What It is Like to Fly as an Unaccompanied Minor

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

My oldest daughter, known here as Little C, has probably been on over 100 flights. She started flying before she turned one year old and has proven to be a very good traveler. In recent months it became obvious that the best logistical solution to get her home from visiting cousins and grandparents this summer was to have her fly home by herself on her first unaccompanied minor flight.

 

We could have gotten her via the grandparent flight shuffle as we have done before, but at 6 1/2 years old and with more than 100 flights under her belt, she was ready to do it without us. Most importantly, she wanted to do it herself.
FullSizeRender 141

The process of booking her as an unaccompanied minor was simple enough as outlined here. There is a $150 fee for using the unaccompanied minor service on United as we did. This fee is charged for each direction of travel, though it is charged per family on the same flight, not per individual child. US airlines charge between $50 – $150 for unaccompanied minors, though read the details on your airline of choice closely as some of the lower priced fees are per child, such as $50 per child on Southwest, and some are per family such as the $150 fees by United and American.

To prepare my daughter for the flight we went over several guidelines many, many times before the flight including over the phone less than an hour before departure. The main points I made sure she was clear on were:

  1. Stay seated with your seatbelt on unless you are sure the seatbelt sign is off. This for sure means that when the plane is on the ground, you are in your seat and buckled up.
  2. Be polite and no attitudes. She is 6 going on 16 and her maturity can sometimes devolve into a teenage attitude when she gets tired or overwhelmed, so I was sure to reinforce this was not the time for that.
  3. If anyone does anything in appropriate or makes her uncomfortable tell them to stop, alert the flight attendant immediately, and yell if needed.
  4. You can have your iPad and headphones in the chair with you, but keep the rest of your goodies in the backpack in the overhead bin. She was in seat 1A to keep her as close to the flight attendants as possible so there was no under seat storage in front of her.
  5. Listen to all instructions from the flight attendant and/or captain, especially in the event that something unusual happens, you have to make an emergency exit, etc. We also talked through what happens if you need to go down the emergency exit slide, use the oxygen mask, need to leave belongings on the plane in event of an emergency landing, etc. I don’t know that she would remember all that, but she at least has been exposed to it and knew to listen for instructions. Of course I prayed she wouldn’t ever need any of that info…
  6. I told her when she gets off the plane not to leave the employees at the gate area no matter what until I was there to get her.

So, after all of that, how did it go?

To cut to the chase, by all accounts it went great. On time flights, great weather, and no other out of the ordinary issues for her flight certainly helped keep the experience as low stress as possible. Her grandparents got gate passes and waited at the gate area with her until she boarded the plane without hesitation or incident. They then stayed at the gate area as instructed until the plane was in the air.

Has her unaccompanied minor band on!

Has her unaccompanied minor band on!

Little C told me she got a tiny bit nervous when she sat down by herself and buckled her own seatbelt, but that once she fired up her iPad she wasn’t scared anymore. She even took this selfie on the flight!

Solo flying selfie

Solo flying selfie

She said she was checked on by the flight attendant several times, offered a drink and a snack, and had help with her bag. She said she looked out the window, played quietly on her (fully charged) iPad, and that the flight was no big deal. Like the traveling boss that she is!

I tracked her flight both on the United app and on FlightAware like a crazy person. I knew where and at what altitude it was at for pretty much all of the 90 minutes it was in the air.

IMG_6195

To be sure I was at the gate when she landed I got to the airport pretty early to receive my gate pass and clear security. Keep in mind there is no PreCheck with a gate pass.

IMG_6194

Still I actually got there too early as I was shooed out of the remote gate area for being there too early and told to come back once the plane is on the ground.

IMG_6201

I returned to the gate when the plane touched down and anxiously waited for her ERJ to pull up. I told the gate agent I was there to pick-up my unaccompanied minor and she was then at the plane when the door opened to walk my brave girl down the ramp.

IMG_6214

After opening the unaccompanied minor envelope that traveled on the flight with Little C she checked my ID against the name on the form and handed over my not-so-little traveler!

I got my girl back!

I got my girl back!

I gave her an embarrassing amount of attention both since I had missed her while she was away, and because I was so proud of her. She just insisted the flight was totally fine and no big deal…or as she says in this interview about what it is like to fly as an unaccompanied minor (full of six going on sixteen attitude) it was “totally easy”.

My six year old was ready for this, but not every kiddo will be ready at that age. There are also some real risks that flights will get delayed, be diverted, or have other issues that will really be tough for kiddos at young ages to deal with…and that will fray the parents’ nerves waiting on the ground! I had a plan in place for most of those contingencies, but I’m very thankful the flight was smooth and uneventful.

I’m not itching to have her fly as an unaccompanied minor frequently or on longer flights at this point, but it is good to know this is now a viable option to get her to or from Texas to her grandparents’ house in Kansas if we need to. I’m tremendously proud of her, and hope that this accomplishment is something she remembers and can draw on as she gets older, just like it was for me at the same age. Congrats on really earning your wings, Little C!

United Wings

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Comments

  1. This is so sweet. So glad that she was able to fly on her own at age 6!! I still remember my first flight by myself at age 12, a 14 hr international flight. It was scary at first, but after that, flying alone is a breeze!

  2. Way to go little C! I feel like she has grown up right before my eyes since I have been reading your blog consistently for 5-6 years. Our kids have taken a lot of flights as well (Thanks for all of the tips MP). They are a several years older than yours but would probably relish the solo opportunity if it arises.

  3. After this accomplishment, isn’t it about time for this (1)6 year old to have a real name, instead of the time worn Little C?

  4. MP, this inaugural appeared to be a direct flight(IAH-?) on a small jet.
    Would you trust her and the system on a connection? If not, how old might one need to be to connect in, say, big, scary(to a kid) Atlanta?
    My 13 and almost 15 year olds seem easily old enough but would still incur the fee as “minors”, correct?

  5. I think we will keep C or Little C for lack of anything better. When she is old enough to decide when/how to use her name on the internet she can decide for herself about the name, but for now she thinks it is like a cool superhero secret identity. 😉

    It was a nonstop regional jet flight, but I think most airlines no longer allow UMs to have connections. I know for sure United no longer permits connections for UMs of any age. As for when they are ready for connections….I think about when they are ready to drive. Honestly. Connections just up the risk of issues exponentially…I don’t even like connections if I can avoid it!

  6. You r both soooo brave!!! When my daughter was 14, we sent her to NYC to visit relatives. She is now 34 yrs old and travels constantly with her 3 kids, age 2, 4 and 6. Maybe soon the oldest will be able to fly solo to IAH to visit her Gigi and poppy for an extended visit.

    • Indeed she is! Edited out her name here as I have done on a few of your recent comments. I’m not sure if you are intentionally using her name repeatedly or it is just accidental, but please help me in trying to keep her name off of here as much as possible. It is a tricky balance to blog online about your family while trying to minimize the impact to your kids, but not using their full names is part of the way I try to do that.

      • Summer:
        You seem to want to accuse me of something for using name when in fact you posted it in one of your previous blogs. Her first name is already out there as I’m certain I was not the only one of your readers to see it. I only started using her given name AFTER you did and realistically, I could not have foreseen it being a problem. Your posted inference above that I’ve been ” intentionally using her name repeatedly….” for some purpose or reason is not only unwarranted but very accusatory. You have total control of what YOU put on your blog for others to see. ‘Nuff said —

        P.S. I have no doubt you will either edit or total delete my response but a factual response was required ——

        • Rich, you continue to do something regarding my daughter’s name that I have edited repeatedly on previous comments and then asked you specifically not to do. If you, I, or anyone else accidentally does something it is one thing. To do it again after being specifically asked not to is unacceptable, especially when it comes to a kid. You will be blocked from further commenting.

          • Way to go MommyPoints. I have no idea what Little C’s (or Baby S’s) real names are, but then again I also haven’t scoured the internet looking for them either. I think I may have come across Little C’s name one time on a MommyPoints FB post – I think one of your actual personal friends put it into a comment (may warn folks you know about that), but honestly I don’t remember it. Agree with the weirdo’s statement by Gene.

  7. What a joy it’s been to watch Little C grow up and take her first solo flight.

    I applaud you for protecting her anonymity!!

  8. We decided to try the UM service this summer also for a return trip home from relatives for our 12 year old. We used Delta which also cost an extra $150 for the one way flight. He had 3 connections, including one through ATL which was delayed 3 times. Fortunately, since it was his last connection, it only affected the time we picked him up at the final destination. Overall, the day went smooth and he loved it. Even though he was quite a bit older than Little C, we also went over a list of “do’s and don’ts.” There were a few things I wish I had known ahead of time but did not. One was that they placed him where they wanted him to sit, so my choice of seating online was not followed. I first noticed this prior to the longest leg of the flight where I had him in an aisle seat and could see online that they changed him to the back row middle seat. I called (and waited on hold a good while, which by the way I reached an agent 10 minutes faster by having them call me back than by staying on the line waiting) and asked if he could be moved to an aisle or window seat and one with a recline. After speaking to a supervisor, the agent told that they could not change it over the phone and that it was up to a gate agent. I texted my son and basically said, if it bothers you, then show my texts to a gate agent 🙂 , but in the end he was fine with it because he was with other UMs. Another thing was that he did not get a chance to buy food at any point. His first flight left at 6:30 am so breakfast at the house was very early that morning. We picked him up just after 5:00 pm. He had snacks in his backpack, was allowed to pick a “snack box” on the longest leg of his flight from Delta, and grabbed loads of candy in the kids lounge at one airport, but nevertheless, did not have a real meal all day. As a kid, he survived but I wasn’t thrilled. He visited two kid lounges at two larger airports complete with video games, tv, and wifi. He also spent a few minutes in a coat closet (yes!) with pictures to show for it, but said the Delta agent who was supposed to pick him up and take him to the next gate wasn’t there yet so they had him sit in the closet for less than 5 minutes. He also got to ride the cart from one gate to another and thought that was great. Overall, he felt like a rock star, really enjoying the experience and as parents, we survived it!

  9. How fun! I think my oldest will be ready for a trip to see grandma when he turns 6. Here in a few months our youngest will turn 2 and have to have her own seat. Once that happens, L will end up sitting “alone” (across the aisle from me) when I travel with just the kids. I think he will handle it really well though. That kid can tell you airplane safety instructions in his sleep.

  10. I highly recommend Southwest for UM service. My boys have done it for 4 years now. This year the TSA agent at HOU moved me to the front of the line when he saw my gate pass. Plus, as you said, it’s cheaper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *