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How to Prepare Kids for Flying Alone

It can be stressful to prepare kids for flying alone. When a child has the opportunity to fly alone for the first time it can be a very exciting, but it can also be overwhelming and emotional. Preparing children beforehand, as well as adults, on what to expect can make the process run smoother for everyone.

 Prepare Kids for Flying Alone-Kids Are A Trip

Children who fly alone are referred to as Unaccompanied Minors (UMs), and every airline has different requirements and regulations for children traveling without an adult. Most airlines consider children ages 5 to 14 as falling into the category of unaccompanied minors and charge a fee to accompany these children to their final destination. Before you consider sending your child off on a solo airplane adventure, here are some things you need to know.

1. Know airline rules and regulations before you book your ticket

Each airline has their own policy regarding Unaccompanied Minor (UM) travel. There are certain age requirements for solo travel and fees attached to a UM ticket. If there is more than one member of a family traveling on a UM ticket, they usually only charge the fee one time. I have included the link to the UM page for most of the major airlines for easy reference that should answer any specific questions you might have.

American/U.S. Airways (Charges $150 each way for a UM ticket, ages 5-14)

Delta (Charges $150 each way for a UM ticket, ages 5-14)

JetBlue (Charges $100 per person fee each way, ages 5-14)

United (Charges $150 each way for a UM ticket, ages 5-11, ages 12-17 have option to use UM service or travel as an adult)

Frontier (Charges $100 each way for a UM ticket, ages 5-14)

Southwest (Charges $50 each way for a UM ticket, ages 5-11)

Spirit (Charges $100 each way for a UM ticket, ages 5-14)

2. Prepare your kids ahead of time

If you know your child is going to be traveling alone, talk to them about what to expect. Better yet, fly with them and let them sit away from you and see how they manage. Tell them how to find seat numbers, discuss who they can talk to if there are any issues while flying, and explain what happens when a plane lands. Explain turbulence and ear pressure and what to do if they feel sick to their stomach or have ear pain. Tell them how long the flight will last in terms they can understand. Will it be as long as a movie? Four episodes of their favorite show? Play out every scenario you can think of with your kids and make sure they feel comfortable with the idea of solo travel before you commit to buying a ticket.

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Also make it a point to discuss appropriate behavior with your kids. Tell them not to kick the seat in front of them, stay within their own space, not to play the sound in their headphones too loud, and to follow the etiquette for de-planing by taking turns (actually, I would like to repeat these rules for many adults).

3. Pack a Small Bag for Them to Carry On

Make sure your child will have plenty to do on the plane, but don’t burden them with half the toy closet. Send a few snacks (here are some easy snack ideas), and some of these items: a paperback book, a magazine, an electronic device, games, puzzles, coloring books, headphones, cash (in case of emergency), bubble gum, and a phone if you feel they are responsible (and so they can call you when they arrive). You might want to throw in a spare change of clothes if you are worried they might spill and a blanket in case they get cold. Also, be sure to include medication if they need to have that with them. Be aware that most airlines do not accept cash on planes so if you want to send a credit card, check with the airline in advance and make sure your child can use it to charge snacks and food if that is the way you want to go.

It is important to include the contact information for the personal they will be meeting inside their bag, preferably somewhere it won’t fall out. (Tip: Some people purchase a lanyard for their children to carry an ID and the contact info for the person they are meeting on the other end. This could be very helpful.)

4. Making the reservation

Most, if not all, airlines will require you to book a direct flight to avoid any possibility of confusion or lost children. Also, airlines almost always do not allow you to book the last flight of the day in case of cancellations or weather delays. They also have requirements about where the children can sit. Some require them to sit in the front, some in the back, some require window seats, just check with the airline.

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5. Make sure your child knows who is picking them up

The airlines will definitely want to know this ahead of time, and will require you to provide them with the name of the person picking up your child on the other end of the flight. Your child needs to know this information as well. Should that person change during the flight, you will have to call the airline directly and make changes over the phone. Also, the person greeting your child will need to provide a picture ID and show up anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour in advance (the policy differs by airline) in order to fill out the necessary paperwork and go through security.

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6. Arrive early the day of travel to complete paperwork

Each airline has a different policy, but many ask that you arrive two hours before the flight to complete the necessary Unaccompanied Minor paperwork. You will need to bring your driver’s license and a birth certificate for your child. Once the paperwork is completed, you receive a “Gate Pass” to accompany your child to the gate.

7. At the gate

Introduce your child to the gate agent. Usually, they will introduce you to one of the flight attendants when they are ready to board the plane. While you are waiting, make time to take your child to the bathroom (one less thing they have to worry about on the plane). You are required to wait at the gate until you see the plane take off. Not taxi, take off in the air. Yes, it can make a parent very anxious.

8. While they are in the air

While they are enjoying their freedom, you will be at home fretting. Use an app like Flight Tracker or Gate Guru to know where the plane is at all times. Neurotic? Yes, but this is your child we’re talking about.

Also, place a call to the pick up person and let them know when to expect your child. Keeping in touch with them will help you keep your sanity.

9. Landing and arrival

Once your child arrives, make sure you connect with them via phone to relieve yourself of any anxiety. Now that they are safely on their way to a fun vacation, you can relax and enjoy yours.

19 Comments

  1. It is a good thing airlines watch out for the minors. I flew for the first time when I was 9. Two of my cousins flew with me but we didn’t sit next to each other. It was scary. I remember I kept peeking up over the seats to try and see them. I didn’t fly again until I was 21. That also had some scary moments. I haven’t flown since and I am going to be 40 this year!

  2. omg. i just got nauseous thinking about my daughter doing this one day. i love that airlines really help out in these situations though.

  3. My daughter was 12 the first time she flew alone to visit her grandparents. She was all excited and I was so nervous. She felt so grown-up and independent. These are all excellent tips and I can’t think of a thing I’d add.

  4. These are all really great tips! Thanks for sharing them with us at the Merry Monday link party. I hope to see you again next week!

  5. Chrystal, how is that possible? Do you drive everywhere? That must be so scary for you. Maybe a trip to celebrate your 40th birthday and get back on the flying wagon! : )

  6. Jennifer, I have plenty of those posts too. Feel free to check out the packing ones. You might find them helpful.

  7. Yes, the airlines are really helpful with this. I think with more divorced families you really see more minors traveling by themselves. Sad, but I think the airlines try their best to make it easier for everyone.

  8. Thanks Alli. My oldest flew to see the grandparents at age 11. I was a nervous wreck, but he loved every minute of it. Getting ready to do it again (maybe) this summer. I don’t know if I have recovered yet. : )

  9. Ashley, it really has to be the right kid, the right trip, and the right situation. You’ll do it when it’s right for you. No need to rush things!

  10. Thanks Ashley! Always love linking up with you guys and pinning from your party!

  11. My daughter has flown a lot in her life. She is 8 and has flown a million more times then me. I still haven’t let her go alone, she usually goes with grandparents.

  12. Your lucky daughter! I bet she has some great experiences. I wish my kids could travel more with their grandparents. I think they would both enjoy it immensely!

  13. I know the time will come when my boys will fly on their own…. I’m going to be a nervous wreck. But we’ve also flown enough as a family that I know they know the drill.

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution

  14. Jennifer, I love the way you think about it. You are so right. When the time comes, they will be ready because they have traveled with you enough to know the drill. It’s hard the first time, and the second, (and probably even the third), but when they’re gone and you get to enjoy some alone time, that’s when the fun begins!

  15. Thanks for such an informative article. We have plans for my 8 year old to fly to visit his aunts this summer, and I get anxious every time I think about it. I know HE’S ready, but I may need a prescription to get through it!! Maybe working through your helpful list will help.

  16. Heather, hang in there. The airlines really does a nice job of helping and making you feel comfortable. Hopefully it’s not a long flight so you don’t have to worry too long!

  17. Good tips for some brave folks! We are so glad you shared with us at Merry Monday. I hope to see you at the new party beginning tonight at 9pm EST.

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