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When Kids Fly Alone

Information provided by U.S. Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division

Many children fly alone. There are no Department of Transportation regulations concerning travel by these “unaccompanied minors,” but the airlines have specific procedures to protect the well-being of youngsters flying by themselves. Summarized below are some of the most common airline policies. These policies may differ, however, so you should check with the carrier that you plan to use for a description of its rules and services and any additional charges that may apply.

General Airline Policies

Most U.S. airlines will permit children who have reached their fifth birthday to travel unaccompanied. Kids ages 5 through 11 who are flying alone must usually travel pursuant to special “unaccompanied minor” procedures. On some airlines, these procedures are required for unaccompanied children as old as 14. On many carriers, children 5 through 7 will only be accepted for nonstop flights and for direct or ‘through’ flights. (A direct or ‘through’ flight has one or more stops, but no change of planes.) Kids ages 8 and up can usually take connecting flights as well as direct or ‘through’ flights.

On domestic flights some airlines do not require unaccompanied-minor procedures for children 12 and over (15 and over on some airlines), but will apply those procedures—and charge the appropriate fee if applicable—at the request of the parent or guardian. Children under the age of 5 must always be accompanied by someone at least 12 years of age flying in the same cabin (18 years of age on some airlines); airlines do not allow kids under 5 to fly alone.

Reminder: once your child has reached the age of 12 (or 15 on some airlines), the carrier will consider him or her to be a “young adult” passenger. As noted above, some airlines will apply unaccompanied-minor procedures to children over age 12 (or 15) if you specifically request this and, in most cases, pay the unaccompanied-minor fee. If these arrangements are not made, the carrier will probably expect your child to be responsible for making his or her own alternative plans in the event of a canceled, delayed or diverted flight. You will not necessarily be notified of any such schedule irregularity if unaccompanied-minor procedures are not arranged.

This is an abridged version of the pamphlet When Kids Fly Alone. To view the entire pamphlet, which includes additional information such as: booking flights, preparing for the flight, and proof of age, visit http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/KidsAlone.pdf