Hey everyone! It’s Buddy. When I was younger I used to fly on many direct flights alone as a unaccompanied minor. Today I am sharing some of my important tips for kids flying alone.
My mom is going to start us off with some tips for parents of kids who fly alone. Here we go!
First, some thoughts from Mom
When is your child ready to fly alone as an unaccompanied minor?
It depends. Each child is unique and has different needs and comfort levels when traveling. It is up to the parents and guardians to decide when and if they are ready to fly as an unaccompanied minor.
In our case, Buddy began as an unaccompanied minor at nine years old. This was only after years of Buddy flying with us on both medium-haul almost cross continental (think Arizona to the East Coast U.S.) flights and long-haul overseas international flights. After a spring break trip to Paris, where Buddy was an excellent passenger, Dad I decided he was ready to fly alone.
However, we did have one caveat about his trips. This was that he would only fly on nonstop or direct flights, and not on flights with connections. I am sure Buddy would have been fine, but I was worried about him making a connection and waiting at a gate unaccompanied at such a young age. For that reason, Buddy only flew as an unaccompanied minor on direct flights.
Now that he is a teenager, I would have no hesitations about him making a connection.
And it is important to note, that Buddy only traveled as an unaccompanied minor on domestic flights. He did not fly alone for any international travel.
Mom’s Top 5 Tips for Kids Flying Alone
1. Consider the unaccompanied minor fee
Each airline charges a different fee for an unaccompanied minor service. The unaccompanied minor service usually includes pre-boarding, airport escorts for flights with a connection, escorting the child to the adult meeting them, and snacks. Some airlines offer kids-only lounges at major hubs through their unaccompanied minor program, so make sure to research each airline. There are different age restrictions for who qualifies as an unaccompanied minors depending on the airline. So double check the criteria with your child’s age.
When shopping for flights online, it is important to take that additional fee into consideration. The unaccompanied minor fee may raise the cost of an inexpensive flight to a price point higher than what that airline’s competition might be advertising online. When searching for flights, make sure to add in each airline’s unaccompanied minor fee to estimate the actual cost of the ticket.
2. Pack a carry-on full of snacks and things to keep your child entertained
You never know when the kiddo might get hungry and when the flight will be delayed. Make sure that your kid has enough snacks, a comforting item from home, and things to keep them entertained. Pack all these items in a carry-on. A backpack or bag that your kid can easily slide under the seat in front of them is easiest.
For Buddy this meant I packed snacks, a notebook, pens and pencils, crayons, an iPad, a portable power bank, and a charger into his travel backpack. I also tucked in a favorite stuffed animal in case he experienced some big emotions and needed something to calm him down. Luckily, the stuffed animal was not needed.
When Buddy flew alone, I did not send him with money. Since Buddy only flew direct flights, I knew he would not have opportunities to purchase snacks and the like. For that reason, I did not send him with money. Honestly, it was one less thing for him to lose. However, if your kid has a layover and connecting flight, you may want to consider sending them with cash or a prepaid debit card.
Buddy did take an electronic device which he charged the night before. We sent him with an older iPad. In general, Buddy travels with older or less expensive electronic devices so it is not too much of an issue the item is lost or stolen along the way. Luckily, his the old iPad made it home safely each time.
3. Use a travel neck wallet for your kid’s ID when they fly
Do kids flying alone need an ID?
Yes! When your child flies as an unaccompanied minor, they will need to take a copy of their birth certificate or passport for check in. Given that they will also need these items for their return journey, they will have to fly with them in tow.
Before Buddy’s first solo flight, I thought long and hard about how I was going to ensure that he arrived at his grandma’s house with his passport. I was worried about the passport falling out of his backpack when he opened it in flight to access his snacks and books.
The solution? Buddy traveled with his passport in my travel neck wallet. This ensured that he did not drop or lose his passport. I had Buddy tuck the travel neck wallet under his shirt. He then wore the lanyard that the airline gave him around his neck over his shirt. It worked!
4. Be prepared to arrive early and stay late
The exact time frame depends on the airline, but when your children travel alone, you will need to arrive at the airport very early. In most cases, unaccompanied minors cannot check-in online or at airport kiosks and need to check in at the airport ticket counter. And you will need this extra time to check in, check your kid’s bags, and get your gate pass which will allow you to accompany your child to the gate.
But that is not all, parents and guardians must wait at the departure gate until the plane takes off. In case of unexpected flight delays, I recommend clearing the whole morning or afternoon of your child’s flight. It is a very unique experience to watch your kid’s plane take off the first time. For me, it was like experiencing the first day of Buddy riding the school bus all over again!
Arriving early applies to the parent or guardian picking up the child as well. Again, exact times depend on the airlines, but in most cases, you will want to arrive about 2 hours early to when picking up your kid. You will need to check in at the airport ticket counter to get the security pass to meet your kid at the arrival gate.
Unfortunately, TSA Pre-check does not work when picking up or dropping off unaccompanied minors. Be prepared to take off your shoes and stand in a long line.
5. Check your child’s bags
This one was so hard for me because we usually travel carry-on only. But there is no way that Buddy was going to be able to navigate placing his back pack under the seat and his luggage in the overhead bin alone. So we checked his bags.
6. Track the flight
In the case of delays, or if you are just curious, you can track your kid’s flight. I used both the airline’s app and FlightAware. It was fun viewing Buddy’s flight path.
Mom’s Pro Tip!
Whether or not your child or children are traveling as unaccompanied minors, make sure to sign them up for the airline’s frequent flyer or miles programs. This way your kiddos can start accruing miles and perks for future travel!
Mom’s Final Thoughts
Thank you flight attendants!
All the flight attendants who assisted Buddy as an unaccompanied minor were really helpful! Their kindness and excitement for his adventure and put me at ease. They also made Buddy feel welcomed and safe. He had some great flights!
Is flying alone scary?
No. The flight attendants will be there to help you. And sometimes you get to sit with other kids who are flying alone as unaccompanied minors, so you will make friends.
How is flying alone as a kid different than flying with a parent?
When you are a kid flying alone, your parent isn’t there to help you out or check on you. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself and your things while bring on the flight. You have to put your things away before landing and not forget anything on the plane.
You will also find that the flight attendants are friendlier because they are trying to help you out. When you land, they are trying to help you find your parents.
When I flew by myself, I sat at the front of the plane because that is where the flight attendant told me to sit. Sometimes there will be other kids there and you will sit next to them. You can talk to them if you want. One time, I sat next to two other kids flying alone. They were afraid of the turbulence, and I tried to talk to them and tell them that it was okay. Other times, you fly alone by yourself, or you sit next to grownups.
Usually you are the first one to board so they can verify you for you to be on the plane.
You have to wear a special name tag around your neck to signify that you are an independent flyer.
Sometimes the flight attendants give you extra snacks, a pin, or a coloring book when you fly by yourself. It depends on the flight.
My words of advice. Don’t worry, it is going to be okay. Your parents will be there when you land.
Buddy’s Top 3 Tips for Kids Flying Alone
1. Follow the flight attendant’s instructions
The flight attendant will tell you when to get on the plane, where to sit, and when to get off the plane. Listen to the flight attendants and do what they say. Usually, they are really nice.
2. Stay in your seat
Unless you need to use the restroom. And keep your seatbelt on.
3. Take a book or electronic device
Entertain yourself with a book electronic device or an electronic device. Keep your electronic device in airplane mode. It helps if you download the videos you want to watch before you are at the airport.
Have you traveled as an unaccompanied minor? Are you the parent of children traveling alone? What have your experiences been? Do you have any tips to add? What is your most recommended unaccompanied minor service? Let us know below in the comments.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:
- 15 Important Must Have Items for Your Carry-On when Flying with Kids
- Ten Helpful Packing Tips for Teens Traveling Alone from a Teen who Travels (and his Mom)
- How to Survive a 37 Hour Road Trip with a Teen
And check out the Movement Postcard for this week.
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