It's never easy to let your kids go.
Especially on their first solo flight. After all, who will make sure they’re safe, fed and not kicking the seat in front of them?
With spring break right around the corner, you might be gearing up to send your kid off to visit Grandma alone for the first time, or to visit her preschool BFF who has since moved to a different state. That’s where airline unaccompanied minor programs come in. For a fee (usually around $100, and usually not covered by Frequent Flyer Miles or airline memberships), most airlines allow kids ages 5-14 to fly alone, with guaranteed supervision from the airplane staff.
Different airlines impose additional guidelines, like stating that flyers younger than eight must fly non-stop, or that red-eye flights are forbidden for the pint-sized.
We know you might have reservations when it comes to making this decision—and not just about the cost. We’ll help you figure out whether your kid is ready to fly alone, and when it's worth it to give him his wings.
When Are They Ready?
Age is, of course, relative, so we can't tell you that a child will be ready when she hits a certain birthday. Beth Blair, a mom, travel blogger and former flight attendant, says that flying alone tends to be “harder on the parent than on the child. Once on the plane, children settle in with their books, electronics or other activities and enjoy the experience.”
Here are some signs that your children may be mature enough to fly:
- They're comfortable being alone for a few hours at a time.
- They adapt well to unfamiliar situations.
- They're self-sufficient, or willing to speak up if they need something.
And a few that suggest it might be best to hold off:
- They’ve never flown (even with you) before.
- They don’t fly well when you are there.
- They have trouble following directions and keeping track of their stuff.
How the Costs Break Down
Some airlines charge a single fee for two or more children from the same family to travel on the same itinerary. For example, Delta Airlines lets four kids ride on one extra fee … while Continental allows up to nine! Some airlines also include perks like snacks or waived fees on baggage for underage travelers, so ask in advance. If the airline does, make sure your little one knows to request it once he's on board.
Although you might have a favorite airline for yourself, here's how the prices stack up—so you can decide whether it makes sense for Junior to be a chip off the old American Airlines block:
|Airline||Fee If Direct Flight||Fee If There Are Stopovers||The Details|
|AirTran Airways||$50 each way||N/A||Kids between 5-11 are allowed in the program. Domestic flights only|
|Alaska Airlines||$25 each way per child||$50 each way per child||Fees waived for children with MVP®, MVP® Gold, or Gold 75K Mileage Plan™ status. Nonstop and direct flights are only for kids 5-7|
|American Airlines||$150 each way||$150 each way||Two or more kids can fly on same fee. Nonstop and direct flights are only for kids 5-7|
|Delta Airlines||$100 each way||$100 each way||Up to four kids can fly on the same fee. Nonstop only for kids 5-7|
|Frontier Airlines||$100 each way||N/A||Fee waived if child is Summit or Ascent EarlyReturns member|
|Hawaiian Airlines||$35 each way for inter-island travel||$100 each way for all other flights||Two kids in an immediate family can fly on the same fee. Minors 5-11 years old are not accepted unaccompanied on international flights|
|JetBlue Airways||$100 each way per child||N/A||Unaccompanied minors may travel on nonstop flights and will not be permitted on connecting flights|
|Southwest Airlines||$50 each way per child||N/A||Program ends at age 12|
|Spirit Airlines||$100 each way per child||N/A||Domestic flights only. Includes free snack|
|United Airlines||$150 each way||N/A||Free snack when available; two or more kids can fly for the same fee|
|US Airways||$100 each way per child||N/A||Per new policy change, there are no more free checked bags|