This morning I discussed children traveling alone with Peggy Fox on WUSA9 News Now. If you are planning to put your child on an airplane for a trip alone, you may have cringed when you heard the news a few days ago. Two young unaccompanied girls, traveling separately, were placed on the wrong Continental Airlines flights.
For many families this is a summer ritual, children flying alone to see grandparents in faraway cities, going to a favorite camp or perhaps spending time with another parent.
How safe is this and how can we plan so that we make it easier on our children? Here are some of the tips Peggy and I talked about.
How old should a child be before you allow them to travel alone?
Millions of children fly alone each year, the majority without incident. Most airlines will not allow a child under 5 to travel alone. Children ages 5-14 who travel without a parent or guardian are known as “unaccompanied minors.”
Whether or not your child is mature enough to travel alone is really dependent on the child and not their age.
What type of guidelines do the airlines have?
Many airlines will not allow children who are under 7 to make connections at all, but in the event a minor is old enough to change planes, airline personnel will probably escort them and a fee of $70 to $100 will be charged. Some airlines will not allow any minor to take a flight with a connection.
We have links to specific airline guidelines inside the MomsLikeMe.com group for Washington FAMILY Magazine.
Is this really a safe way to send your child on a trip?
I know we have heard some really bad press on this over the last week, however I know of many children who have traveled across the country with good experiences. In my own family we sent our youngest off to a camp in the Florida Keys for several years. We were allowed to go through security and walk her onto the plane. At the other end, the camp had personnel there to greet her as she left the plane. She called me immediately and we never had any problems.
You have some tips for Smooth Travel for Unaccompanied Minors
Buy Nonstop Tickets
Try to buy nonstop tickets for your child. This will make the trip much easier for them and for you. Also, try to get morning flights. This will give you more time if you have a problem with canceled or delayed flights.
Tell the Airlines
Talk to the airlines in advance to become familiar with their policies. Make sure they know your child will be traveling unaccompanied.
Verify You Can Go to the Gate
Verify in advance that you can go with your child to board the plane or come close to boarding the plane. You can make sure they are on the right flight. Stay at the gate until the plane takes off. This way you know they did get on their way and the flight is not delayed for some unknown problem that is discovered after they are boarded.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Make sure your child has plenty of emergency information, as well as phone numbers and names of people they can contact in case they are unable to reach you. Give them resources such as a credit card in case the worse happens and they need to spend the night somewhere.
Get Information on the Person Picking UP on the Other End
Make sure you have all the information you will need about the person picking up on the other end. Some airlines require driver’s license numbers for the receiving person when you check your child in at the originating airport. Another good tip is to give your child a picture of the person who is picking them up along with their information written on the back. This will help the airlines agent on the other end as well as the child.
Get There Early
Arrive at the airport early so there is no rush or need to hurry for your child. This will assure that you get the arrangement all set up and that your child will not be stressed when they go on to the plane. They will be apprehensive so you want to make sure they don’t get upset by being rushed.
Here are links to information and guidelines for letting your child travel alone. We would love to hear any other tips parents might have. Send them to me at Brenda@theFAMILYmagazine.com.
Kids Fly Alone from Department of Transportation (download the booklet)
Article online from IndependentTraveler.com
Bus & Train Guidelines