While most of the time kids under 18 years old are flying with at least one adult, usually a parent or grandparent, there are times when that might not be the case. Parents are understandably a bit uncomfortable with letting their kids fly unaccompanied. Carriers have different policies covering ages and types of flights and charge different fees for unaccompanied minors. All airlines charge extra fees both ways for unaccompanied minor service, and a designated adult must take children to the gate and pick them up at the gate at the destination.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier charges a high fee for unaccompanied minors, and they can't fly on American if they are under age 5. Unaccompanied children ages 5 through 7 are accepted on nonstop or through flights only and must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult until they board the aircraft and the flight has left the gate. The child must be met at the destination by another parent or responsible adult. Kids flying alone ages 8 through 14 can fly on nonstop, through, or connecting flights. Connecting flights must be made through the carrier’s 10 hub and major airports. Finally, kids flying alone can’t be on flights where they must make a connection with another airline, including codeshare and OneWorld partners.
Delta also charges a high fee each way for unaccompanied minors. The Atlanta-based carrier does not allow children age 4 and under to travel alone; children ages 5 to 7 can only travel on nonstop flights, while kids ages 8 to 14 can fly on both nonstop and connecting flights. The program is optional for children 15 to 17 years old. A parent or designated accompanying adult must take an unaccompanied minor to the departure gate and remain until the flight has left the ground. Parents or an accompanying adult should report to the destination airport one hour before scheduled arrival to get a gate pass, and a valid ID must be presented before the child is released.
JetBlue offers by far the most details on how it handles children flying alone. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 years are required to fly as unaccompanied minors for a high fee each way. Parents are required to fill out an unaccompanied minor form before travel and bring three copies of the document to the airport. The New York-based airline requires a photo ID from the person dropping off and picking up children.
Southwest requires that children between the ages of 5 through 11 who are traveling without a passenger age 12 or older must travel as an unaccompanied minor. The Dallas-based carrier charges a somewhat smaller fee than other airlines each way for its service. Children flying alone can only travel on nonstop or direct flights, and the service is not offered to and from international destinations.
United Airlines only allows unaccompanied minors to travel on nonstop flights operated by United (based in Chicago) or United Express. Children younger than 5 are not accepted. Those between 5 and 11 years old who are traveling alone must use United's unaccompanied minor service and pay a high fee each way. Children ages 12 to 17 can fly as unaccompanied minors on nonstop flights operated by United or United Express or they can travel as adults on any flights without using United's service for children flying alone.
This Seattle-based carrier offers unaccompanied minor service for children ages 5 through 17 years old on domestic and international flights, both nonstop and connecting. The fees each way are low, but they are higher for connecting flights.
Spirit, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, accepts children between 5 and 14 years old as unaccompanied minors. They are only accepted on nonstop or direct flights that don't require a change of aircraft or flight number. Parents and guardians are advised to let the airline know when booking an unaccompanied minor. The fee each way includes a drink and snack.