You finally agreed to allow your budding teenager to fly solo to visit the grandparents, but now you need advice on making this happen. While a trip like this can be an exciting and rewarding experience for your kid, it’s not nearly as simple as flying as an adult. Yet because you already agreed to arrange this trip, it’s your job as a parent to make sure your teenager has a safe and comfortable roundtrip journey. Whether you’re uncertain on where to start or need more information on the costs, these following tips will help you eliminate much of the guesswork in preparing your teen for traveling alone.
Before you make airlines reservations, you should discuss important aspects of the trip with your teenager. This includes safety, proper documentation and identification, airline escort, onboard courtesy and who to meet upon arrival. Although some teenagers might not feel the need, it can be helpful to go through a trial run before the date of departure. You should also spend time discussing with your kid what to do in case of an emergency. Lastly, it helps to perform a price comparison from competing travel sites, in addition to online review sites such as Trip Advisor of airlines you are considering.
Booking the Flight/Understanding Fees
A flight for your kid can be booked online, by calling an airline directly or in person at the airport. However, be aware that major airlines impose an additional fee for an unaccompanied minor and may charge an extra fee simply for booking tickets over the phone or in person. Current one-way fees for an unaccompanied minor (UM) are listed on Airfarewatchdog and on individual airline websites, with fees ranging from $25 from Alaska Airlines to $150 from American Airlines and United Airlines, plus taxes. Just as for adults, an additional fee typically will be charged for checked baggage and seat reservations, such as a seat closest to the rear of the airplane. Additionally, most airlines only allow unaccompanied minors on nonstop flights, which may carry a heftier price tag than a flight with a connection. Airlines may have other flight restrictions for children ages 5 to 14 or under 17, such as no departures between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. and no international flights.
Fill Out a Checklist
Filling out a checklist is a great way to help make your kid’s trip that much easier. A checklist can include but is not limited to:
1) Review of airline polices, airline contact for departure and arrival airports. Review with your teenager what to do in case of an emergency
2) Traveler’s information – name, age, home address, home phone number, destination, two adult contact phone numbers
3) Appropriate documents – valid identification, parental consent form, boarding pass, flight information and, if applicable, medical information or special needs requests, official airline service form, baggage claim ticket, passport and travel visa
4) The name of the airline employee escorting your teenager (if necessary)
5) The name and contact information of your authorized escort, friend or relative meeting your kid upon arrival. In the event of an emergency, know the phone number to call in case you have to designate someone new as an adult escort. The person designated to pick up your kid must have proper identification and must be at the destination airport at the time recommended by the airline, typically 45-60 minutes in advance of arrival.
6) Prescription medications, if applicable
7) Items to bring onboard, such as food, drinks, books and, if applicable, electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets or laptops
8) Cash and in many cases, an ATM card and/or credit card if your teenager is an authorized user
Plan on arriving with your kid at the airport with plenty of time to spare – typically 90 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and two hours prior for international flights. Upon arrival, you must check in at the airline ticket counter instead of using self-service electronic kiosks. Depending upon the airline of your choice, a wristband, lanyard or some other additional form of ID may be issued to your child prior to departure.
If you are in the U.S., you can accompany him or her to the boarding gate, but in some airports outside of the country this is not allowed. You must be present to see your kid board the aircraft and then remain at gate until the flight has departed.
Arriving at the Airport
As noted previously, the adult designated to pick up your teenager must be at the arriving gate at the time specified by the airlines. This person must be aware that it may take additional time to obtain clearance through the security checkpoint. After the airline has verified the identity of your designated person, an employee will then release your kid to this person. At that point, your teenager should call to notify you of the safe arrival and accompanied by your designated adult. Please note that for international travel, there may be additional requirements as specified by the airline before releasing a minor to an adult.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.