Sending a child alone on an airplane can be a scary experience for parents and children. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines in the U.S. will allow children 5 years and older to fly alone. While there are no set regulations by the Department of Transportation concerning air travel by children, you need to consider several factors putting your child on an airplane alone to make the entire process easier for children, parents and airline staff.
Check with the airline for any specific guidelines they have for children flying alone. Some airlines will only allow children ages 5 through 7 to fly alone on nonstop flights. Airlines often have unaccompanied minor procedures for children, but the age may vary. Some airlines consider children 12 and older to be young adult passengers and therefore minor procedures do not need to be followed. Consulting the airline first will help you and the child be prepared for the flight.
Try to book a nonstop flight. Even if the airline allows the child to take a connecting flight, a nonstop flight is easier for children because they won’t have to worry about a layover or changing planes. Book a flight earlier in the day because those flights are less likely to be delayed.
Ask the airline about meal service for the child, if it’s a longer flight. Those meals often have to be reserved in advanced.
Check all information on the ticket as soon as you receive it. Ensure that the child’s name and other personal information are correct, as are the cities, times and dates of travel. Send the complete itinerary to the person who will be meeting your child at his destination.
Request a pass from the airline that allows you to walk your child through security and to the departure gate. You should also request that the person picking up the child at the destination airport be allowed to meet the child at the arrival gate. Each person will need to present government-issued photo identification.
Prepare your child for the flight. Dress her in comfortable clothing. Take a trip to the airport before the day of her flight to familiarize her with the surroundings and show her places she can go if she needs assistance. Explain to her not leave with strangers, and to seek help from a police officer or uniformed airline employee, if necessary. Give her a small carry-on bag with items to keep her busy during the flight such as books, hand-held games and light snacks.
Arrive at the airport one to two hours before the child’s flight on the day of departure. Bring along the name, phone number and address of the person meeting your child at his arrival airport. Many airlines will want this information. Bring the child’s birth certificate for identification and his passport if he’s traveling internationally.
Find a safe place in your child’s bag for her ticket if you are not using ticketless travel. Do not put the ticket in the child’s coat or clothing pockets because it can fall out easily. Instead, tuck it away safely inside her carry-on bag, show her where it is and instruct her not to remove the ticket unless asked to do so by airline staff. Give her some cash, also tucked away safely in her bag, in case of a delay where she’ll need to buy a meal or drink.
Talk to your child about how to behave on the airplane. Explain to him that he has to talk quietly and cannot walk around the plane. If he needs to use the bathroom during the flight, tell him to ask the flight attendant to show him where it is, and have him use the bathroom right before boarding the plane. Tell your child to be aware of the behavior of other passengers. Let him know that if another passenger is making him feel uncomfortable, he should tell the flight attendant.
Talk to the airline once you are at the airport departure gate. Request to have your child seated with an empty seat between her and the next passenger if possible. Ask that the flight attendant move your child to another seat if she is seated near passengers who are drinking alcohol.
Items you will need
- Government-issued identification for parent
- Small carry-on bag
- Activities for the flight
- Child’s birth certificate
- Children under 5 years old are not allowed to fly alone. They must be accompanied by a person 12 years of age or older.
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