to do in case of these situations, and that they should stay close to the flight attendant.
Unfortunately, we also had the safety talk with both kids. My daughter is a pre-teen and at the start of puberty, her body is changing. We booked an aisle and window for the kids, but discussed that if the middle was taken, they were to switch to sit together and give the stranger the window or aisle. We also discussed potentially putting my oldest between a stranger and my daughter. We discussed that a stranger may make them feel uncomfortable and they should call the flight attendant if that was ever happening. I must say, Alaska was great, they actually blocked the seats next to the kids on the flight there, and on the flight back, the flight attendant moved the stranger assigned their middle to another seat. I appreciated all the safety precautions they took.
Sending your kids on an 800 lbs item that seems to float in the air without falling all by themselves is terrifying. You think of all the things that can go wrong. But one day your kids are going to leave the house and if you don’t prepare them for independence now, it’s that much harder when they go off on their own. My kids loved having the chance to try flying solo, for being responsible for themselves, and to have unlimited device time and get whatever soda they wanted when the drink cart came by. In New Jersey they got to spend so much quality family time with their tía, cousins and grandparents. They were so nervous, but at the end they felt a week wasn’t enough time. We all missed each other, but I learned how responsible and grown my kids are. I’m so excited for the independent trips that are coming up for each of them.
* Editor: SKS