Children Flying As Unaccompanied Minors

Child standing at airport with suitcase alone - unaccompanied minor policies

Is it OK to send your children on a plane without a parent?

Unaccompanied minors or UM’s is airline talk for children who are travelling without a parent or guardian over 18.  This is becoming an increasingly common practice, through either sending children home to their grandparents over vacations or where parents perhaps live in different cities and share custody. 

If your children are ready to become independent travellers, here are some things to bear in mind while planning their journey;

At what age can my child fly as an unaccompanied minor?

  • Most airlines will only accept UM’s between the ages of 5-11 years (this varies by airline).
  • Some airlines will also place restrictions on “young persons”, those aged 12-17 years; a UM service might be an option that can be requested, or parents might be asked to sign a waiver saying they do not want the service before the child can be accepted for travel.
  • If one of your children is over the UM age limit but under 18, they cannot be classified as the guardian for the UM (unless the airline’s policy specifically states otherwise; Air New Zealand, for example, will allow over 15’s to act as a guardian).

What will the airlines charge for an unaccompanied minor?

  • It is likely a UM will be charged the equivalent of an adults fare, plus the airline could add an additional service fee, particularly if stop over’s are involved.
  • Stop over’s may not be allowed under some airlines policies, or only to flights they operate, not to codeshares or other airlines.
  • Most airlines will require UM bookings to be made directly with their ticketing office (by phone or in-person) rather than being booked online.
  • Airline policies differ between domestic and international bookings so check you are reading the correct policy.

Can my child fly in a different cabin to me?

  • Even if you are on the aircraft but in a different cabin (eg you are travelling in business class and your child is in economy), your children will be treated as UM’s and have to pay full airfare.
Our Globetrotters complete guide to Flying with Kids

What will happen with my child as a UM?

A UM program will generally involve:

  • Completing a UM request form with the airline prior to departure with all the necessary contact details for both ends of the flight, including any medical issues.
  • Someone from the airline taking the child from check-in through customs and to a special assistance lounge at departure.
  • The adult dropping them off to remain at the airport until the flight has actually departed, in case of any delays.
  • The flight crew will then take responsibility for the passenger during the flight, checking they are strapped in, luggage stowed, aware of safety procedures and have food and drinks throughout the flight.
  •  Ground services at the destination will again take responsibility for the UM on arrival and take them through customs and baggage until they are safely handed over to a designated guardian with ID.

Other things to consider before flying your kids as Unaccompanied Minors

  • There are some private firms that offer services to UM’s, but this is not a regulated industry so proceed with caution.
  • It is not wise to send a child unaccompanied if they have never flown in a plane before; it is strongly advised that a child be a regular traveller, familiar with airports and safety procedures before being sent as a UM.
  • Make sure the child can recite basic information such as your contact phone number, their flight number and destination, details of the person picking them up.  In addition keep all of this information on them, preferably in their pocket but also in their carry-on luggage.

Have your children flown as Unaccompanied Minors? What was there experience?

Take me back to the complete guide to flying with kids

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4 thoughts on “Children Flying As Unaccompanied Minors

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  2. Mio | Third Culture Family says:

    My oldest son flew as a UM for a regional, 3-hour flight from Texas to California. He must have been 7 or 8 at the time. We were completely comfortable with it back then since he was already a “seasoned” traveller by that age.

    For some reason, as I type this, 7 or 8 years old sounds really young to be flying on your own! I’m actually feeling anxious about it. What was I thinking! 🙂

    • Keri from Baby Globetrotters says:

      Very brave! I look forward to the day I can do it but agree even for a seasoned traveller there’s bound to be some anxiety the first time (parents and child!) – I certainly wont be sending my oldest at five but I think by 10 they’ll see it as a real adventure.

      • Mio | Third Culture Family says:

        Oh yes, it was much more nerve-wracking for me than for my son. He is one of those kids that are just wired for adventure. He was a bit too eager to leave us! Now that planes offer wifi in the air, I’m sure it’ll be less stressful because you can just whatsapp or email to make sure all is fine.

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