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Avoiding the pitfalls of kids flying alone

Kids generally need be least 5 years old fly alone 8 years old take connecting flight. | Lori Rackl~Sun-Times

Kids generally need to be at least 5 years old to fly alone and 8 years old to take a connecting flight. | Lori Rackl~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:35AM



Sending your child on a flight alone can be overwhelming for a parent — from packing the right things to making sure the kids are fed.

Adding to the confusion, not all airlines follow the same rules, or charge the same fees for children flying solo.

Here are the general guidelines on unaccompanied minors and some do’s and don’ts to avoid problems at the airport.

Booking

Reservations are made the old-fashioned way: by calling an airline or travel agent directly. You won’t be able to book online, but you should still research flights online before calling. Airlines should waive an additional phone reservation fee in this case.

You’ll be charged between $25 and $100 each way for an unaccompanied minor in addition to the airfare. When two or more children from the same family (immediate or extended) travel together, most airlines charge a single fee for all of them. Most airlines also waive the first and second checked-bag fees for kids flying alone.

The fee for unaccompanied minors buys a flight attendant escort on the plane and between flights, but not constant supervision. Children will likely spend some time alone, either on the plane or in an airport room away from other passengers, especially when extended layovers or delays are involved.

Now, the basic rules: Kids must be at least 5 years old to fly alone and 8 years old to take a connecting flight. Children between 12 and 14 can fly alone, but they don’t have to. Parents can opt to pay the fee to have their child accompanied, up to age 17.

Most airlines won’t allow parents to send a child alone on the last flight out because a delay could mean an overnight stay.

What to pack

Kids should have a copy of their itineraries and birth certificates in their bags. The itinerary should include travel dates, flight numbers, departure and arrival times and the reservation’s record locator number. You should also include the parents’ or guardians’ home, work and cell phone numbers. The birth certificate serves as proof of age if the airline asks for it.

At the airport

When you drop off the child at the airport, get there earlier than you would for a standard flight — up to two hours ahead. Parents have to fill out paperwork at the customer service counter and get a gate pass if they want to go through security without a ticket. The adult picking up the child should also arrive early — by at least an hour — to fill out their share of paperwork.

Adults should also bring government-issued IDs. Without them, the child won’t be accepted onboard or released upon arrival.

Changes in the adult assigned to pick up a child cannot be made at the airport. They must be made by calling the airline directly.

AP



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