It can be stressful to plan flights and vacations for ourselves or our families, but when it comes time for your child to travel without you or a chaperone present, it can be even more nerve-wracking.
As a parent, you want your child’s trip to go as smoothly as possible. In the weeks before booking the flight, you might ask yourself, “will an airline even let my child fly alone?” or “what will my child do if something goes wrong?”
In this post, we look into the basics of how your child can travel alone, specifically whether airlines allow unaccompanied child travelers, at what age they can fly without a parent or guardian, and what you can do to make sure your child’s trip is as painless as possible.
Which airlines allow children to fly alone?
Quite a few airlines will allow your children to fly without you or another chaperone present—such as WestJet, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines—so long as you follow a few regulations.
These regulations vary between airlines but many include age restrictions.
For example, WestJet allows children over the age of 8 to travel without a chaperone using their unaccompanied minor program (children over 12 fly can alone without being required to participate in the same program).
Other restrictions or requirements could include:
- Where you drop your child off. For instance, Delta Air Lines requires you stay at the departure gate until the plane lifts off.
- How they will be picked up by you or another person. For instance, Delta Air Lines requires the parent to arrive at the airport two hours early when the child is getting picked up.
How Old Do Children Need to Be to Fly Alone?
Some airlines, like WestJet, allow adolescents over a certain age to fly alone provided they take part in an unaccompanied minor service.
However, most airlines won’t allow children under 5 to travel without a parent or guardian.
Keep in mind, even if the airline allows your minor to fly alone, your home country or your child’s destination may have their own child travel regulations, like requiring a Child Travel Consent form to cross an international border.
For example, a teenager under 18 traveling from Mexico to Alaska must have valid consent documents in order to board the plane. Moreover, the teen will need to have the original consent papers, as opposed to a copy.
Every airline will have a policy on solo child travel, and though many of them are similar, there may be key differences, so it’s always a good idea to review your flight provider’s guidelines on children traveling alone (which is typically available on their website) before booking.
Preparing for Your Child’s Solo Trip
Preparing for a solo trip for your child is no easy feat.
There is a long list of things you should consider about your child’s upcoming trip, like who will pick them up at the airport when they arrive, and an even longer list of things you should talk to your child about before they pass through border security, like how to act on a plane or how to respond to strangers in an airport.
A good place to start is to list the various situations your child may experience in digestible chunks by breaking it down into the circumstances they may face in certain places in the airport.
For example, ask yourself what information your child needs to know when clearing security, going through customs and security, while on the plane, etc. By reviewing what situations your child might face depending on where they are you can give your child simple instructions—hopefully without overwhelming them.
When possible, create notes that your child can consult if something occurs, especially for places where they won’t be able to contact you, like aboard the plane.
Enrolling your child into an unaccompanied minor program, if possible, is typically a good idea as well. This service can give you peace of mind in knowing that someone from the airline is responsible for looking after your child while they’re on the flight.
In addition, your child will have someone who they can ask questions if needed, and the airline will verify that the person you have arranged to pick your child up at the airport is the right person by asking for ID.
Your child might also be asked for a Child Travel Consent form proving that the child can travel without your presence.
While the airline your child will be traveling with may not require this document, it is strongly recommended, as along with providing boarding agents and flight attendants with consent for your child, it provides valuable information to the airline like your contact information and your child’s flight schedule.
Moreover, depending on your youngster’s destination, border officers in that city or country may ask for consent papers, and if your child cannot provide consent when it’s requested, they may have to fly home.
Booking Your Child’s Flight
Preparing a trip with your entire family can be nerve-racking, but preparing a trip where your child travels alone is a whole new ball game.
As a solitary adult traveler, you know you can tackle any issues that may occur on your trip as they happen, but for a solitary child traveler, you need to consider solutions to various situations that could occur like missing flights or connections (or worse, losing a passport).
By making a good plan of action to help your child solve any foreseeable problems, signing them up for an unaccompanied minor service, and creating a valid Child Travel Consent Form listing their trip information and your contact information, you can ensure their trip goes as smoothly as possible.
Are you preparing your child for a solo trip?