Every year, thousands of children fly alone to visit a parent, grandparent or other friends and family.
During the summer, as many as 20,000 unaccompanied minors fly each day, creating big business and big bucks for the airlines. And some of these fees can cost more than the airline ticket.
The rules for unaccompanied minors vary for each airline, but one thing they all have in common is that children under 5 cannot travel alone.
Unaccompanied-minor service is mandatory for kids 11 and under who are traveling alone on AirTran, Air Canada, American, Southwest and United, and for kids 12 and under on Alaska Airlines.
On Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, US Airways and Virgin America, its required for children 14 and under who are traveling alone.
If you want unaccompanied-minor service for your older child, many airlines offer it as an option for kids up to age 17, and the same fees apply.
If you have more than one unaccompanied minor from the same family traveling together on the same itinerary, you usually only pay one fee for the service instead of paying separately for each child. If two siblings are traveling together, you may not have to use the service if one of them is old enough to fly alone.
For example, on AirTran or Southwest, you do not have to pay the fee for a child age 5-11 who is traveling with a companion 12 or older. On American, the companion must be 16 or older, and on Delta and United, the companion must be 18 or older to avoid the fee.
One-way unaccompanied-minor fees for domestic flights are $25 nonstop and $50 connecting on Alaska; $50 on AirTran or Southwest; $75 shorthaul and $100 longhaul (over two hours) on Virgin America; $100 on Air Canada, American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit or US Airways; and $150 on United.
The cheapest unaccompanied-minor fee is for travel on Alaska Airlines. Alaska, like many other airlines, does not allow unaccompanied minors on codeshare flights, so even though Alaska has codeshares with American, you cant book a flight that is operated by American through Alaska Airlines for a child flying solo.
Frontier charges $50 one-way for the service for most fare classes, but the airline charges $100 each way if you buy the lowest Frontier fare (basic fare) through a travel agent. If the child travels enough to be an elite-level member of Frontiers frequent-flier program, Frontier does waive the fees for Summit and Ascent level members.
The average price of a round-trip flight between Dallas and Houston is $158, but on many airlines, you will pay more than the ticket price to use the unaccompanied-minor service. American, Southwest and United all offer nonstop flights on that route, but the fees for unaccompanied minors are very different. For example, youd pay $200 round trip on American and $300 round trip on United. Southwest charges $100 round trip, so it seems like a bargain compared to the other two.
It is always preferable to put kids on nonstop flights, and some airlines require nonstop or direct flights, with no change of planes, for kids age 5 to 7.
Southwest will not permit an unaccompanied minor on a flight that requires a connection. US Airways only allows kids to fly solo on nonstop flights. Most airlines wont allow unaccompanied minors on the last flight of the day if it is not a nonstop flight.
When a child travels as an unaccompanied minor, you are usually able to escort your child through security and to the gate.
Some airlines require you to stay until the flight takes off, but it can be a good idea to wait until the flight is in the air because occasionally flights do return to the gate.
You must specify who will pick up the child at the destination airport, and that person must show identification.
Remember, these fees and rules can change, so make sure to check the airlines website before booking.