Q: Hi Playground! My two kids (12 and 14) are going to fly up to New Jersey this summer from our home in Florida to see their grandmother. What is the age cutoff and travel rules for unaccompanied minors? And are there fees, too? ~ Thanks! Chloe F
A: Hi Chloe, This is a great question, but I’m sorry to say the answer is a little more complicated than I’d like.
The TSA has a page called When Kids Fly Alone with general tips, but it’s actually up to the individual airlines to determine age cutoffs, services, and fees in this category.
For example, on United, unaccompanied minor (UM) service is required for children ages 5-14. It includes seating near the front of the aircraft, a complimentary food item on flights that offer food for purchase, pre-boarding at the beginning of the boarding process and also alerts flight attendants and staff that there are children flying without adults (which is important in case of an emergency). United charges $150 per child (in addition to airfare, which is the case with all airlines) each way for this service.
Southwest Airlines, by comparison, offers UM services for children ages 5 to 11 for $50 each way (and only on domestic flights). The cost includes pre-boarding (which on Southwest means a better seat selection). This is also the only airline that will allow a child 12 and up to accompany another child 11 and under.
Jet Blue offers UM services for children ages of 5 to 13 for $100 per child each way and allows a child who has reached their 14th birthday to accompanying children between the ages of 2 (!!) and 13 without a UM designation (although, come on now, a 2 year old in the care of a 14 year old does not a relaxing flight make). Note that Jet Blue limits the number of unaccompanied minors booked on each flight to a total of three.
American Airlines requires UM service for ages 5 to 14 for $150 each way, but if two children from the same family are flying together, the cost covers both children.
Delta also requires UM service for kids ages 5 to 14, with a charge of $150 for a group of up to 4 children traveling together. One highlight of Delta’s service is the implementation of new barcoded wristbands that are scanned and keep track of where children are in their journey (a service hopefully other airlines will add soon as well).
- Anytime you have a child flying on their own, you should stop at your airline’s ticket counter when you arrive at the airport and request a pass to accompany your child through security and to the gate (the airline will also supply your child with a UM lanyard at this point)
- You should be with your child the whole time they’re in the airport until they are seated on the plane.
- Also check in at the boarding gate to make sure your child is seated during the pre-boarding period.
- Get to the airport and your gate early
- Most airlines won’t let you book the last flight of the day for UM, but even if they do, don’t chose it (if there are delays, the last flight of the day has the best chance of being cancelled)
- Many airlines only allow direct and domestic flights for UM under a certain age
Have a family travel question?
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