WanderMom

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Unaccompanied Minors

Posted on | February 23, 2009 | 6 Comments

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“Unaccompanied Minors”. To me, as a parent, these are two frightening words conjuring up images of children alone and lost. In reality, children traveling alone are so common that most airlines have programs to support this service. I have considered using this option a number of times to enable my children to spend more time with extended family – particularly during the long summer school holidays – but I’ve always managed to find a reason to avoid such a drastic choice. Until this year. My children are asking when they’re going to see their grandparents next but it’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to take a family trip to Ireland or anywhere else in Europe this summer.

Why am I nervous at the prospect of putting my children on an international flight without a parent? Well, let’s see, they could totally misbehave on the flight…they might start fighting with each other…they may forget to eat on the flight…I know they won’t sleep…they might lose their passports…the person who’s meeting them at the other end might forget to pick them up… As you can see, plenty of fodder for a healthy set of mom-nightmares. Practically, though, it’s likely that none of those things will happen, and the experience of traveling alone is an excellent opportunity for my boys to assert their independence and step up to increased responsibility. I suspect they will pass this “maturity test” with flying colors. So, this summer they will travel from Seattle to Dublin (via Heathrow!) without Mom or Dad.

Most airlines offer some form of escort/safety service for unaccompanied child travelers between the ages of five and fifteen. Usually, there is an additional fee (between $50 and $120) levied per child. Many airlines require that the child’s flight reservation is made with a travel agent or directly with the airline. Airlines also collect detailed information about the person who will meet the child at the destination.

Airline programs differ with regard to: the specific age limits for traveling as an unaccompanied minor domestically and internationally; management of connecting flights; taking red-eye flights; and cooperation with codeshare or partner airlines. I’ve included links to the specific details for a few major carriers below for comparison purposes. I’m loath to summarize this information for you since – as with anything else related to flying – the rules are likely to change over time. If you’re considering having your children fly alone, check with your airline for their specific rules. I’ve found that searching on the phrases “unaccompanied minor” or “children traveling alone” on the airline’s website is the most efficient way to find this information.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go back to coordinating this one trip with a half-dozen relatives (and their respective work and vacation schedules) to ensure that my boys are safe and well cared for through lay-overs and that their grandparents have help and support if needed. And worrying. Probably needlessly, I know. But I have a feeling I’ll be dwelling on this, oh, until maybe Labor Day – when my kids are safely back in Seattle.

Links to Example Programs for Children Under 18 Flying Alone:

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Comments

6 Responses to “Unaccompanied Minors”

  1. jamie
    February 23rd, 2009 @ 11:13 pm

    Ugh. I can’t think about this yet!

  2. AndreaRoss
    February 23rd, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

    Hi Wandermom,
    I traveled to Australia to visit my aunt on my own at the age of 7, I still don’t know how my mom had the strength of nerve to send me, but I am so glad she did! I remember being so homesick and I would cry on the phone when I called home, but I also loved it and I credit it for my love of travel and my sense of independence. So good luck and well done…and make sure they have a phone card because you will be missed!

  3. David
    February 24th, 2009 @ 6:23 am

    Good luck with this!

    In my “former life,” I was in charge of all of the complaints from parents who sent their kids via this so-called “unaccompanied minor” service at a major domestic airline. (I oversaw a lot of other sticky stuff, too, like customers with disabilities, too).

    Now that my airline job has dried up, I’ve assumed the role of stay-at-home dad to our 8 year old while I look for other work (which isn’t easy to find!)

    Personally, I wouldn’t send ANY child, no matter how mature, on ANY connecting flight. Especially internationally. If you’re flying through LHR, I assume it’s on BA, and they’re a good airline, but even with the most attentive staff, I’ve heard some awful stories (flown to the wrong city, had to spend the night in a hotel with a stranger because of a missed connection, plain ol’ lost kids, missing passports and tickets, kids who get a wild hair to strike out on their own and have an adventure in some fun city, get drunk, etc.).

    I’m not one of those over-protective helicopter parents, and maybe I’m just jaded, but there’s no way my son would fly alone unless it was nonstop. Period.

    My advice: Find a flight nonstop to Dublin or Shannon, even if you have to drive to some airline’s hub to catch one. If you can’t do that, eat the cost of having a relative fly to London to personally meet your children to fly with them back to Ireland.

  4. wandermom
    February 24th, 2009 @ 7:26 am

    @Jamie: As I mention above “drastic measures”!

    @AndreaRoss: Thanks for sharing your story, it’s certainly reinforcing my expectations for how the trip will go and what to expect from the boys.

    @David: I’m actually planning to have a relative pick the boys up at Heathrow and chaperone them through the layover – although it may become a couple of days in London (with said relative) before continuing on to Dublin. The idea of my kids successfully navigating a layover alone would seriously keep me awake every night from now until they travel!

  5. Eva
    February 24th, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

    Good luck steeling yourself for this! For what it’s worth, I took my first UM flight at age 6 (Toronto-Winnipeg-Saskatoon) and it remains one of my most vivid, treasured travel memories. The flight attendants were great – played games with me, took me to the cockpit (back when that was still allowed) and one of them even made me eat my fish. The ride through Toronto Pearson on a baggage cart was a highlight!

  6. Elizabeth
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 1:22 pm

    I took my first international trip “alone” at age 10. I say “alone” because I was actually in charge of my four siblings, ages 9, 5 and 4. We flew without my parents from Chicago to Calera, Mexico. It was a great experience and we actually probably behaved better without our parents there.

    The biggest memory of that trip, however, was that my sister ate like 5 lbs of candy the night before the flight and promptly threw it all up as the plane took off. I was in charge, so I got to hold the vomit bag and make sure it was disposed of. We made it in one piece though, and almost 20 years later, we keep traveling together. If it’s more than one kid traveling together, it makes the adventure more fun. You’re a team. At least, that’s what it felt like for us.

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