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Airlines’ policies for kids flying alone vary

United Airlines raised the age of unaccompanied

United Airlines raised the age of unaccompanied minors from 11 to 15. employee pins a child with "wings." Photo Credit: United Airlines

Q. What are the rules for sending a child on a flight alone?

A. Rules vary from airline to airline with no blanket industry standard, says Lois Howes, a former president of the Long Island chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents and a travel agent with Baldwin-based Superior Travel.

Each airline can change its rules at any point. On Dec. 14, United Airlines, for instance, raised the age for passengers required to pay for unaccompanied minor services from 11 to 15. The new policy now requires 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds to pay an additional $150 each way for the service, and it can only be used on nonstop itineraries, says United spokesman Charlie Hobart. That can add $300 to the price of a child’s round-trip ticket; siblings flying together only pay one fee.

“We did a thoughtful review of the policy,” Hobart says. “We did what we thought made sense. When things such as diversions occur, if a flight is canceled or there is a diversion to another airport, that can be challenging to maneuver. It can be difficult even for some seasoned travelers to maneuver in that situation.”

That change brings United’s age requirement more in line with other airlines, such as American and Delta, which require the service for kids to age 14, Howes says. None of these airlines allow children younger than 5 to fly alone.

It still pays to shop around, Howes says. Southwest, for instance, charges $50 each way for its unaccompanied minor service, she says.

In most cases, the service includes a crew member escorting the child onto the plane, taking special note of them during the flight, handing them off to a guardian upon arrival, and helping them through any unexpected occurrences en route, Howes says.

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