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Children Flying Alone

How to prepare your kids to fly as an unaccompanied minor

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Summer is the season most kids fly alone as unaccompanied minors, to visit family over their vacation.

Two summers ago, Solomon Lapides was eager to visit his grandmother, Debra Zalut, in Cherry Hill, NJ. Trouble was, he lived thousands of miles away in California and no family trip was planned. After carefully discussing the situation and researching their options, his parents agreed that Solomon, then 11, was ready to fly cross-country by himself. 

Estimates peg the annual number of “unaccompanied minors” — kids between 5 and 11 who fly (mostly to visit relatives) without adult supervision — at 7 million, according to USLegal.com. Though rules differ by airline, safety is the ultimate concern: Unaccompanied minors are assigned to airline personnel who ensure that kids board the right aircraft, are seated properly and are delivered to their designated parties after deplaning. However, these staffers have other responsibilities, so it’s essential that kids who fly solo are responsible enough to feel comfortable on their own.

Ready for takeoff?

Experts agree that knowing when your child is ready to fly alone is less about chronological age and more about maturity. Solomon, now 13, was keen to make the trip by himself. “I had gone multiple times on a plane before with my family, so I was used to the whole procedure,” he says. In fact, he appreciated the special treatment being an unaccompanied minor afforded him: “A woman working for the airport met me at security and let me cut the line to go right to the front. That’s normally an hour-long process.”

“Although there are minimum and maximum ages set by the airlines [see “Unaccompanied Matters,” above], parents are in the best position to decide whether their child is ready to travel alone,” says Caitlin Harvey of the US Department of Transportation. “Ask these questions,” suggests Voorhees, NJ psychologist Randi S. Kell, PhD: “Is your child confident in identifying airline personnel and seeking out help? How does he handle unexpected situations that arise without warning? How independent and responsible is he? Does he have good common sense?”

Next page: Flight plan for solo-flight success

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