Unaccompanied minor policies can be a little bit confusing because they are unique for each airline. The prices can differ as can age qualifications and routing rules so there is a lot to keep track of.
In this article, I break down all of the fees and major requirements for the most popular US airlines.
I then detail the unaccompanied minor process so that you know what to expect from the time of booking to arriving at the airport, and all the way through the flight and pick up.
And finally, I supply some helpful tips and answer FAQs on how to make the process as smooth as possible for your unaccompanied minor.
Table of Contents
Unaccompanied minor fees
Below are the unaccompanied minor fees for the main US airlines. (You can click on an airlines’s name for all of the details specific to that airline.)
|Airline||Fees (one way)||Mandatory for ages|
|American||$150||5 through 14, unless w/16 or older|
|Delta||$150||5 through 14, unless w/18 or older|
|Southwest||$50||5 through 11, unless w/12 or older|
|United||$150||5 through 14, unless w/18 or older|
|Alaska||$50||5 through 12, unless w/18 or older|
|JetBlue||$150||5 through 13, unless w/14 or older|
|Spirit||$150||5 through 14, unless w/15 or older|
|Hawaiian||$100||5 through 11, unless w/15 or older|
$150 is the standard unaccompanied minor fee charged by the major legacy airlines in the US (United, Delta, American Airlines).
However, as you can see above there are some airlines like Southwest and Alaska that offer much cheaper fees as low as $50.
There are a couple of things you should know about the fees.
Connections may raise the price. For example, Alaska charges $75 per flight when a connection is involved.
Specific routes can also increase the price. Hawaiian Airlines charges $100 for flights between the mainland and Hawaii but only $35 for flights within the state of Hawaii.
There also may be group pricing involved. United has the following system when pricing out multiple unaccompanied minors:
- 1 to 2 total children traveling: $150 each way
- 3 to 4 total children traveling: $300 each way
- 5 to 6 total children traveling: $450 each way
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Things to know
Not all airlines allow unaccompanied minors
Not every airline will accept unaccompanied minors.
Allegiant only accepts passengers 15 years or older when flying alone because they consider them to be adults. In other words, if you are under 15 years old on Allegiant you must be flying with an adult.
Frontier is another airline that does not have unaccompanied minor policies.
So don’t always assume that your airline will accommodate an unaccompanied minor.
Unaccompanied minor age limits
If a child is under the unaccompanied minor age limit, they will never be permitted to travel alone. The typical lower age limit is five years old.
So you will rarely if ever see an airline that will allow a kid four years old or younger to travel as an unaccompanied minor.
Instead, they will have to travel with an adult which may mean someone 18 years or older (though it could be younger such as 16).
The upper age limit on unaccompanied minors is different for some airlines but this upper limit is usually 14 years old.
This means that a 15-year-old can often travel alone without having to register as an unaccompanied minor.
Accompanying passenger age
Airlines will consider a minor to be unaccompanied unless there is someone traveling with them of a certain age.
The minimum age of this companion traveler varies dramatically between airlines.
Alaska Airlines requires the accompanying passenger to be 18 years old. Meanwhile, Southwest requires the accompanying passenger to be only 12 years old.
So be sure to look into that age requirement as those are big differences.
Also note that with airlines like Hawaiian, the age requirement of the accompanying passenger may be higher based on the route. They require the accompanying passenger to be 15 on domestic flights and 18 on international flights.
The accompanying adult may also have to fly in the same cabin as the child. So if you plan on flying in first class but your child will be in economy, that could require your child to fly as an unaccompanied minor.
You will often find restrictions on connecting flights when choosing routes for unaccompanied minors. Usually, the lower ages (5 to 7) are prohibited from flying on routes with connecting flights.
When connections are permitted, there may be specific limitations on what type of connections are allowed.
For example, American Airlines allows connections on routes through specific airport hubs like:
- Charlotte, NC (CLT)
- Washington Reagan, D.C. (DCA)
- Dallas Forth Worth, TX (DFW)
- New York, NY (JFK and LGA)
- Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
- Miami, FL (MIA)
- Chicago, IL (ORD)
- Philadelphia, PA (PHL)
- Phoenix, AZ (PHX)
If there is a connecting flight, your child may be chaperoned through the terminal to make their connection.
When it comes to these restrictions, be sure to keep in mind the difference between a non-stop, direct, and connecting flight.
A non-stop flight is a flight that does not touch the ground until it lands in its final destination.
So let’s say you are departing Houston and your final destination is Chicago. A flight taking off from Houston and staying in the air until it lands in Chicago would be a nonstop flight.
A direct flight is a flight that may touch down at an intermediary airport but will not require you to connect to a different plane.
So a flight that goes from Houston to Dallas (but requires no plane change in Dallas) and then heads to Chicago would be a direct flight.
A connecting flight is a route that will require you to exit your plane and board a separate plane in order to get to your final destination. Imagine the above example but you have to head to a different gate or terminal in Dallas — that would be a connecting flight.
It is typically only a connecting flight that is problematic.
Also, keep in mind that there may be a limitation put on layovers. Your unaccompanied minors may only be able to fly on an itinerary with a layover of 2 to 3 hours.
Some airlines like Delta have designated lounges for kids which is something to consider if you are looking at dealing with a layover.
Many times the unaccompanied minors are not allowed to fly red eye flights or after a certain time.
There typically is a an exception to this rule such as when that flight is the only available flight to the destination.
Many airlines will limit the number of total unaccompanied minors on each flight. This helps the airline keep better tabs on all of the unaccompanied minors on the flights.
Some airlines like JetBlue will have specific seats that the unaccompanied minors will sit in. On JetBlue, unaccompanied minors will always be seated in seats “ABC” on the last row of the aircraft.
It’s also possible with airlines like Alaska that the seat could change for the unaccompanied minor.
Often, unaccompanied minors can sit just about anywhere (including first class) but the emergency exit rows are off limits based on federal regulations.
The reason is that they may be called upon to assist with opening the doors in an emergency and many kids are not well-suited for that.
Airlines typically will not hold or administer medication for unaccompanied minors.
This just opens up the door for lawsuits and liability issues so it’s easier for the airlines to stay out of administering medication.
However, if there is some type of emergency or your child becomes seriously ill, the airline will potentially contact medical personnel to assist.
Usually, they will contact the parent or guardian first but if things are very serious they may bypass that route and go directly to seeking medical attention.
Optional unaccompanied minors
In some cases, a teenager may still want to travel as an unaccompanied minor.
Typically this would be a kid in the 14 to 17-year-old range.
Some airlines will allow teenager to be accompanied through the airport if you pay the additional unaccompanied minor fee.
There are usually restrictions for international flights you need to know about.
First, some airlines will not allow unaccompanied minors to fly on international routes. For example, Southwest does not allow unaccompanied minors to fly on international routes.
Other times when it is allowed, the unaccompanied minor may have to carry additional documentation with them such as a letter of consent.
These letters are required to abide by specific criteria so make sure that you research into the requirements such as how they need to be notarized, etc.
The booking process for an unaccompanied minor is usually pretty similar to the standard booking process.
You can usually book the unaccompanied minor online. Simply select that there is a child flying and often times you’ll be prompted to input an age or to clarify if they are traveling alone or not.
You may be able to pay the fee online but in some cases you may be asked to pay the fee at the airport.
Typically, after you confirm your reservation you should be sent a form to be filled out. (Sometimes you can find this form online in PDF form but that is not always the case.)
On this form you will need to input the names, and contact information for the parents or guardians that will be dropping off and picking up the kids. Some airlines may ask you to supply alternate names as well.
If there is any change to these plans, be sure to contact the airlines ASAP because they are very strict about not allowing other individuals to pick up the child for obvious reasons.
I recommend checking in early because you will have to fill out or submit the consent forms when you arrive at the airport.
For domestic flights I would try to arrive at the airport at least 90 to 120 minutes prior to departure. And for international flights, I would try to arrive at least two to three hours prior to departure.
The child may have to be issued a wristband or lanyard and the accompanying adult will need to receive the escort pass in order to allow them to get through security.
Make sure that the adult has a government-issued ID that matches the guardian information on the contact form or they may not be allowed to pass through security with the minor.
In some cases, an airline may require some type of documentation to verify the age of the child.
This would usually be something like a passport or a birth certificate. It’s probably only necessary if your child looks very young but it is worth having just in case it is needed.
Getting to the gate
Once you have the escort pass, you can escort a minor through security and all the way to the gate.
It’s a good idea to introduce the unaccompanied minor to a gate agent as this will help the unaccompanied minor get more comfortable and also will alert the agent that there is an unaccompanied minor on the flight.
Unaccompanied minors should receive pre-boarding on most airlines which means that they will be able to board before the first group.
Some airlines will take extra time to acquaint the unaccompanied minor with the lavatory and also to provide them with a security briefing.
I recommend confirming pre-boarding with an agent at the gate to help remind them that the child will need to be pre-boarded.
The guardian is not supposed to leave the gate area until the unaccompanied minor’s flight has actually taken off and is in the sky.
The reason is that the plane could potentially head back towards the gate if something comes up and the airlines want the guardian to be on standby in that scenario.
Once the unaccompanied minor is up in the air, they may be offered some form of entertainment such as a tablet and could also receive snacks or even a meal depending on the airline and the length of the flight.
Note that flight attendants are not babysitters and do not constantly monitor your child while up in the air.
The guardian or parent picking up the child at the airport should arrive a good 45 minutes prior to the scheduled arrival time in order to ensure that they have enough time to get an escort pass that will allow them to get to the gate area.
Many flights arrive early and so guardians should allocate enough time for them to navigate through the airport and to arrive at the gate area prior to a potential early arrival.
On many international flights, guardians will not be able to travel to the gate area due to customs and immigration regulations.
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Unaccompanied Minor tips
Be extra careful of bad weather
If it looks like bad weather might interfere with the flight of your unaccompanied minor then you should think twice about going through with their travel.
This is especially the case if there is a connection involved.
With bad weather, there is a possibility of the flight being rerouted to a different airport and that could cause major hiccups in the plans.
So take extra precaution when planning travel for an unaccompanied minor when it comes to inclement weather.
Are there flight cancellations happening?
Related to the above point, if there are a lot of flight cancellations happening then you should be on alert. We’ve all seen airlines meltdown and know about the domino effect that can happen.
It’s a good idea to plan for your unaccompanied minor to eat right before the flight so that food is not an issue.
Since you will have an escort pass, you will be able to eat with them at a restaurant that is located past airport security if you would like.
Some airlines like Alaska Airlines will provide meals on flights that are a specific length such as more than two hours.
But it is best to provide a meal for your child before the flight. You could always give your child some snacks for the flight.
A lot of guardians and parents will give their child a debit or credit card to use on in-flight purchases. These often are necessary because many airlines do not accept cash for in-flight purchases.
Related: Can You Bring Food on a Plane?
Some airlines go above and beyond and may provide a tablet for entertainment for your unaccompanied minor.
But it is better to be prepared and to give your child something to keep themselves occupied during the flight such as a tablet, coloring books, toys, etc.
This is especially true on airlines like Southwest that do not have in-flight entertainment built into the seats.
Try to minimize the carry-ons for your child and just give them a single bag to travel with when possible. This will make their lives easier and prevent them from leaving something behind.
Get them comfortable
If you suspect that your child may be nervous or anxious about the airport experience, you can always head to the airport a day or two before the flight to get them acquainted with the check in area and maybe even introduce them to an agent.
Track the flight
Since you the guardian or parent will no doubt be interested in keeping track of the flight status, I would recommend downloading an app like FlightAware.
Unaccompanied Minor policy FAQ
An unaccompanied minor is a minor (usually 5 through 14) who is not flying with an accompanying passenger above a certain age limit.
The requisite accompanying passenger age limit is supplied by the airlines and can range from 12 to 18.
No, not all airlines allow unaccompanied minors to fly.
Unaccompanied minor fees range from $50-$150, depending on the airline. Legacy carriers like Delta, United, and American charge on the higher side while low-cost carriers like Southwest will charge only $50 per flight.
Many airlines will not allow unaccompanied minors to fly on connecting flights if they are a certain age, such as five through seven years old. However, older unaccompanied minors usually are allowed to fly on a connecting flight although there may be some restrictions.
Yes, most airlines should offer pre-boarding to unaccompanied minors which allows them to board before the first boarding group.
Some airlines such as JetBlue have designated seats for unaccompanied minors.
Some airlines will offer unaccompanied minors meal service on flights of at least two hours while others may offer snacks.
However, it is best to assume that no complimentary meals will be offered and to provide a meal for your unaccompanied minor before the flight as well as snacks for during the flight.
You can often book an unaccompanied minor on award tickets.
No, usually unaccompanied minors are not allowed to fly with pets.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.