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Unaccompanied Minors: Complete Guide to Each Airline’s Policies, Fees, & Rules

I have fond childhood memories of flying as an unaccompanied minor. My parents regularly sent my sister and me to see grandparents a few states away. I remember well being doted on by flight attendants. I especially loved being driven in the beeping carts through the tunnels of ATL as we were rushed off to a connecting flight. In those days, our parents walked us to the gate and watched us board without having to pass through a TSA line to get a special pass, and our grandparents were the first faces we saw as we deplaned. The unaccompanied minors service was, for many years, free on all major airlines.

Unaccompanied Minors - Empty Airline Seats

Unaccompanied Minors on US Airlines Today

Things certainly have changed in air travel, particularly for unaccompanied minors. In a world of strict TSA rules and increasing airline fees, it is harder – and more expensive – than ever to do the planning and preparation to allow your child to travel alone.

To make things more difficult, airline policies for unaccompanied minors are simply all over the map. No two U.S. airlines have the same cutoff ages, rules, or fees. That means parents need to carefully research numerous options before even beginning to look at flight schedules and prices. One airline might have more expensive tickets, but a much cheaper unaccompanied minor fee, making that airline a better choice for your child’s travel. There is no airline search booking engine that lets you do this kind of comparison.

I originally wrote this post several years ago when I had kids too young to fly as unaccompanied minors. But now that my husband and I are seriously considering allowing my 9 year old daughter to fly by herself this summer, I’m glad to have already done the research. Of course, it needed to be updated a bit because airlines have changed their rules in the last several years — and not for the better. Most of the major carriers have increased their fees and now require kids older than ever to use the service. Luckily, there are still a few airlines with humane fees and sensible age rules. See below for the ones I think are standouts.

And of course, you get to share in the results of my research too! I’ve created a printable chart below summarizing the rules and fees for the major U.S. airlines so you can easily compare your options instead of spending hours on airline websites comparing apples to oranges.

5 year old on airplane

Hard to believe that this 5 year old is old enough to fly unaccompanied on most airlines!

Tips & Rules for Flights with Unaccompanied Minors

But first, there are a few general tips and trends about unaccompanied minor air travel to keep in mind:

1) The definition of an “unaccompanied minor” differs from airline to airline.

Airline policies differ as to who an “unaccompanied minor” is. For example, some airlines do not consider a child traveling with another passenger over the age of 12 as an unaccompanied minor. This would mean that two siblings, one of whom is 12 and one who is 10, could travel together without needing to pay an UM fee. On other airlines, however, an “unaccompanied minor” could be any child who is not traveling with someone who is at least age 18. Other airlines set the cutoff age for an accompanying “adult” at age 15 or 16.

Confused yet?  The bottom line is that you need to check the fine print, with a consideration of all the ages of your children who will be traveling together, before you book.

2) Many flights are “off-limits” to unaccompanied minors.

Many airlines have pretty strict limitations on the flights on which they will accept unaccompanied minors. Redeye flights are often off limits, as is the last connecting flight of the day to a given destination. Some airlines won’t accept unaccompanied minors on international flights or flights on partner airlines (including code-shares). To make things harder, there are exceptions to these exceptions, such as when there is only one flight a day to a given destination.

3) When it comes to unaccompanied minors, don’t be afraid to call.

Many airlines won’t allow you to book a trip for an unaccompanied minor online, so you have to call. My advice is to do your research, and then to call no matter what (even if you don’t ultimately book with the phone rep to avoid phone booking fees). Talking to a human being can serve as a double-check to make sure you understand the airline’s policies. If the phone representative tells you something that is inconsistent with your research, you can escalate the matter right away so there is no confusion on the day of travel.

4) Unaccompanied minors traveling internationally may need notarized letters of consent.

In order to prevent child abduction, many countries have strict rules governing children traveling alone (or, for that matter, children traveling with only one parent). If your child plans to fly as an unaccompanied minor internationally, it is a good idea to have a notarized letter of consent from both parents no matter what your destination. Also, check the airline rules and the destination country’s specific rules as well, as they may be more restrictive.

5) Some airlines don’t charge additional fees for multiple children and some charge per child.

If you are sending more than one child on a flight as an unaccompanied minor, look closely at the fees charged. Some charge per child on the reservation but a few allow up to 9 siblings to travel together only paying a single fee.

Unaccompanied Minor Airline Comparison Chart

Before we get to the full chart, I think it’s important to highlight a few airline winners and losers when it comes to unaccompanied minors.

Unaccompanied Minors - Southwest Airlines

The biggest legacy carriers – American, United, and Delta – make parents pay a $300 roundtrip fee for kids to fly even on simple domestic non-stop flights until their 15th birthdays. Even as an occasionally overprotective parent, I think that is absurd. I was certainly flying solo much earlier in an age before cell phones for emergencies. Many well-traveled children just don’t need the service that old, and it seems like a money grab to me.

So kudos to the airlines that have more sensible fees, age cutoffs, and rules. I’d recommend more traveling families voting with your pocketbooks and giving these airlines the first chance to earn your business:

  • Alaska: Cheapest UM fee (as low as $25 one way for non-stops)
  • Southwest: Cheap UM fee ($50 one way) + youngest age where children can travel without paying a UM fee (no fee needed by 12th birthday)
  • Hawaiian: Cheap UM fee ($35 one way for intra-island flights & $100 one way to mainland) + youngest age where children can travel without paying a UM fee (no fee needed by 12th birthday)

The following is a summary of the various unaccompanied minor policies of the US domestic airlines. Of course, each airline has additional fine print that you should read in full on the airline’s web page. Click the images below to download the full PDF version with embedded links to each airline.

Unaccompanied Minors Rules and Fees Image Chart 1 Unaccompanied Minors Rules and Fees Image Chart 2Pin this Post for Later!

Is your child old enough to fly as an unaccompanied minor? Every airline has different fees and rules that you need to know before you book! Get the scoop on all the US airline policies - Southwest, United, Delta, American, and many more. #airtravel #flyingwithkids #travelwithkids #unaccompaniedminor

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Samantha

Monday 28th of October 2019

Thank you so much! I had been booking Spirit air for my kids to fly unaccompanied because I thought it was the cheapest. I just priced out flights and where Spirit was going to be just under $1000 for both of them with the unaccompanied minor fees, Southwest was just under $600 and they even get free bags!!

Susan Vaughn

Thursday 30th of May 2019

would like to book a reservation for our 12 year old grandson on Alaska Airlines in the month of July 2019

suzanne Adivari

Sunday 3rd of February 2019

A friend sent me your post after I purchased a RT ticket for our granddaughter to visit us in Atlanta from NYC on her winter break. We have always flown her (she is 11) in first class. We buy her ticket and my daughter has always paid $150 on her end when she takes her to the airport. I have never been charged that fee on our end. Until today. We paid over a $1000.00 for the hour and a half flight. No problem....But the agent in a very snarky way says "In my 20 years I have never had anyone buy an unaccompanied minor a first class ticket"....She took all the info and charged our credit card THEN said and you will have to pay an additional $300.....for what service??????? my daughter has to take her to the gate in NY and my husband will be at the gate when she arrives in Atlanta....When I said I expect to have her treated like all the other first class passengers and let her off the plane when it lands and not have to wait in a hot plane until all 200 plus people de-plane I got a "Oh absolutely not...I can't even write that on the instructions. She will get off when one of the Delta representatives is ready......When she heard my husband basically calling them thieves in the background she once again had to add "If your husband is unhappy with out policy I can just cancel her ticket......I think I will be using Southwest next time she visits....

Lisa A Fankhauser

Tuesday 4th of December 2018

I never in the world would have booked a trip for my daughter had I known about deltas fees. when I call to make a reservation, they told me that there would be no fee, I just had to get a boarding pass to walk my daughter to the gates. I was extremely surprised to have a $300 fee tacked onto a $250 flight. I will never do that again. I feel like Delta was extremely dishonest with me.

Sunday 8th of July 2018

Hi! Alaska just upped the UM Fare to $50

tripswithtykes

Sunday 8th of July 2018

Thanks for the heads up! Changing the post. Of course as soon as I update this they update a matter of weeks later - LOL!