Unaccompanied Minor: Kids flying solo

PSP members talk about when their children flew without a parent - domestic and international travel advice included.

A PSP member asks:

"I would like feedback as to how do-able it is for a 10 year old to take an international flight solo - and how best to do it. This would be a one-way flight from London to NYC and I would take him to the airport in London and my spouse would meet him at the NYC airport. But should we hire someone to help him through customs and is that pricy these days?My son feels comfortable with the idea but I have no idea how this works."

Know it's safe:

"My daughter did it at age 13, but I know many kids who do it regularly, with family living overseas.
1. You buy a special ticket for an unaccompanied minor. It’s about $100 more, depending on the airline.
2. Child gets a special badge and must wear it at all times.
3. Parents can get a pass to take the kid to the gate. I don’t remember if we had to leave the ID somewhere, or not. I think we didn’t have to do it. Usually only one parent can accompany the child to the gate, but Delta allowed both of us to join her all the way to the gate.
3. In our specific case (with Delta flying to Israel), the parent and the child had to wait until almost everyone else was on the aircraft and only then a flight attendant came out to bring the child in. This might not be the practice for every airline, so you can call and ask what to expect.
4. Flight attendant will take care of her, as she was assigned to this child.
5. On arrival, again, they will wait until everybody is off the plane and then all the unattended minors will be accompanied by the flight attendant outside. I am not sure if they take them through baggage claim. I suggest traveling with a carryon only, as the child will not be able to handle a situation when a suitcase is lost.
This last step, meaning child waits until everyone is off the plane, means that whoever meets them on the other side will have to be very patient.
I hope this helps. It’s very safe and my daughter felt very special."

 

Children are never on their own:

"My twin boys have been flying alone internationally since the age of 9. I had many, many doubts the first time, and was of course a nervous wreck, but they had an absolute blast! Literally the first words out of their mouth after getting off of the plane were "When can we do it again?!"
Factors which made it easier were that our boys were very familiar with long plane trips since our family travels a lot (and we knew what to pack in their carry-ons to keep them entertained); they're well-behaved kids, so got lots of positive attention from the airline personnel; and they had each other for moral support.
The children are not on their own, they are always accompanied by airline personnel. If there are connecting flights, they are
escorted to the kids' lounge where only unaccompanied minors can be.
You are allowed to take them right up to the loading gate; and usually you can get a security pass so that you can meet them right when they get off too.
So our experience has been nothing but positive. I think ultimately you know your kids, and know what they can handle.

 

Pay attention to flight arrival time:

"I just want to add that if your child is flying unaccompanied, pay close attention to when their flights land. An airline staff member has give the person receiving the child a pass to go gateside to meet the child, same way they do on the drop-off side. If the child arrives late in the evening and there is no staff things get tricky. A travel blogger i know wrote about this happening to them on their child’s late afternoon flight home from grandma’s, but I can’t find the blog now. don’t count on their airlines to tell you if a flight you are choosing might have complications for a child flying alone; this would be asking too much from them.
It goes without saying you want your kids to fly direct."

 

It's a common enough procedure for airlines:

"My now 21-year old step son started to fly solo internationally when he was 7 years old. His mom (living in Italy) would accompany him to the airport in Milan and my husband would go and pick him up at the airport here in NYC. At the time (we're talking quite a few years ago so I'm not sure if things have changed), you didn't need to hire anyone. First of all, the parents were granted a special pass and allowed past Security with the child - and secondly, the airline would have dedicated staff take care of the "unaccompanied child" (that's what it's called) from the moment they took him from one parent to the moment they "delivered" him to the other parent at the destination airport. I believe it's a known procedure for all airlines - there might be a few small differences depending on the airports/airlines but that's the gist of the procedure.
Of course, they make you pay for it (!) - I think it's an extra $100 or $200 in addition to the flight ticket but definitely worth it.

 

How old?

"I was 12.5 and my bro was almost 12 when our parents sent us on a transatlantic flt to NYC to spend the summer with grandma. I was excited, but my little brother a bit scared.... I think it was our 2nd time flying, too!"

"My daughter flew for the first time in the unaccompanied minor program when she was 8 yrs old. She had a friend who was also 8 with her. The flight was just to Toronto so just a little more than an hour, but I feel sure that she would have been fine for a longer flight. If your child is ready for it, they likely know!"

"My son has been flying alone to visit his grandfather since he was 8 years old.  The airline staff always dotes on him and even bumped him up to first class once.  He’s super independent so while it was gut-wrenching for me, I knew he could handle it.  My daughter who is 9 now would never agree to travel alone just yet.  So, if your kids are okay with it, give it a try.  They’ll have each other to keep company and the airline staff will be diligent about handing them to your parents upon their arrival.  You will accompany them to the gate and wait until the plane takes off.  They’ll be met by your parents or at least one of them at the gate and will have to provide lots of ID to prove they are who they say they are.It’s a personal decision so do what’s best for you and your family."

"I began traveling alone at age 9. I was never scared, and felt very responsible and mature by the fact that I could be trusted to handle myself well in all that travel entails. I will not hesitate to let Olivia travel alone when the time comes. Without a doubt, I will be a wreck, but it will be a great accomplishment for her and for us parents when she does."