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Kids Flying Solo - What you need to know

May 31, 2018

Did you ever travel as an 'unaccompanied minor' as a child? 

If so, do you remember what that was like? Exciting? Unnerving? A bit of both?

Travel can be complicated, particularly when heading overseas. If you're a seasoned traveller, you probably don't think too much about the process. But if the announcements we hear over airport PA systems are any indication, plenty of adults struggle just to get to their gates on time.
Kids flying solo - what you need to know

Most airports are similar in their basics once you get the knack of them: Planes outside, people inside, yellow-and-black signage, letters and numbers, check-in, security, wait, board and fly. After you've navigated a few of them, the world's pretty much your oyster.

But if you're a newbie, young or old, that process can be overwhelming. Even more so for kids who are very likely lugging anxiety around with the personal effects in their carry-on.

When a child (typically defined as a passenger under 12 years of age) flies without a legal guardian, they are referred to as an 'unaccompanied minor' in airline parlance. Children booked as unaccompanied minor are supervised and escorted by airline staff throughout their journey. In many cases, children older than 12 can be booked as 'Young Passengers' ensuring they are identifiable to cabin crew and airline staff in the event of a delay or disruption.

There are many reasons why children travel alone. Whatever the reason or destination, the rules, regulations and support service offerings vary from airline to airline, so it's essential to jump online, check your airline's policy and, if you're unsure about anything, ask lots of question of your ATAS accredited travel planner.

You might need to consider:

  • How do I actually book a ticket for a child travelling alone?
  • Does my child meet the airline’s minimum-age requirement?
  • Is my child too old for children-travelling-alone services?
  • How do unaccompanied minors negotiate layovers, transfers and connecting flights?
  • Are there additional costs?
  • Who is meeting them at the end of the outbound journey?
  • What happens if the flight is delayed?
  • Can I control what my child watches on the in-flight entertainment?
  • Is airline A's offering better for us than airline B's?
  • Have you thought of everything? (Rest assured, even if you haven't, your airline will have)
  • Most importantly, and only you can answer this, can your child handle a flight on their own?
While parents may be understandably nervous to have their children fly alone, flying with 'Unaccompanied Minor' status where offered provides extra care through the whole journey and peace of mind for everyone.

As you'll see, individual airlines have different polices for flights to/from/within particular parts of the world. While many of them are a bit same-same-but-different, it's really important to read through every detail of the relevant children-travelling-alone policy.

Whilst the regulations can be a bit of a maze to navigate, there are a couple of rules-of-thumb:
  • Most airlines happily accept children travelling alone from about 5-years-of-age (subject to a range of terms, conditions and options)
  • Not all of them, however, offer specific assistance and supervision by way of children-travelling-alone services
  • On many airlines, Unaccompanied Minor status is mandatory for solo travellers aged 5-11, and optional for those aged 12-17
  • Some policies are simpler than others
  • There will be paperwork
  • Booking at the last-minute is not recommended
  • The adult nominated to meet your child at their destination will need to provide proof of ID before the airline will let your child go with them.
Turn travelling alone into an experience
Before we dive into the policies of a number of sample airlines, here are some tips to help make your children-travelling-alone experience a positive one.
  • Train your kids to navigate airports by putting them in charge of your journey from check-in to boarding each time you fly with them
  • Book early, some airlines only accept a limited number of bookings for children travelling alone on each flight to ensure kids are given the attention they need
  • Book the most direct journey possible, minimising transits and layovers
  • Booking morning flights makes delays much easier to manage
  • Spend time going over the itinerary and create an 'airport to-do list' with your child to help plan and ease anxiety
  • Make sure their carry-on luggage is something they can actually carry themselves
  • Arrive early so you're not rushing and creating unnecessary angst for both of you
  • Connect with airline staff at check-in

Children Travelling Alone policies by airline

As mentioned, policies vary from airline to airline. The descriptions and summaries below are provided as a guide only, and are correct at the time of publication (April 2018) and sourced from a sample of airline websites.

Policies do change over time, so please refer to these individual airline policies by clicking on the links provided for the latest information.

QANTAS

Qantas considers a young traveller to be an unaccompanied minor if the child is travelling without the supervision of:
  • The child's parent or guardian
  • A sibling 15 years or older
  • An adult nominated by the child's parent or guardian
Domestically, children to 4 years of age cannot travel as an unaccompanied minor, but children 5-11 years travelling alone must be booked as unaccompanied minors. Children 12-15 years may also be booked as unaccompanied minors.

Internationally, a child must be 6-11 years of age unless the scheduled flight time is less than 6-hours, in which case 5 year-olds may fly with unaccompanied minor status. Children 12-15 years may also be booked as unaccompanied minors, but if no request is made, your child will travel without any special supervision.

Whether travelling domestically or internationally, even if your 12-17 year-old is a confident flyer, Qantas recommends that you list your child as a Young Passenger.

A supervision fee of AU$50 for domestic flights and AU$90 for international flights applies per unaccompanied minor per booking. More if making unaccompanied minor bookings at an airport.

You can't book unaccompanied minors on Qantas when:
  • An itinerary includes an overnight stopover or the last flight of the day
  • The itinerary includes connecting flights departing from different airports in the same city
  • The itinerary includes a flight not operated by Qantas (even if it has a QF flight number). 
  • The transit time between any two connecting flights is more than four (4) hours
  • Your child carries medication, unless your child understands and can explain why they need the medication, can self-administer the medication and carries a supporting letter from their doctor

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA

Virgin Australia considers a child to be an unaccompanied minor if the child is travelling without the supervision of:
  • The child's parent or guardian
  • Or another person aged 15 years or older
All children aged 5-11 years travelling alone must be booked as unaccompanied minors on Virgin Australia. If they’re not listed as one at check-in, they will be denied travel at the airport.

Any child aged 12-15 years may also travel as an Unaccompanied Minor if requested by the parent/legal guardian.

Unaccompanied minor bookings with Virgin Australia must be made through the airline's Guest Contact Centre. Your ATAS travel planner can assist with this.

Some things worth noting:
  • Virgin Australia's general policy is to seat unaccompanied minors together in close proximity to the cabin crew work areas.
  • Where possible, the airline also aims to seat unaccompanied minors next to vacant seats.
  • Consent is required to allow unaccompanied minors access to in-flight entertainment using their own device. 
  • Virgin Australia only accepts a limited number of bookings for unaccompanied minors on its domestic and short-haul international flights.
The unaccompanied minor fee on Virgin Australia domestic flights is AU$55 per sector, per child. International fees on flights originating in Australia are from AU$95 per sector, per child

JETSTAR

Low cost carriers in Australia typically offer no special supervision for children travelling alone. And the general rule at Jetstar is that passengers of all ages must be able to travel independently.

The airline's policy states that it is 'not able to provide supervision or assistance, because we don't have the systems, staff or facilities to do so.'
Children can, however, travel independently provided they are enrolled in or attending secondary school. If not, they must be accompanied by an appropriate Accompanying Passenger.

An Accompanying Passenger must be at least 15 years old.

One Accompanying Passenger can assist a maximum of four passengers that do not meet Jetstar’s independent traveller requirements.

TIGER AIR

Not unlike Jetstar, Tiger Air offers no specific Unaccompanied Minor services, and requires that children travelling alone be at least 12 years old.

Passengers 12-15 years may be accepted for 'carriage unaccompanied' on request by a parent or legal guardian at the point of check-in.

Parents/legal guardians must remain at the airport until the departure of the flight. Children 15 years and over may travel unaccompanied on Tiger Air.

Tips for kids travelling alone

AIR NEW ZEALAND

Air New Zealand only permits unaccompanied minors on Air New Zealand operated flights.

Air New Zealand's permitted services for children travelling alone on same-day domestic services and on single sector international flights:
  • Children 0-4 years must travel with an adult 15 years or older
  • Children 5-11 years can travel as Unaccompanied Minors
  • Children 12-16 years may travel alone or as an Unaccompanied Minor at parent/guardian request
Additional rules apply to Air New Zealand international flights with domestic connections, itineraries with multiple international sectors, and direct services between Auckland and London.

Please refer to the airline's full policy for details.

ETIHAD AIRWAYS

As a full service, premium carrier, Etihad's unaccompanied minor services are designed to ensure children travelling alone are supervised from check-in until they reach their destination and are collected by a designated guardian or adult.

In general:
  • Children younger than 5 years cannot travel alone.
  • Children 5-11 years can travel alone with the Unaccompanied Minor service (at adult fare).
  • Children 12-17 years can travel alone. Adult fare must be paid. The Unaccompanied Minor service, if required, is available at an additional fee.
Once you've made your booking with Etihad, you will be provided with a booking reference. You will need this reference to complete the airline's Unaccompanied Minor Form and request the Unaccompanied Minor service. You must request Etihad's Unaccompanied Minor service at least 24 hours before departure.

EMIRATES

Emirates has two categories of service, with different conditions and requirements, for passengers between the ages of 5 and 15 who are travelling without an adult.
  • Children 5-11 years are classified as Unaccompanied Minors
  • Children 12-15 years can travel alone classified as Young Passengers

Emirates' Unaccompanied Minors service is for:
  • Children aged 5-15 who are flying alone
  • Children under 8 years of age travelling in a different cabin class to their parents or guardian
Given Emirates' vast network, the airline is able to offer a range of unaccompanied minor services subject to various conditions. Rules apply to maximum
permitted connection times (up to 8 hours in Dubai, for example), and overnight transfers.

In all situations, you need to confirm itinerary details with the airline before your child will be accepted on board. Emirates offers dedicated unaccompanied minor check-ins and lounge areas in Dubai.

CATHAY PACIFIC

Another airline with a large network and scores of flights connecting through Hong Kong daily, Cathay Pacific has one significant rule around unaccompanied minors:
  • If your booking involves a transfer exceeding 5 hours, or the connecting flight does not leave from the same airport, you are unable to use the service.
In general terms, if your child is 6-17 years old, travelling alone, or accompanied by someone who isn’t yet 18 years old, you can register your child as an unaccompanied minor when you make your reservation with Cathay Pacific.

If your child is aged 6-11, you must register them as an unaccompanied minor. The only exception to this rule is if they are accompanied by a passenger who is at least 18 years old.

Children aged 12-18 years are not required to have any special arrangements made, but you can still register them as unaccompanied minors for a fee.

Unaccompanied minors travelling in Economy Class are typically seated in a specially designated zone.

SINGAPORE AIRLINES

Singapore Airlines consider an unaccompanied minor to be any passenger aged 5-17 who is not travelling with an adult (18 years or older) on the same flight and class of travel.

Like most airlines, Singapore Airlines doesn't permit children under 5 years to travel unaccompanied.

The airline’s Unaccompanied Minor handling service is mandatory for passengers aged 5-11, and optional for passengers aged 12-17.

Once a booking has been made for an eligible traveller, a Singapore Airlines Unaccompanied Minors Handling Service Form must be completed and submitted to your local Singapore Airlines office.

Wherever you and your family travel, there are many reasons to choose an ATAS accredited travel agent for advice and assistance. Find your nearest ATAS travel advisor here and get the best advice and tailor made travel solutions for your next family trip.


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