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Believe it or not, in this day a 5 year old can still fly on an airplane without any adult…as long as they are a registered unaccompanied minor and you have paid the associated fee. As I’ve shared before, that is exactly how I took my own first flight as a kindergartener back in the mid-80’s. Since my daughter turns 5 years old this year, I have a renewed interest in specific unaccompanied minor policies, and just generally on the concept of sending your little one alone up into the friendly skies.
The specific change introduced by American was to increase the maximum age of an unaccompanied minor from 11 to 14. This mean that 12, 13, and 14 year olds were previously allowed to travel on American operated flights on their own without being designated as an “unaccompanied minor”. Now, they will be subject to the mandatory $150 unaccompanied minor fee and in return will have the benefit of being aided by the airline as unaccompanied minors. If tickets are purchased before September 3rd then those 12-14 year olds will receive the service free of charge for travel beginning September 3rd.
This change puts American in line with US Airways, and reportedly US is working to align with the American policy of allowing unaccompanied minors 8-14 to travel on connecting flights as opposed to just nonstop flights. Like heck I’d be trusting an airline with an eight year old and a connection – ha!
All airlines handle unaccompanied minors in their own ways in terms of ages, policies, and fees. Here are four example of how different airlines handle unaccompanied minors.
- $150 fee
- Children 5 to 11 years of age who are traveling alone must use our unaccompanied minor service and pay the applicable service charge.
- Children ages 12 to 17 can use United’s Unaccompanied Minor service for travel on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express, or they can travel as adults on any flights without using United’s unaccompanied minor service.
- Unaccompanied minors can only travel on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express®. United does not offer unaccompanied minor service to or from other airlines’ flights.
- $100 fee
- Unaccompanied Minor (UMNR) service is mandatory for ages 5-14.
- Children ages 15-17 are not required to have unaccompanied service; however, we will provide the service if requested.
- No connections allowed for children 5-7.
- $25 fee for unaccompanied minors 5-7 nonstop and direct flights only
- Children 8-12 $25 each way per child for non-stop/direct flights or $50 USD/CAD each way per child for connecting flights
- Children 13-17 have the option of traveling as an unaccompanied minor at the rates of children ages 8-12
- Unaccompanied Minor Service fees are waived for children who have attained MVP®, MVP® Gold, or Gold 75K Mileage Plan™ status.
- Children ages five through 11 traveling without an accompanying Passenger age 12 or older must travel as an Unaccompanied Minor (UM) on Southwest Airlines.
- $50 each way ($100 roundtrip) in addition to the air fare per child for UMs to travel.
- UMs may only travel on nonstop or direct (makes one or more stops but does not require a change of planes or flight number) flights.
United makes it not that attractive to use their UM service at $300 per nonstop round trip, but at just $50 per round trip for Alaska that could financially make much more sense. I don’t know yet at which age my daughter will fly to visit grandparents as a UM, but I imagine it will happen at some point. We do not live our lives by fear, so all things being equal, flying as a UM with family waiting at the gate at both ends for you seems relatively innocuous even in 2014.
I will take her lead on when she is ready, and I doubt it will be exactly at 5 years old. She seemed horrified at the idea when I mentioned it to her last a few months ago. However, a bunch of maturing happens for 5 and 6 year olds as they start riding the bus, going to “big school”, and just generally get older. I would bet by around age 7 she will get a chance to fly by herself if she wants to. If she doesn’t want to by then, that’s just more miles I earn (or burn) flying back and forth with her.
On the other hand, it does seem a bit crazy to me that a 14 year old (high school freshman?!) on American will be required to be an unaccompanied minor. I like being UM as an option if the parent thinks the kid needs that extra support, but requiring that service at 14 seems excessive to me. That is just two years away from legally driving a car wherever they choose, so I would hope they could negotiate at least a nonstop flight with people waiting on both ends, but I guess better safe than sorry from the airlines’ point of view. But what to do I know about 14, I’m just a mom of a preschooler.
Have you or would you let your kids fly as an unaccompanied minor?