Is your child taking their first flight as an unaccompanied minor? As a parent, you probably have tons of questions, concerns and are looking for tips. This post will cover tips for Flying As Unaccompanied Minors and answer specific questions regarding Southwest Airline Unaccompanied Minors
What are Unaccompanied Minors
Unaccompanied minor status is exactly what it says it is. Your child is a minor, and they’re traveling solo. Your child might travel solo for a lot of reasons. He or she might be taking a trip to see the grandparents for the summer, going to summer camp far away, or they might have a visitation schedule that needs to be maintained even though they live far away. Whatever the reason, this status simply means that your kid will be taking to the skies sans parents.
Every airline that I’ve ever heard of has a fee of between $50 and $150, depending on the airline, for unaccompanied minors that are tacked on to the cost of the ticket itself. This is to cover the extra work of a flight attendant having to watch over your child while flying. The age range for unaccompanied minors is generally anywhere from 5 to about 16 years old. Parents will check in their child, take them to the boarding gate, and when their child reaches their destination, the other parent or family member will pick them up. It’s fairly straightforward. Be aware, however, that most unaccompanied minors are restricted to non-stop flights.
Southwest Airline Unaccompanied Minors Tips
These tips broadly apply to any airline that allows unaccompanied minor flights, but they are aimed squarely at Southwest Airlines, my and my daughter’s preferred airline. We’ve just had the best experience with them overall from price to customer service and everything in between. So even if you prefer to fly with a different airline, these tips will most likely still apply in one form or another.
Decide if Your Child Can Fly Alone
This is a big one. Your child might be the right age to fly alone, but can they mentally handle it? There are adults who get sweaty and nauseous when they see a plane, so imagine how hard it must be on a child who isn’t used to flying. Before anything else, it’s imperative that you objectively assess your child’s ability to handle flying.
Choose Your Airline
Start out by choosing which airline you’d like to use. There are a lot of choices out there, so be sure to do your homework. Now, I’m not here to throw shade on other airlines but there IS a reason that my daughter is in the Southwest Airline unaccompanied minors camp. To begin with, it’s cheap. Southwest’s UM fee is only $50! No other airline is that cheap. They’re usually more like $100 to $150.
Even better, there’s no fee at all if your child is over 12. Next, and this one is really great, after 100 round trip flights, your child will be eligible to use Companion Pass. Using this, they can bring a companion along on a flight FOR FREE! Finally, Southwest has amazing customer service, and if you’ve flown AT ALL you know how important that is.
You can choose whatever airline fits your needs, but if you’re all about more for your money and getting help when and if you need it, take my advice and go with Southwest.
Unaccompanied Minors vs. Youth Travelers
The Southwest Airline unaccompanied minors program makes these similar designations distinct for one major reason: supervision. Children over 12 who fly Southwest are considered youth travelers, not unaccompanied minors because they can basically take care of themselves. That’s why the fee is waived. Children under 12 are assumed to require more hands-on supervision, thus the $50 fee.
Familiarize Your Kids with Flying
My daughter has been flying since she was 3 so nothing phases her. That won’t be the case for all kids, though. If your child hasn’t had any flight experience, consider going on three or four flights with them. Along the way, teach them about gates, check in’s, security, and everything else that goes along with getting to the plane. While on the plane, get them used to where everything is.
Another important note here is to prepare your children for turbulence. Explain to them what it is, that’s it’s a perfectly safe part of flying, and that their ears might pop and the plane might jerk and shudder. The more they know about turbulence the better. I’m a grown woman, and it still scares me!
Whether your child is part of the Southwest Airline unaccompanied minors camp or flying with another airline, one thing always holds true. The more confident you are, the more confident they are. Always project confidence and calm. If you’re a white-knuckle flyer, never let it show. Scream your head off on the inside, but be a bulwark of steadfast calm on the outside.
Booking a Flight
All airlines have different rules regarding booking flights for UMs, so be sure you check with your airline of choice for everything you’ll need to book your flight. Most airline reservation setups won’t allow you to book a UM ticket online. You’ll have to do that in person in most cases. However, Southwest Airline unaccompanied minors aged 12 through 17 can have their flights booked online if they don’t require UM services.
Keep The Kids Stocked
Be sure you have everything your child needs before heading to the airport. Of course, this includes snacks, electronics, and the like. Be sure the kids understand all rules about electronics on the flight and have an emergency contact list easily accessible at all times if there is ever a problem. You might consider getting your child a phone, as well, if they don’t have one. I bought Reese a phone so that she can always keep in touch with me when she’s flying.
Don’t Cut it Too Close
This goes without saying for any flight, but I’ll say it again anyway. Do. Not. Cut. Your. Time. Short. Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to get your child checked in. There will be extra steps involved, so ensure that you give yourself extra time. Even a program as simple as the Southwest Airline unaccompanied minor program takes a little extra time so be prepared.
Wait Near the Gate
After you make it through security, go to the gate and let the personnel there know that you have an unaccompanied minor. Every airline boards unaccompanied minors differently. Some take them first. Some take them during family boarding. Some have them board last. Waiting near the gate is your best bet for getting the information you need and getting your child boarded without a hitch.
Choose Bulkhead or Last Row Seating if Possible
Seating at the bulkhead or the last row is your child’s two best options. There are flight attendant jump seats near both of these areas, so it’s easier for your child to get assistance if they need it. Reese has been flying Southwest Airline unaccompanied minors for so many years now that the flight attendants know her by name!
Picking Up Southwest Airline Unaccompanied Minors
As many steps as there are in getting your child on to the plane, many of the real hassles come when it’s time for them to be picked up. This is especially true for first-time UMs and their parents. To pick up your child, you’ll get a gate pass and then go sit at the gate to wait for the plane to arrive. Sounds simple right? It is, but there are some things to keep in mind.
Don’t Let the Counter Close
This is important if your child is coming in on a late flight. Their flight might arrive at 10 PM, but you’ll need to be at the gate before it closes. This means you’ll have to get there by 8 PM and then wait for a couple of hours.
Don’t Let the Checkpoint Close
The same idea applies here. Security checkpoints close when the last outgoing flight has left. That means if your child is on a late flight, you need to get there in time to pass before the gate closes.
Holidays Can Have Different Rules
Finally, be aware that the rules can change during holidays. Some airlines won’t issue parental gate passes during the holiday season rush. If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to check with the airline about where your child will come out of the airport – usually near baggage claim – and pick them up there.
Southwest Airline Unaccompanied Minors Works for Us
While there are lots of airlines to choose from when it comes to UMs, Southwest Airline unaccompanied minors works for Reese and I. If Southwest is a choice that you have available to you, I highly suggest looking into it. We’ve had nothing but amazing experiences with them. If Southwest isn’t in your area, or you prefer a different airline, these tips will still serve you well. Just be sure to do your homework, get your ducks in a row, and use these tips for the best experience possible.