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Unaccompanied Minors on Flights: Everything You Need to Know

In contemporary families, parents or grandparents occasionally have to send kids from one family group to another, creating situations in which kids fly alone. Oddly, standards on the minimum travel age for children flying alone vary, and policies for unaccompanied minors on flights is one area where the big U.S. airlines do not march in lockstep.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Fly Alone?

The minimum age for children to travel alone as adults paying adult fares varies: Kids have to be 12 years old to fly alone on domestic flights on Hawaiian, Southwest, Air Canada, and WestJet; 13 years old on Alaska; 14 years old to fly as an adult on JetBlue; and 15 years old on Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Spirit, and United. International age limits also vary by airline.

Unaccompanied Minors (and Kids Younger Than 5)

Children younger than five years old cannot travel alone under any circumstances. For children between 5 years and whatever the minimum adult age is on a carrier, most airlines provide special unaccompanied minor service. Of the 12 large North American lines, only Allegiant and Frontier do not offer an unaccompanied minor option. Many airlines also provide unaccompanied minor service for children a few years over the minimum adult age for families nervous about young teens traveling alone.

Unaccompanied Minor Services and Fees

Unaccompanied minors are carefully controlled and monitored by airline personnel throughout the boarding, flight, and arrival phases of the trip, being delivered to the airline by documented adults and retrieved at destination by other documented adults.

Typically, airlines avoid booking minors on the last flight of the day or on flights likely to be disrupted by weather or other factors. Also, bookings on code-shared flights are not allowed. Most airlines limit unaccompanied minor service to nonstop or direct flights. Alaska, American, and Delta allow unaccompanied minor bookings on some connecting flights, with various schedule limitations.

The giant airlines charge a base fee of $150 each way plus the applicable adult fare; other lines charge the same or less. Conditions around children flying alone are more stringent for international travel. Most big international airlines offer similar services; check each line for specifics.

Parents of mature, responsible tweens and young teens would do well to compare airlines: Children as young as 12 years can travel on their own on some airlines, while the minimum age on other lines is as high as 15 years. Also, with unaccompanied minor fees in the range of $300 round-trip, having a family member buy a round-trip to accompany kids one way on a short trip may actually be less expensive.

Minimum Age to Travel Alone: Taking the Train

In case you’re not flying, the minimum age to travel alone on Amtrak is 16. Amtrak offers unaccompanied minor service between staffed stations on some trains for children between the ages of 13 and 15; check with Amtrak for details.

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Ed Perkins
Ed Perkins is a longtime consumer advocate and reporter. He spent 25 years in travel research and consulting and was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter. He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004). He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union. Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America,” "The CBS Evening News," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.