Millions of unaccompanied children between the ages of five and 12 (called "unaccompanied minors," or "UA," by the airlines) travel on the major airlines every year. Most airlines accept these children as passengers but impose restrictions and sometimes extra fees. Before you put your child on an airplane unaccompanied by an adult, learn what the airlines require, what your obligations are as a parent or legal guardian, and what you can do to minimize problems during your child's trip.
Most airlines impose restrictions on unaccompanied minor travel. Here are some of the common restrictions you may come across:
Airlines are careful to make clear that they have no obligations to the child before or after the flight. If no parent or guardian is available to pick up the minor at the end of the flight -- or even in the middle of a trip if a connecting flight is canceled or delayed -- some airlines will turn the child over to the local child welfare authorities or the police.
Also, airline personnel cannot turn over an unaccompanied minor to a waiting parent or guardian without seeing the adult's identification and matching it with the information on the form filled out before departure.
Parents and legal guardians are responsible for bringing the child to the departure gate and having an authorized parent or guardian pick up the child on arrival. (In this situation, a "legal guardian" is simply the adult designated by the child's parent -- not someone appointed by a judge.)
In order to minimize problems and ease your child's travel experience, follow the tips below.
To minimize difficulties for unaccompanied minors, airlines recommend the following for parents or guardians:
For more information on air travel -- including tips on passengers' rights, ticket restrictions, and overbooked flights -- check out Nolo's Air Travel and Airline Passenger Rights FAQ.