Children Flying Alone

On a recent inter-state flight, Emily Bouchard, founder of Blended-Families.com, had the pleasure of sitting next to a delightful 12-year-old girl who was traveling alone to spend a long weekend with her father. After she animatedly told Emily all the fun things she was going to do with her father, she explained that she had been making this plane trip every month since her parents divorced.

It turns out this pint-sized solo flyer is like millions of other children whom the airlines label, Unaccompanied Minors (UMs). These are children who fly without an adult, both within the United states and overseas, usually to visit non-custodial parents or to spend vacation time with grandparents or other family members.

With the Holiday season fast approaching, many children of blended families will be traveling alone to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas/Winter vacation with parents or family. Here are some tips for parents and their children flying alone.

1. There are no Department of Transportation rules regarding kids flying alone, and each carrier has its own rules, regulations and fees charged to supervise UMs. Each carrier has different procedures so its best to check when you book the ticket.

2. No child under 5 years of age can fly alone. Between five and twelve years, most airlines will accept UMs only if parents or guardians accept the UM procedures, complete the required paperwork and pay the fee, which varies among carriers but is generally between $40 and $100 each way. Some airlines allow only non-stop flights, or through flights where the plane has a stop but no change of plane is required.

Children 12 years and older do not require UM procedures but carriers will implement procedures at the request of parents and payment of the fee. However, if the parent refuses UM services, the airline expects that the child will be responsible for making his own alternative plans if the flight is delayed, diverted, or canceled.

International flights have specific guidelines and programs for UMs. Even though children between 12 and 17 are considered young adults, many airlines require UM coverage for destinations outside the U.S. Also, UMs leaving another country are often required to have a letter of consent, sometimes notarized, by the parent or guardian.

3. The rule of thumb is the simpler the itinerary the less possibility for problems. So, book non-stop, early morning flights, and be prepared for delays due to weather, technical difficulties or cancellations. steer clear of connecting flights with different airlines even though they may offer the cheapest fare. also, make sure your child and the pick up person have complete information: all flight numbers, dates, times, and airports of origin and arrival, proof of age of the child, and an airline emergency number to call in case of delays or changes. Always find out if you need a gate pass and photo ID to accompany your child to the gate and for the pick up person at the other end.

4. On the day of travel, allow enough time to get to the airport to avoid the stress of rushing and cutting things close. Remain at the gate area until the flight is in the air.sometimes flights are delayed, canceled or have to return to the gate.

5. Finally:

* Make sure your child has books, puzzles and games to pass the time in flight because attendants, although helpful, can not function as babysitters.

* Check with your carrier about electronic gadgets and music players.

* Pack a light snack and be aware of liquid limits.

* Explain how important it is to listen to instructions and follow the flight attendant’s requests.

* Give your child enough cash to purchase a meal in case of a delay.

* Label clothes and the back pack.

* Check on medications because airline personnel are not allowed to administer meds.

* Instruct your child never to leave the airport by himself or with a stranger.

* Explain the journey and what to expect, and if your child is worried or hasnt flown before, visit the airport beforehand and do a walk-through.

* Anticipate hearing about all the fun your child had on his flying adventure to see family or friends.

For more information and a useful checklist of things to remember when your child flies solo, go to airconsumer.ost.dot.gov to download the brochure, When Kids Fly Alone.