Airline Rules for Unaccompanied Children Flying

This topic came up today due to one of Aprils friends niece coming to Cebu soon who is fifteen. With the current high security on Air traffic aswell as child trafficking laws brought in to help control the movement of children an unaccompanied child may hit more restrictions and hassles that wont be straight out of the text book. Each Airline has different restrictions and policies. This topic will discuss most things you will come across but as you are likely to be taking more than one flight you need to “Confirm” everything with any airline that your child will be travelling with. Also be aware that if you have more than one child travelling and one is senior this would also be seen as unaccompanied unless an “adult” of eighteen years or above is travelling with them.

Age Limits – Minimum and Maximum
Most airlines have a minimum age for unaccompanied children, typically five, and a maximum age, typically 12. Children younger than the minimum age have to travel with an adult. Children older than the maximum limit may be allowed to travel under the airline’s unaccompanied child programs, but it is not mandatory. Some airlines may even refuse to offer any special services for older children, services such as providing the child an escort or allowing the child to board the aircraft early. If your child is young enough to travel under an airlines unaccompanied minor program, but appears to be beyond the age limit set by the airline, you or your child may be asked to provide some kind of proof of the child’s age, so be prepared to bring appropriate documentation to the airport.

Exceptions to Age Limits
Some airlines allow children older than the maximum age to travel under their unaccompanied minor programs upon request. Even these exceptions have maximum age rules, and older teenagers would not be allow to travel under the unaccompanied minor programs of most airlines.

Other Restrictions and Requirements
For unaccompanied children travelling under the airline’s supervision, there may be additional restrictions and requirements. While the number and type of restrictions vary by airline, typical requirements and restrictions may include the following:

  • Allowing unaccompanied children only on nonstop flights
  • Having a higher minimum age if the child is on a flight requiring a change of aircraft or a change of flight number
  • Not allowing unaccompanied children on the last flight of the day for that destination
  • Not allowing unaccompanied children on flights the involve a second carrier
  • Requiring earlier check in, typically 60 to 90 minutes before departure
  • Charging adult fares for unaccompanied children

One way around these restrictions is to simply not use the airline’s program. This may only be an option for older children who are not required to fly under the airline’s program, and would only make sense if you believe the child is mature enough to deal with typical airport situations such as navigating the check in process or dealing with schedule changes and delays.

Issues with Older Children
Children who are too old to travel under an airline’s unaccompanied child program face other issues. The most important is that since an older child may not have any airline supervision, he or she would have to be deal with any problem that comes up. This may include lost or damaged baggage, security issues, flight delays and cancellations, and personal safety. You should prepare your child for these kinds of possibilities and make sure that your child understands what to do should these situations occur.

Additional Costs
The typical unaccompanied minor program has fees or other costs associated with the service. That fee may be higher if there is a connecting flight or there may be a discount if more than one unaccompanied child is travelling.

Identification Requirements
For domestic travel in the U.S., passengers under the age of 18 are not required to have identification. However, the adults who are responsible for the child at the departure airport and arrival airport are required to have identification. While the airlines typically do not specify the identification required for the adult who drops off or picks up the child, the same kinds of photo identification that an adult uses for airline travel should be sufficient.

While not required, it is probably a good idea for older teens to have valid photo identification, especially if the child is old enough to not be required to travel under the airline’s unaccompanied child program. We recommend the use of an identification that would be acceptable for domestic travel and that does not contain the child’s home address. A U.S. passport is especially attractive because it does not include any address information within the passport. The same is also true for passports from many other countries. State-issued photo identification cards are typically issued by the same organizations that provide drivers licenses and they are also an acceptable form of identification. If you use a state issued identification card, it may be wise to use an address other than a home address in order to safeguard your child’s privacy.

Escorting the Child to and from the Aircraft
Whenever possible, you should escort your child through security and preferably all the way to their seat in the aircraft. For some airlines, you may be required to escort the child the gate. Also, the person picking up the child should be waiting at the gate at the arrival airport. You will likely need to go to the check in counter and obtain an escort pass or similar document from the airline in order to enter the gate area. If you are not allowed to escort the child into the secure area of the airport, make sure that an appropriate airline representative is personally escorting the child.

Supervision by Airline Employees
The level of supervision that the airline has for unaccompanied children will vary by airline. It is very unlikely that the airline will designate one or more adults to be at a child’s side either at the airport or in the aircraft. A single airline representative may be responsible for managing more than one child in the airport. While in flight, the child will likely be supervised by the flight attendants. Make sure that a flight attendant, preferably the chief flight attendant, is aware of the unaccompanied child. Also, make sure that the child understands that if there are any problems during the flight, that the flight attendant should be contacted.

If the child has to take a connecting flight, make sure that the child knows that they have to be escorted to the next flight by an airline representative. If the child has to wait for a connecting flight at an airport, they will likely not have an airline representative at their side. They are more likely to be only within eyesight of the gate agent. Make sure that your child understands the need to stay within site of the responsible airline employee.

What Happens if the Aircraft is Diverted or Delayed?
Once the flight departs, the aircraft may have to make an unscheduled landing, either returning to the departure airport or going to an alternate airport. Also, a connecting flight could be delayed or cancelled. Typically the airline will contact the persons responsible for picking up or dropping off the child and make alternate flight arrangements. This could include arranging alternative transportation back to the original airport, arranging a later flight to the original destination, or arranging a flight to an alternative where a responsible adult can pick up the child.

A child who is flying alone, but who is not flying the airline’s unaccompanied child program will likely be treated like any other passenger. Your child should tell an airline representative of the
ir travel situation, but that is no guarantee that the airline will be willing or able to offer any additional services.

Depending on the airline’s policies, if the flight is delayed overnight, the airline may place the child in a hotel room under the supervision of an airline representative, in a hotel room alone, or in a hotel room with another unaccompanied child. The airline may also have a policy where it takes no responsibility for overnight accommodations for an unaccompanied child and will turn the child over to the local authorities for the night. It is important that you have a clear understanding of the airline’s policies. At the airport, ask an airline representative for a printed copy of the airline’s policies on unaccompanied children. Also, print a copy of any policies that you may find on the airline’s web site.

What Happens if No One is Available to Pick Up the Child?
If for some reason there is no responsible adult at the destination airport, what happens next will depend on the airline’s policies. The airline may make an effort to contact the person who was to pick up the child and if there were some kind of short delay, there will likely not be any problems. If no one can be contacted at the destination, then the responsible adult at the departure airport may be contacted to discuss alternatives. For these reasons, it is very important that the airline have several alternatives for contacting the responsible adult at both the destination and departure airports. If no one is available to take responsibility for the child, the airline may have to turn over the child to local authorities.

International Flights
If a child is travelling unaccompanied on an international flight, there may be additional requirements beyond what the airline may require. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to have additional documentation to allow a child to leave the departure country or to enter the destination country. Contact the appropriate authorities for each involved country to ensure that all requirements are being met.

Flights on Partner Airlines
While you may arrange for your child’s travel through one airline, the child may end up on a subsidiary of that airline or with a partner airline for some or all of the trip. Check with the airline to see if your child’s trip will involve a subsidiary of that airline or a partner of that airline. If this is the case, review the policies for that other airline and if one or more of those policies are not acceptable, make alternative arrangements.

Unaccompanied Flying Checklists

The following checklists may be useful reminders for adults and children before and during a flight.

Checklist for Adults
  • Review the airline’s written policies before making your reservation
  • Find out how to contact the appropriate airline contact at both the departure airport and the destination airport.
  • Provide the airline with at least two ways to contact a responsible adult (preferably two or more responsible adults) at both the departure airport and the arrival airport
  • Have the child carry a copy of that same contact information
  • Make sure that any responsible adult who will drop off or pick up a child has valid photo identification
  • If possible, escort your child onto the aircraft
  • Remain at the airport at least until the aircraft takes off
  • Check on the progress of the flight, and if it the flight will be delayed or diverted, contact both the airline and the responsible adult at the destination airport
  • If the child is able to use a telephone, provide the child with the means to make phone calls (change, phone card, cell phone, etc.)
Checklist for Children
  • At the airport, find out what person from the airline is responsible for you.
  • While waiting to board your flight, stay in the gate area in sight of the airline employee who is responsible for you. If you have to leave the gate area, make sure that an airline employee is either escorting you or is aware of your location.
  • In the airplane, make sure you contact the flight attendant if there are any problems
  • When you get on the airplane, ask the flight attendant if you can be seated so that no one is sitting next to you.

    Top 10 Safety Tips for
    Children Travelling Alone

    Many airlines, including all of the major U.S. airlines, allow children as young as five to travel alone. In addition to the usual risks that come with flying, there are additional risks that are associated with children flying alone. Many of these risks can be overcome by using common sense and taking a few basic precautions. The following tips will help both children travelling alone and those responsible for the child to deal with many of the problems that may be encountered.

    1. Consider the maturity of the child: While airlines allow children as young as five to travel unaccompanied, younger children may not be ready or willing to be in the presence of strangers for several hours, and may not be able to handle unusual situations that they may encounter.  If your child is old enough to travel alone on public transportation, is able to spend time away from family in an organized setting like an overnight trip with a youth group, then that child is probably old enough to travel unaccompanied on a flight that includes a change of planes. Nonstop flights would be appropriate for children with less maturity.
    2. Coordinate with whoever is picking up the child
      Make sure that whoever is picking up the child knows all the relevant details of the child’s trip and is able to contact either you or the airline to confirm the arrival time of the flight. The person picking up the child should also have identification that exactly matches the information that you supplied the airline. You should have the pickup person arrive early at the airport and contact you when they arrive. If you can’t confirm their arrival at the airport, have an alternate person pick up the child.

      You should also include with the child a copy of all of the contact information that you supplied the airline. I If the child is able to use the telephone, you should provide them the means to contact someone (change, phone card, cell phone, etc.) if there is a flight cancellation, flight delay, or other problem.

    3. Tell your child what to expect during the flight
      You should explain clearly to the child what will likely happen during the flight, and what kind of experiences to expect. This is especially important if the child is an infrequent or first time flyer. They should know basic things such as where in the plane they will sit, how long the flight will be, and who will pick them up. It may help to have the child carry a picture of the person or persons who will be picking them up.
    4. Discuss appropriate behaviour with your child
      Make sure you take the time to discuss appropriate behaviour with your child. That includes the behaviour of other passengers and the child’s behaviour. If another passenger acts in an inappropriate way, be sure that your child knows to inform a flight attendant or other airline representative.
      Inappropriate behaviour on the part of other passengers includes rude, offensive, or threatening comments; inappropriate touching; inappropriate conversations; taking food or other items away from the child; or other behaviour that makes the child uncomfortable or fearful. In addition, inappropriate behaviour would include any attempt to elicit personal information about the child. Make sure that you child understands that no passenger they meet needs to know things such as their full name, their home address, their telephone number, or where they are going.
    5. Request appropriate

      When you make a reservation and especially when you check in you child, make sure that the child has a convenient seat. Request to have your child seated in a row without any other passengers, or with at least one empty seat between the child and the next passenger. Also, request that your child not sit in the same row as passengers who are consuming alcohol.
    6. Review the airline’s policies
      Every airline has slightly different policies on how they accommodate unaccompanied children. Take special note of their policies for escorting children at connection airports and accommodations in the event that the flight is delayed or diverted. Note that some airlines policies do not include providing overnight accommodations and the airline may turn over your child to local authorities if the flight is delayed overnight.
    7. Take extra precautions for connecting flights
      If the child has to change planes, make sure that the airline has an adequate process for supervising the child when travelling between gates or while in waiting area. Make sure that the child understands that when travelling between gates that they must be escorted and that when waiting for their next flight that they must remain in clear view of whatever airline person is responsible for them.
    8. Spend extra time at the airport
      You should plan on coming to the airport early and staying for a while after departure. If there are last minute changes before the flight’s scheduled departure, getting there early gives you a better opportunity for dealing with the situation.
    9. Identify the lead flight attendant
      Either you or your child should take the time to identify the lead flight attendant so that they know that there is an unaccompanied child present. On larger aircraft, you should identify at least one flight attendant who will be in the immediate area of the child.
    10. Escort the child to the seat
      If possible, escort the child onto the aircraft and check the area around the seat for hazards such as heavy carry on items in the overhead storage bins. If there is anything about the seating situations or about nearby passengers that do not meet with your approval, contact the lead flight attendant or a gate agent to help deal with the situation.