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Air Travel

Kids flying solo

Jun 28, 2009

Numerous children ages 5-17 fly within the U.S. without an adult during summer. If your child will be among them, use this update on fees and tips to make the trip smooth.

Each airline has its own rules and stipulations for unaccompanied minors. Know the policies before you book a flight. Children must be at least 5 years old to travel as an unaccompanied minor. Parents or guardians must also pay a fee when booking unaccompanied children, which guarantees an escort, not special attention during the flight.

While carriers such as AirTran, Southwest, Spirit and United require the unaccompanied minor service for ages 5 to 11, Alaska requires it for kids up to age 12. American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Northwest, US Airways, Virgin America and others require it for children to age 14. If your child is younger than 18 but above the airline's required age, some airlines will still allow you to use the unaccompanied minor service.

No plane changes

Children ages 5 to 7 are usually permitted to fly only on nonstop or direct flights. Some airlines have this rule for all unaccompanied minors. Most airlines won't allow unaccompanied minors on the last connecting flight of the day or on flights departing between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Southwest recently instituted an unaccompanied-minor fee, but $25 each way seems reasonable when compared with the $75 to $100 that most other domestic carriers charge.

Other airlines with lower fees are AirTran, which charges $39 for nonstop flights and $59 for connecting flights, and Frontier, which charges $50 for nonstop or connecting flights.

Sample fees on other airlines include $75 on Alaska, Continental ($100, connecting), JetBlue and Virgin America; $99 on United; and $100 on American, Delta, Northwest, Spirit and US Airways.

If your child is flying on an international flight, British Airways offers unaccompanied-minor service for $50 each way, and Lufthansa charges $60 to $120 within Europe and $150 outside of Europe. Domestic carriers that offer the service charge the same fees, except for Northwest, which charges $120 for international flights.

These fees are charged each way, so a round-trip domestic flight could cost an additional $200. The fees are typically charged per reservation, not per child, so if you have several children flying together, you may not have to pay for each.

Contact the airline in advance to let it know your child will be alone and to prepay the fees. If your child will travel on an international flight, check with government officials because passports, shot records and visas may be required.

The handoff

A parent or guardian will receive a pass at check-in so that he or she can escort the child through security and to the gate. The adult must wait at the gate until the flight has taken off. The parent or guardian will need to provide the name and contact information for the adult who will pick up the child at the destination airport, and that person must have a photo I.D.

Before the solo flight, tell your child what to expect before, during and after the flight. Be sure the child knows never to leave the aircraft, or the gate area when connecting, unless accompanied by airline personnel. Keep carry-on luggage to a minimum, but be sure your child has some snacks and favorite entertainment items.

Many airlines accept only debit or credit cards on board, so buy a prepaid debit card for your child to use for snacks on the plane or at the airport if he is making a connection. Be sure the child has your phone number and that of the person picking him up.

With recent incidents of children ending up on the wrong flights, it's a good idea to send a printed itinerary with your child. Tell the child to show it to an attendant after boarding the plane to verify it's the right plane.

Kids flying solo
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