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Flying Solo: Unaccompanied Minors

416877367_4d4b953723 My nieces (ages 11 and 12) came out for a recent visit.  They flew from the Midwest to Portland unaccompanied on their second solo flight sans parent or family.  When I asked them how their flight was on the way out, it was the typical 'tween "boring" response.  On their return flight, I navigated the process, helped them check in and filled out the required paperwork and waited with them at their gate until their flight took off.  Waiting to fly unaccompanied were three other kids, a pair of siblings probably older then them and another boy, aged 10.  Being far from our family, it's always been our intent to have our kids spend an extended stint with family out-of-state.  The question though, at what age have / would you let your child(ren) fly unaccompanied?  The youngest that's allowed is 5 years old, far younger than my own comfort level.  So far, from my nieces experience, they encountered few problems and my sister would certainly allow them do it again.

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I moved to the East Coast for college after growing up the SF Bay Area. My youngest brother used to fly out to see me for his spring breaks. The first time he did it, he must have been 12 because he still had to travel with that badge around his neck. When I think about it in retrospect, 12 feels young. Of course, he thought nothing of it. He just thought it was cool he was coming out to visit big sis and thought it was so UN-cool to wear the badge marking him "UNACCOMPANIED MINOR".

We still have a bi-coastal family (sf and ny) and we have a lot of pressure to let the girls fly on their own to spend a week here or there. They are almost-8 and almost-5. I am not sure when the right time will be for them to fly together without an adult, but it's not now. I suppose I can imagine it perhaps when our older daughter is 11-12-ish.

This is an interesting question. My daughter is only 2 now, but my in-laws fully expect her to fly alone to see them as soon as allowed. Which I is guess is 5 years old? Do shorter trips make it easier at a earlier age? She would only have to travel from Portland to Spokane. I just can't imagine letting her go at that young of age, but I feel pressured to allow her if the airlines allow it.

My two older boys (6 next month and 4 in Sept.) are currently in NY visiting grandparents. There was NO WAY I was letting them on a plane alone. My in-laws flew out here, stayed for a few days and flew back to NY with the boys. My sister will accompany the boys back to Portland.

It will probably be a long, long time before I will be comfortable enough for them to fly alone/with each other. Maybe when they're 14 and 12? I don't know.

So much of it is not my worry of them getting on and off the plane, or behaving on the plane, but just the idea that something could happen on the plane and they would be alone. What if there was a situation where the oxygen masks needed to be used? Yes, I realize the flight attendants are trained in such matters, but can I really trust, in an emergency, that a stranger will remember that these two boys are traveling sans adult?

flying is so unpleasant and unreliable these days. It is totally possible that a flight could be delayed for several hours or cancelled altogether. Even flying from PDX to Oakland CA can take several hours of standing in lines , etc. Its gotten stressful for adults. I am not sure that it is about how mature kids are but what state the airlines are in these days.

Having kids fly alone makes me nervous for several reasons. Several years ago my partner and I were flying back from Columbus, OH (where my parents live) after Thanksgiving. Our flight was delayed again and again. Finally I figured out that there was no way we would make our connection and asked the airline about it. They were not direct in their answer and finally rerouted us. There were grandparents there getting ready to put their grandson on the plane - the airline said nothing to them. I pointed out the connection issue and they got him on a flight the next day. A child under 10 almost spent a night alone in a city where he knew nobody.

Another thing that bothers me is the media shown on some flights. They kind of make the movies PG but they are still often to old for younger kids. Last summer we were on a flight an a boy around 10 was watching a version of a movie that I (and other adults) thought he was to young for. There was nothing we could do and he watched it.

I think it is another example of trust your instincts. If you don't feel your child is ready they they are not.

I actually can't really imagine it, after having nightmare flights. Rarely do trips go seamlessly anymore.

I flew to the Midwest one time with my then-two year old and we hit a huge thunderstorm -- we bounced around in the air, did free fall drops that made me think we were going to die, then we were not allowed to land in Madison. We ended up landing in Milwaukie at 3:30 in the morning. My sister in Madison had no idea where we were for a couple of hours.

I was totally freaked out for most of that experience and I was a full-grown adult! I can't imagine being a teenager or younger.

I think a big thing to consider is direct vs connecting flights. I would send my kiddos on a direct flight long before I would let them take a connecting flight and how much you children have traveled/flown before. I remember taking direct flights with my sister (two years older) to visit our grandparents starting at about 6 or 7. Mom and dad took us to the gate , grandma and grandpa met us at the other gate.

My first connecting flight solo - I think I was 12 - but my mom lied and told them I was 13 or 14 so I wouldn't have to wear "the badge" and be escorted between gates. I only had to change planes once and it was in Minneapolis (an easy to navigate airport).

I traveled a lot with my parents as a kid so I was pretty savvy about airports, and I was THAT kid that never got in trouble and was very mature.

I think a big thing to consider is direct vs connecting flights. I would send my kiddos on a direct flight long before I would let them take a connecting flight and how much you children have traveled/flown before. I remember taking direct flights with my sister (two years older) to visit our grandparents starting at about 6 or 7. Mom and dad took us to the gate , grandma and grandpa met us at the other gate.

My first connecting flight solo - I think I was 12 - but my mom lied and told them I was 13 or 14 so I wouldn't have to wear "the badge" and be escorted between gates. I only had to change planes once and it was in Minneapolis (an easy to navigate airport).

I traveled a lot with my parents as a kid so I was pretty savvy about airports, and I was THAT kid that never got in trouble and was very mature.

I think a big thing to consider is direct vs connecting flights. I would send my kiddos on a direct flight long before I would let them take a connecting flight and how much you children have traveled/flown before. I remember taking direct flights with my sister (two years older) to visit our grandparents starting at about 6 or 7. Mom and dad took us to the gate , grandma and grandpa met us at the other gate.

My first connecting flight solo - I think I was 12 - but my mom lied and told them I was 13 or 14 so I wouldn't have to wear "the badge" and be escorted between gates. I only had to change planes once and it was in Minneapolis (an easy to navigate airport).

I traveled a lot with my parents as a kid so I was pretty savvy about airports, and I was THAT kid that never got in trouble and was very mature.

As a kid of divorced parents I flew back and forth between West and East Coast every summer from six to sixteen. The first couple years my Grandma flew with me. Then I was on my own and I loved it. It was an adventure and I got to order as many sodas as I wanted (not something my health conscience parents would not have approved of). There were times when I got stuck in an airport or had horrible connections and it was not fun but airlines took care of me and so did other passengers. And I had stories to tell my older step-siblings and I felt proud of my independence.

That said, thinking about putting on my six year old on a plane by himself gives me pause. I might do it in a couple years as it meant so much me as a kid and the pressure is building from far away relatives. But as a mom I really worry about it and have greater understanding for anxiety my mom would go through putting me on those planes. I just thought it was cool.

Oooh,
I was one of those kids. I lived with my dad in New York and my mom lived in Seattle and two or three times a year, starting at age 5(yep), I'd haul accross the country. I remember liking it- in that I could eat my dessert tray without eating my meal (!) and all the grown ups seemed to be so interested in me. I got to wear wings and sometimes get a tour of the cockpit, that kind of thing. I never had connecting flights and I had parents at both gates, so I never really ran into problems.
Times have changed for sure, and I don't think I would even consider sending MY 5 yearold unaccompanied, but it probably depends on your kid and how comfortable they are out in the world.

I agree that times have changed and traveling is definitely not what it used to be, but I flew by myself more than I did with any family members and always did fine. I think I was probably 10 the first time I flew alone. But I definitely had the personality for it and the confidence. My siblings never flew alone, and to this day, I'm the one in the family who continues to travel the most. My 2 nephews are 8 and 12, and the older one has been flying once a summer to stay with my parents for the last few years. The younger one is just dying to fly alone too! I think they are going to try it with him soon.

My mother in law is already chomping at the bit to have her grandsons to herself, and she's in Norway! It will be MANY years before I let these boys on an international flight alone, much less a domestic one. We'll see...

I had my 12-year-old niece fly to see me in Japan. There was a connecting flight in Seattle. All minors are supposed to be handled by a chain-of-custody procedure where one staff member hands them off to another. This is tracked on a document that staff are supposed to sign off on whenever the child passes to new hands.

On her way over, the airline totally dropped the ball and did not use any custodial procedures whatsoever. When she arrived in Seattle and didn't know where to go, they simply directed her down the terminal on her own.

On the return trip, the entire procudure was followed perfectly.

I wouldn't do it again, however, on any flight with a layover. It was a frightening experience for her and could have ended quite badly.

I definitely agree with what others have said about the direct vs. connection. I know that we will probably allow our kids to fly unaccompanied at some point, and probably together so that they have each other for to rely on. It's hard to say, because they are so young right now that it's hard to gage when they will be mature enough to handle traveling solo.

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