1. Research the air carrier. Determine first if the carrier flies to your child’s destination city. If the carrier has direct flights to the destination city, inquire about their unaccompanied minor (UM) policies. Most airlines have similar policies on UMs, but it pays to do your homework:
- Compare UM surcharges. Some airlines charge $100-150 each way for each child.
- Ask the airline representative if they offer any bonuses for UMs. Some airlines allow your child to step into the cockpit and speak with the pilot. Some airlines offer free snack boxes, or “kid’s clubs” at their hub airports. Some airlines have a policy about seating UMs together with all other UMs, either in the front or the back of the plane. Some airlines will allow you to choose your child’s seat.
2. Inquire about connections. Some airlines will not allow a UM to travel on connecting flights. Most airlines that do allow a UM to travel on a connecting flight will charge a fee for airline personnel to assist your child with changing planes.
3. Ask about all required paperwork. You will be able to download and print out consent and liability release forms and have them filled out prior to the flight. If you do not do this beforehand you can also complete these documents at the airport, however, it will save time and effort to complete this prior to arriving at the airport. You will have to provide your child’s name and age, as well as details about any medical considerations, including prescription medicine. You will also list the name of the person whom you are authorizing to pick up your child when the plane lands. (Upon arrival, your child will be escorted into the terminal and released to the person you have authorized.)
4. Be very clear about the airline carrier’s policy on young adult passengers. Most airlines consider a child of 16 or over to be a young adult, and don’t assist the child on the flight unless you specifically request the assistance and pay the fee. If you don’t make such arrangements, the airline expects your child to be responsible for making his or her own plans if a flight is canceled, delayed or redirected.
5. Keep flight arrangements as simple as possible. Even if the airline allows your child to take connecting flights, it isn’t an ideal situation. Try to book a nonstop flight. Make reservations; do not allow your child to fly standby even if the airline permits it.
6. Arrange for your child’s meals. If food will be served during the flight, reserve a meal for your child, especially if your child has dietary restrictions. If there is no meal service, be sure to pack a meal for your child.
7. Request e-tickets. Electronic tickets, stored in the airline’s computer, means your child won’t have to worry about carrying and possibly losing a paper ticket. However, all UM passengers must wear a pouch around their neck (given by the airline) with their ticket and copy of their paperwork is stored in it until they reach their destination. Electronic tickets are a nice insurance though.
8. Don’t forget about medications. Most airlines will not permit their employees to administer medication to children under any circumstances. If your child requires medication that he or she cannot take unassisted and which would normally be necessary during the time of the flight, ask your child’s doctor about alternatives.
9. Prepare your child for everything he or she might expect before, during and after the flight:
- Remind your child that he or she is not to leave the airport alone, or with a stranger. Instruct your child to inform a uniformed airline employee or security guard if he or she needs help or feels threatened. This includes telling the flight attendant if anyone seated nearby is causing him or her distress.
- Explain to your child what to do if he or she will be on a connecting flight. Put the details in writing and include the name of the connecting airport and flight details and tell your child to keep the paper in a safe place. Include information about the return flight as well.
- Explain that an airline employee will escort him or her off the plane to meet the person authorized to pick them up. Emphasize to your child that he or she must never exit the plane alone, including exiting if the plane stops en-route to pick up and discharge passengers. If your child has any doubt about whether to get off the airplane at a particular stop, or any other questions or concerns, tell him or her to ask a flight attendant. Also, let your child know about the flight attendant call button above the seat.
- Tell your child he or she may be given a badge to wear and that it must be worn at all times.
- Instruct your child to pay attention to all announcements on the flight and to promptly comply with any request made by the pilot or flight attendants.
10. Do everything necessary to make your child’s flight comfortable:
- Dress your child in comfortable clothes that aren’t hard to manage in the aircraft’s small lavatories. (Explain how to use a lavatory on an aircraft if your child has never been in one.)
- Label any clothing that your child might remove during the flight, such as a sweater or a coat.
- Tell your child there will be no direct supervision on the flight, and he or she is expected to behave at all times. Explain the airline’s policy about safety procedures and about standing or walking in the aisle.
- Explain how meals and refreshments are served. Tell your child how to request additional juice, soda, or water.
11. Pack a small carry-on bag for your child and include the following items:
- A copy of your child’s complete itinerary, including dates, airline name(s), flight numbers, departure and arrival times, and the reservation number. Include your home, work and cell phone numbers and the phone numbers of the person meeting the flight on this itinerary. Tell your child to keep this information inside the carry-on bag.
- Include some items that will entertain your child, such as books, travel games and crayons. Be sure to pack headphones or an electronic device. Remind your child that the flight attendant or pilot might make an announcement requesting that all electronic devices be turned off for takeoff and landing and that he or she should do as requested.
- Include items in the carry-on bag that your child might need if his or her checked luggage gets lost or delayed. Pack medications, eyeglasses, hearing aids, toothbrush and paste and an extra change of clothes.
12. Pack some snacks, even if a meal is to be served. Include gum, for chewing during take-off and landing to relieve air pressure changes.
13. Give your child a small amount of cash.
14. Allow extra time at the airport. In addition to arriving several hours early, factor in traffic delays, security delays and time you might need to fill out any extra paperwork that may be required at check-in.