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Unaccompanied Minor Services- a comparison

on October 20, 2016

Buckle up, everybody- your captain has turned on the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign.  This here is a crazy ride through the huge variety of services, policies, and practices of the rules for Unaccompanied Minors (UMs) on 6 US-based airlines.  Each airline name is a link directly to the Unaccompanied Minor policy of that airline- some pages were difficult to find navigating from the home page, so I figured I’d save you the work 🙂  Also, I would have torn my hair out trying to decipher what is recommended versus what is required for international travel, given that they all advise you to call in for that info AND it can vary per country, so I limited this chart to domestic travel policies, unless noted otherwise.  Some basics that apply to most major airlines:

  • no kids under 5 years old traveling alone
  • kids as young as 2 years old can usually travel with another Minor age 14 or older(presumably a brother/sister/cousin)  Side note:  poor teenagers stuck traveling with toddlers- some ADULTS can’t even handle that responsibility 
  • parents/guardians must accompany the Minor to the departure gate
  • some sort of paperwork needs to be filled out, such as this one from Hawaiian Airlines
  • no online check-in, and usually have to call Reservations to book the tickets (handily incurring a Phone Reservation Fee, be sure you ask to have it waived!)
  • the parent/guardian who filled out the paperwork must present photo ID at the time of check in
  • minor won’t be released to anyone not listed on the paperwork at the arrival airport, thank goodness…pick-up person must also show photo ID, arrive before the flight is scheduled to land, and sometime sign a consent to release form
  • fees, of course €£¥$… there’s usually some business about paying only one fee for multiple children, but not always- read carefully to avoid surprises.  Also, some policies require you to pat at the time of the Reservation, and some require you to pay at the time of Check-In.

So, I didn’t include major mainland carrier Southwest.  I’m still salty at them for luring me into signing up for their free Rapid Rewards program with bonus RR points, and then STILL not flying to Hawaii.  I also didn’t bother with low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit, because I’ve never flown them, so I wouldn’t send my kids with them at this point.

I’ve highlighted the prices in RED for easier comparison.  I’ve highlighted unique or impressive features in PURPLE because…it looks pretty, lol.

 Let’s choose an airline for DD!

Airline Age Category (for mandatory use of Unaccompanied Minor Service) Age Category (for optional use of Unaccompanied Minor service) Fees Services provided Special notes
Alaska Airlines 5-7 years old $25 USD/CAD each way per child*       *Unaccompanied minor service fees are waived for children who have attained MVP®, MVP® Gold, or Gold 75K Mileage Plan™ status • The minor will remain under supervision at all times.
•We provide each child traveling alone with a unique piece of identification which they must wear at all times while in our care.
•Gate escort and guardian contact required
• Travel may not begin between 9pm and 5am
•Nonstop/direct flights only
8-12 years old $25 USD/CAD each way per child for nonstop or direct flights, $50 USD/CAD each way per child for connecting flights*     *Unaccompanied minor service fees are waived for children who have attained MVP®, MVP® Gold, or Gold 75K Mileage Plan™ status •Gate escort and guardian contact required
•Travel may not begin between 9pm and 5am
•Nonstop/direct flights only, and unless no other option is available
•no connections to the last flight of the day, or layovers of more than 2 hours
13-17 years old (optional)
American Airlines 5-7 years old; Can only travel on nonstop or direct flights $150 plus tax each way •ensure your child is boarded onto the aircraft
•introduced to the flight attendant
•chaperoned during connections
•released to the appropriate person at their destination
UM service not available if the flight includes: a connection to/from another airline, including codeshare and oneworld® partners, ground/co-terminal connections (unaccompanied minors under 15 years can’t use ground transportation alone), the last flight of the day from the final connection city, unless it’s the only scheduled flight offered, or overnight connecting flights, unless it’s the only scheduled flight offered.
8-14 years old; Can travel on any nonstop or direct flight, or any connecting flight through Charlotte, NC (CLT), Washington Reagan, D.C. (DCA), Dallas Forth Worth, TX (DFW), New York, NY (JFK and LGA), Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Miami, FL (MIA), Chicago, IL (ORD), Philadelphia, PA (PHL) and Phoenix, AZ (PHX).
15-17 years old (optional) Children in this age range don’t have to use the unaccompanied minor service, but it’s still available to them. When traveling alone, children 16 years of age and older can book online. To book children 15 years of age, you’ll need to call Reservations
Hawaiian Airlines  5-11 years old USD $35.00 for all flights WITHIN THE STATE OF HAWAII (i.e. non-stop, direct, multi-stop, connecting service from Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaiian Airlines), USD $100.00 for non-stop, direct or connecting flights BETWEEN NORTH AMERICA AND HAWAII (non-stop, direct) •seat will be assigned on the day of departure by our airport agent
•deliver them safely to their destinations
•hand them off to the adult you designate at the end of their journey
UM service NOT available for
•Any flight departing between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless the flight: 1.Operates out of Honolulu, Hawaii AND 2.Is the only flight of the day
•International flights including flights to and from American Samoa
•Flights that require an overnight stay in order to make a connection
•Any codeshare flights
•Connecting flights to or from another carrier Exception: This does not apply to Unaccompanied Minors connecting on flights between Hawaiian Airlines and ‘Ohana by Hawaiian operated by Empire Airlines.
•Certain Hawaiian Airlines to Hawaiian Airlines connecting flights: the last connecting flight of the day, connecting flights where the connection time is longer than 2 hours
12-18 years old (optional)
JetBlue 5-13 years old $100.00 per person fee, each way •Unaccompanied minors will be safely seated in the back of the aircraft •Unaccompanied minors may only travel on nonstop flights
•International OK, but very specific paperwork requirements per country, see the site
Delta Air Lines 5-7 years old $150 USD each way •Introduce your child to the flight attendants
•Introduce your child to the cockpit crew, time permitting (kids love this part)
•Take your child to his/her seat and assist with carry-on items
•Familiarize your child with the safety features of the aircraft
•Advise your child of lavatory locations
•Inform your child if assistance is required to contact a flight attendant and to remain in their seat upon landing as a flight attendant will get them when it is time to deplane
•The person making the booking will choose a 4 digit PIN configuration of their choosing that will be required to make any future changes to the required Unaccompanied Minor contact information
•Delta implemented new barcoded wristbands that will be scanned at important points of our Unaccompanied Minor’s journey. Scan events support Delta’s Unaccompanied Minors policy and are part of a larger effort that will eventually allow customers to have added visibility to their minors location while traveling with Delta
•May travel on nonstop flights only
•Unaccompanied Minors must be ticketed on an adult fare
•Travel is permitted on Delta and Delta Connection
•Travel is permitted on Domestic and International itineraries
8-14 years old •May travel on nonstop and connecting flights only
•Unaccompanied Minors must be ticketed on an adult fare
•Travel is permitted on Delta and Delta Connection
•Travel is permitted on Domestic and International itineraries
•Unaccompanied Minors can only connect to other Delta, Delta Connection, Air France and KLM flights
•Travel is not permitted on the last connecting flight of the day
•Travel is not permitted on Red Eye flights (Red Eye flights are between 9pm-5am).  Exceptions below apply only if a qualifying connection flight is not available from the airport: International flights, Domestic short haul flights ( 2 hours or less, non stop), Flights to/from Alaska and Hawaii, Markets with only one connection and it is the last flight of the day
15-17 years old (optional)
United Airlines 5-15 years old $150 for each direction of travel •Seating near the front of the aircraft right in the center of the action, when available
•A complimentary food item on flights that offer food for purchase
•Pre-boarding at the beginning of the boarding process, offering extra time to get settled before takeoff
•We will give your child a wristband to wear so United agents and flight attendants can clearly identify them as an unaccompanied minor
•Your child will receive a special unaccompanied minor envelope to keep important travel documents like boarding passes, young traveler forms, and their passport, baggage claim tickets and receipts, if applicable, safe and handy during their trip
•You will receive a special customer service phone number to call if you have any questions after your child begins their travel.
•Unaccompanied minors can only travel on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express®
•Codeshare flights and other flights operated by our partner airlines are not eligible for unaccompanied minor travel
•United does not offer unaccompanied minor service connecting to or from other airlines’ flights.

As you can see, only some airlines allow UMs to complete international travel.  One thing IS universal re: international travel, though- it is quite important* to have a signed, notarized International Letter of Consent from the non-traveling custodial/non-custodial parent declaring that they are cool with you taking the kid out of the country.  The Department of State is pretty serious about international child abduction, as they should be.  *I say quite important because it’s not strictly mandatory for all countries- but I sure sleep better at night knowing I have it when we travel.

As you may have gathered from my family math, my current husband is not DD’s father.  Therefore, I am quite familiar with the need to have the other biological parent sign a consent form when getting/renewing a child’s passport, and then traveling with 3 copies of the signed, notarized International Letter of Consent.  I take 3 copies because I want to retain the original, and then have an extra if an immigration official keeps it on entry and I need one again on exit.  In 14 years of international travel with DD, I was asked for the Letter exactly one time: when arriving in Vancouver, Canada via Amtrak from Seattle.  And she did keep the Letter.  All those years of carrying them around the world paid off for me in that moment.  What was I walking about again?


Oh yeah- what airline will I choose if DD earns herself a solo trip to the East Coast next summer to stay with my parents? As always, DH and I will be evaluating route, cost, and schedule.  I’m not opposed to paying for services received, but $150 each way is a bit much for a 15-year-old (United, I’m looking at you and that mandatory fee).  Unfortunately, they are the only ones that offer the direct flight to Newark from Honolulu.  I’d prefer she not have to make a connection on her own.  To be clear, she is perfectly capable of it- it’s the airlines that change gates, delay flights, and bump people arbitrarily that I don’t trust.  Plus, horror stories. The more flights, the more exposure to weirdos.  Anyway, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

You are now free to move about the cabin 🙂

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