Changes to Unaccompanied Minor Policies at American

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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.

My flying four year old

My flying four year old

Unaccompanied Minor

Me as an unaccompanied minor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

United:

  • $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.

Delta:

  • $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.

Alaska:

  • $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.

Southwest:

  • 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?

Pingbacks

  1. […] Changes to Unaccompanied Minor Policies at American: Mommy Points details the big family travel airline news of the week – American now requires that older children ages 12-14 pay unaccompanied minor fees when traveling alone.  Before, 12-14 years olds could opt into the service but were not required to use it.  Is this a money grab by American?  I certainly know many 14 year olds (myself included years ago) who were perfectly capably of flying alone.  As always, I endeavor to keep my blog posts up to date, so you can already see these changes reflected in my post comparing airline unaccompanied minor policies. […]

Comments

  1. Yeah I was thinking about this same subject a few days ago when I first saw this – I think I’m with you. I’d be okay with letting my kids fly unaccompanied.

    And I definitely agree that 14 is way too old to require them to be UM. I would definitely be fine with my 12 year old flying by himself (my wife on the other hand might disagree…. 🙂 )

    I’d think about it with my 7 year old, especially if she had flown as much as your daughter has already flown. And I’d be fine with her (or her 9 year old brother) if they were going along with my 12 year old.

    I would suspect that we probably won’t ACTUALLY do it for some time, especially given the fees that most airlines are charging…

  2. I agree, it is strange to require 14 year olds to fly as an UM. I suspect it is another money grubbing technique by the airlines.

  3. My daughter is 5 1/2, so we’ve been thinking about it for several months now too. I think 7 is probably the magic age for us as well. Our daughter just started kindergarten and I think she’ll develop a lot more independence having a year or so of real school under her belt that would make her even more confident as a UM.

    On the other hand, I think 14 is way too old. I traveled a lot as a UM myself and already knew the ATL airport like the back of my hand by the time I was 12 or so. I would have felt silly with an escort. Seems like a money grab by the airlines, frankly. Yet another reason why I’m avoiding the legacy carriers and giving airlines like Southwest and Alaska more of my business.

  4. This is ridiculous policy. Maybe it made sense back in 1985 when there were not cell phones and kids weren’t in pretty much constant contact, but these days to have someone age 14, or even 13 or 12 have to pay $300 to fly unaccompanied is absurd.

  5. I few as an “unannounced” unaccompanied minor with my 2.5 yr younger brother when I was 12 – on a connecting flight. My dad dropped us off at McAllen Miller and we connected through IAH and grandparents picked us up in PIT. Dad gave me $20 for snacks at IAH, but I was on my own for getting myself and my brother through the airport. Prior to that, we flew AA, but had a family member meet us at DFW to get us through our connection – would never happen with TSA rules now a days though.

  6. My 14 year old freshman son routinely travels on American with my Avios to visit friends and family. First I worry I worry about booking a bunch of flights before they devalue, and now I have to possibly pay someone to hold his hand while he just wants to text on his phone
    Bad 2 days…

    • Chad, I think the deval scare has been put to bed thankfully. If you can book before 9/3 then the UM issue won’t cost you. Hopefully he has a birthday coming up before too many more flights! Glad to hear that indeed my assumption about 14 year olds still holds true.

  7. The only way I could see a 14 year old needing to travel as a UM is if they had rarely flown before.

    I like the idea of parents being able to opt for the service until even later. Parents know their children best and would know if they have the experience and maturity to handle a flight alone.

    Now, my oldest is just barely preschool age so it is hard for me to gauge how I will feel about the kids flying as UM but if we keep up a high level of travel over the next few years, I could see being fine with it around 7 or 8 for a shorter trip. The only bummer is that grandma now lives on the other side of the country and the flight is about 6 hours direct so I would worry they would get bored at such a young age.

    • Erica, transcon probably would up the age for me as well, but I’ve seen totally pro traveling 8 year olds before. Agree parents know best – not airlines. 14 seems excessive to me as well for many 14 year olds unless as you state they are brand new to the world of airports and travel.

  8. Considering I moved to Europe at 15 in 1990 to be an exchange student and made my way through multiple airports at home and abroad, I’d say it’s a little extreme for the 14 year old. However, there are more people flying now than then so maybe they’re a demographic proving they need assistance. I also grew up skiing on a mountain alone so not your average kid probably. I had perfectly happily maneuvered solo through every natural landscape in an era when we were allowed to actually do stuff.

    • DBest, right! One would figure that if a kid has status they have flown enough to kind of know the ropes and likely need a bit less support. Very cool.

  9. I just rebooked our family trip to Amsterdam. My son will travel a week later, so he can attend Boy Scout summer camp. He is just 3 months shy from his 16th birthday. I was shocked to find out I had to pay for the UM fee. He has traveled so many times and I know he is capable to this by himself. Even he thinks it is ridiculous. Between12 and 16 years, I think it shouldn’t be mandatory.

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