Family travel: Tips on how to navigate air travel for your children

School breaks mean more kids are on the move. Whether heading to camp, to visit family or connecting with friends, solo flights often become part of a family’s travel plan. Here are five tips to consider when putting your child on a plane: 

1. Is your child ready to fly solo?  

Consider your youngster’s maturity, travel experience and ability to handle new situations when making plans. Will he or she be comfortable taking direction from airline representatives? How will your child manage during take-off, landing and down time while in the air? Should weather or other unpredictable events cause a delay, will your child be able to cope? Consider a practice trip to the airport if he or she has little air travel experience.  

2. Airlines and age restrictions.  

When checking flight options know that policies, prices and possibilities vary by carrier. Children as young as five typically may fly as “unaccompanied minors” (UMs) on direct flights. Those eight to 14, depending on the carrier, can fly on connecting flights. Again, depending on the airline, young people 12 to 17 need not fly with assistance, although it is available upon request. Some carriers will not allow an unaccompanied minor to travel with a connection on the last flight of the day, in an effort to avoid issues should delays occur.  

3. At the airport.  

Bring proper ID for you and your child as well as information about who will meet the young traveler at the destination. Most airlines will provide a form requesting all necessary information. You’ll be able to get a gate pass to accompany your child through security and into the gate area and even on to the plane. Arrive with plenty of time to solve any last minute problems and provide reassurance before departure. Be sure he or she is familiar with the itinerary and feels comfortable asking questions when necessary.  

4. On the flight.  

Your child may be aware of the unusual incidents that have garnered publicity on recent flights. Before departure day, spend time with your child explaining what to expect onboard the aircraft. Talk about seating, bathroom breaks, and how to ask for assistance. Explain that a flight attendant will check in, but will not be their designated travel companion. Send snacks, a sweater or jacket and in-flight entertainment tucked in an easy to access carry-on. If possible, include a cellphone loaded with appropriate contact numbers. Otherwise, send a paper list of contacts, flight and travel details and emergency numbers.  

5. Upon arrival.  

As an unaccompanied minor, a flight attendant will accompany your young traveler off the plane and make the connection with your designated family member or guardian in the gate area. A photo ID will be required and matched with the information provided on the unaccompanied minor form. Ask your child or the person meeting him or her to notify you upon arrival so you can breathe easy!  

With proper planning, a child’s solo travel experience can be a positive and enriching adventure.  



(Lynn O’Rourke Hayes ( is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via

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