How Old Do You Have to Be to Fly Alone?
Some parents are dealt with a situation where their kid might want or need to travel alone. In these cases, they might ask: "How old do you have to be to fly alone?" or even "Should I let my kid fly alone?" To answer these queries, we asked a varied pool of respondents and got responses from parents, pilots, and even a few kids. We also checked specific airline regulations to get you a clear picture before you book your kid's airfare.
What the Airlines Say
Southwest Airlines says about 300,000 "unaccompanied minors" fly on their planes annually. Some kids are as young as 5 years old. Every major airline has its own protocol when it comes to kids flying alone, so requirements may vary. But here's a general overview of how airlines deal with various age groups.
- Kids younger than 5: Usually can't fly without an adult. (That is, unless you have your own private jet. Then you can make your own rules.)
- Ages 5–7: Can fly solo in most cases, as long as it's a nonstop flight.
- Ages 8–11: Kids can transfer to a connecting flight on most airlines with the help of airline staff. This "escort fee" ranges from $39 to $100, according to IndependentTraveler.com.
- Ages 12–17: Most airlines don't treat these passengers as unaccompanied minors if it's a domestic flight. Check with your airline regarding international flights.
Is My Kid Ready to Fly Solo?
Before you let your little birdies fly on a giant metal bird, this question is fundamental. Are they mature enough? How do they handle travel in general? Here are some pieces to consider:
Ask the kid(s) how they feel about it.
Talk to them about what they should expect. Some kids may be afraid, but some kids may be excited. One parent with a 13-year old son who's about to embark on his first solo flight said their son's biggest worry was that "it will be boring" because no one is with him.
When you've traveled in the past with your kids, how did they fare?
Some parents suggest taking kids on road trips or on shorter flights with you to chaperone. This helps them adjust before they're sent up in the air on their own.
How do you think they'll behave around other passengers?
Kasandra T., a mother of two, is still traumatized from the time someone else's child cried nonstop on a six-hour flight to Germany. She believes kids shouldn't fly "until [they] are old enough to entertain themselves for the duration of the flight."
Do they understand basic in-flight etiquette?
Pilot Adam G., who works for a major airline, emphasizes that this is the parent's responsibility. "I've actually turned around in my seat and asked a parent of a 9-year-old sitting behind me why my 3-year-old knows not to kick the seat in front of her and her 9-year-old does not."
So—What's the Right Age for a Kid to Fly Solo?
We've figured out the answer to "how old do you have to be to fly alone?" But how old should you be? The magic number that airlines and passengers tend to agree on as a reasonable age for youngsters to start flying is 8 or 9. Most people polled didn't fly by themselves until they were 8 years old or older.
Of course, for some people, that "perfect" age will vary. As mom and grandmother Tanya C. suggests, "That's entirely a child-to-child decision. Children mature at very different rates, so there is no set age that is right for all children."
If You've Given the OK, Here's How to Plan Ahead:
- Try to book an earlier flight to avoid unforeseen delays and cancellations.
- Charge cell phones (and program important numbers) and prepaid credit cards for your child to use in-flight.
- Pack their favorite video games and activity books to help combat boredom.
- Pack snacks, especially if it's a longer flight. Those complimentary pretzels only go so far.
- Discuss in-flight etiquette with them, so other passengers don't have to deal with any unforeseen outbursts.