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Military Stepkids - Flying Unaccompanied

Our kids have been flying unaccompanied for almost 5 years.  Ever since the youngest turned 5 years old!  We are extremely appreciative this option is available.  Without it, our two kids would never get to see their dad as much as they do.  

I'll never forget the first unaccompanied flight.  I had worked for an airline in my early 20's.  I wasn't concerned about anything bad happening on a plane.  I was more concerned about how a 5 & 6 year old were going to entertain themselves on a 2.5 hour flight.  Mom & dad were a little more nervous, but this is what I told them then, and this is what I tell you now.  YOU bring your child to the gate.  YOU put them on the plane. YOU pick them up at the gate.  They can't get kidnapped mid air on a nonstop flight.  

Discussions to have with your children before their first flight
  • Explain the rules of electronics in flight.  Make sure they know how to turn their electronics on and off.  They need to understand that they may not take out their electronics until the flight attendant tells them to.  In addition, that they need to turn them off prior to landing. You can state this to them again, in front of the flight attendant, when you hand off your kids at the gate.  
  • No one should touch them. PERIOD!  Impress upon them to immediately report to the flight attendant anyone that is making them uncomfortable.  When at the gate handing off the child, reconfirm this by saying, "Remember to let the flight attendant know if anyone is making you uncomfortable."
  • Discuss how the bathrooms work and how they are usually located at the back of the plane. Explain that there isn't water in the toilet.  That you push a button and it sucks out the waste.  Tell them if they drop something in toilet that they didn't mean to, to not retrieve it.  Tell them to ask a flight attendant for help.  If your child is still bed wetting or having accidents, you may want to put them in a pullup for their trip.  Flights can be long and children fall asleep. Accidents happen.
  • Explain where the Flight Attendant call button is located.  It's usually orange.  Let them know to push it if they have any questions. 
  • We usually buy our kids fresh fruit and a beverage prior to getting on the plane.  This is in addition to the snack in their back packs.  Let your kids know if their will be a meal on their flight. Tell them not to eat all their food at once.  Especially if it's a long trip.  Since our kids fly connections we have snack for the first flight and snack for the second.  We also give them cash.  In the five years they have been flying, our kids have never lost their money to purchase food.  
  • Go over expectations if they are going on a connection flight.  Explain that a flight attendant from their flight will take them to the unaccompanied minor room.  At NO TIME should that leave that room.   The only time they leave the room is to go to their connection flight. That is for when layovers are long.  Most of the time for quick layovers the flight attendant will take the child directly to the next flight/gate.    If you are nervous about connection flights, get your child a cellphone.  Have them call you after they land or before they take off.  
  • Most important of all, be happy for them.  Let them know how exciting traveling can be and how lucky they are to be able to fly.  If you are scared for them, they will be scared.  If you are excited for them, they will be excited too.  My kids love to fly and travel.  They know they are lucky little kids to be able to see and do as much they have done.  Not many kids can say they've been to 30 + states!

What to expect when you Check in the kids:
  • Head to the Check in Area.  Some airports have signs that say Unaccompanied Minors.  If you don't see that, go to any location that says special assistance.  If you don't see any of those, go to first class.  DO NOT wait in the standard line.  Don't worry you will not get in trouble.  You have extra stuff you need to do.  Expect to be there anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes  Longer you've and your check-in agent have been doing this, the faster it is.  Also remember there can be people in front of you.  
  • Verification of  Pickup people on both ends.  You will need Name, Phone Numbers, and address.
  • Drop off person will need an ID.  
  • They usually only allow one person to escort the children to the gate.  There are exceptions, but go to the agent expecting this and you will never be disappointed.
  • Although I've never been asked to prove the age of a child, most airlines reserve the right to do so.  Just in case this happens, make sure you have their Military ID, Birth Certificate, or a State ID.  
  • This is where they can check in Luggage.  We DO NOT have our kids take luggage.  They travel with the clothes they are wearing and a backpack.  You can read more about this on my blog post "Military Stepkids - It's Fashion Show Day"
  • The agent will give you the kids tickets and baggage stickers if applicable and the unaccompanied Minor form in a plastic little folder holder a child can wear around their neck.  They will also give you a pass to get to the gate.  They also give each kid a bracelets & stickers to wear.  
  • Next you will go through security and head to the gate.
  • When you arrive at the gate, go to the desk and let them know you are there with the kids. This is where you give them the unaccompanied minor forms and tickets.  They may look at them and have you hold them until they board.
  • They usually take the kids before anyone boards.  Your kids will be the first passengers on the plane. Make sure you have given the tickets, boarding passes, unaccompanied minor forms to the agent at this time.  The agent either walks them down to the plane or a flight attendant will be there for the hand off from agent to flight attendant.  Don't forget to take a pic of them leaving.
  • Finally it's time to wait.  You can't leave the airport until their plane is in the sky.  Pushing from the gate is not guarantee of take off.  If your gate agent has left, walk to another one and verify the flight is in the air.  

What to expect when you pick the kids up:

  • Head to the Check in Area.  Some airports have signs that say Unaccompanied Minors.  If you don't see that, go to any location that says special assistance.  If you don't see any of those, go to first class.  DO NOT wait in the standard line.  Don't worry you will not get in trouble.  
  • Let the agent know you are picking up Unaccompanied Minors.  They will ask you some information about the reservation.
  • They will verify your ID then print you a pass so you can meet the kids at the gate.  
  • They usually only allow one person to meet the children at the gate.  There are exceptions, but go to the agent expecting this and you will never be disappointed.
  • Go through security and head to the kids gate.
  • There may or not be a gate agent there.  If there is, let them know you are there to pick up Unaccompanied Minors.
  • This is where you will wait.  Your children will be the last one/s off the plane.
  • A flight attendant will escort them off.  At this time your kids are probably running from him/her to you.  Don't leave with the kids yet. There's more paperwork.
  • The flight attendant will check your ID and have you sign a paper to show you received your precious cargo.  
  • That's it they are all yours.. BUT WAIT!  Don't leave yet!  Now it's time to check to make sure your kids didn't leave anything behind int he plane.  Make sure they have their Nintendo DS, Cellphone, or anything else brought.  It's a lot easier to get their items back right at the gate than once you get home.
  • Pick up luggage if they checked any.  Now that you have everything head home and enjoy your family time..  Oh and don't forget to take a picture.  Here's one of our kids seeing there dad after a 12 month deployment. 

What to pack in their backpack
  • Nintendo DS
  • Leapsters/LeapPads
  • Books
  • PSP
  • Nook
  • Kindle
  • Couple of Favorite Barbies,Favorite little race cars
  • Word Search/Activity Books
  • Snacks
    • Fruit Snacks
    • Peanut Butter Crackers
    • Sandwich
    • Chips
    • Trail Mix 
Things to AVOID having your child bring on the flight
  • Don't have them bring Markers.  Limit the amount of Crayons also.
    Our little ones brought crayons most of the time, but once they did decide to draw all over the window and tray on a Delta flight.  Delta was very kind and understanding.  We were mortified.   
  • Laptop
    Maybe if your kids are older, but having a child trying to get it out during flight may be to difficult for them. If they require assistant to set it up, then don't send it.
  • Anything sticky or Gooey
    Avoid Chocolate Bars, Candy Bars... Trust me.. they will be wearing it when the arrive at there destination!
  • Do not let them bring anything that you wouldn't allow them to play with unsupervised
  • Make sure to buy a beverage AFTER you go through security.  

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I book the ticket?
You can't book Unaccompanied Minor tickets on most airline websites.  The one I know you can and have personally booked an unaccompanied minor flight on is United Airlines.  If your kids are flying on United Airlines and you have a Mileage Plus number you can book online.  Most the others you have to book through phone reservations.  Some airlines may waive the over the phone ticketing charge when booking Unaccompanied Minors.  Don't forget to ask.

What about Unaccompanied Minor Fees?
These can vary by Airline.  Most are no more than $100 each way.  This is for a group of kids.  So if you are sending 3 kids on the same flight it's one charge each way.  

Things to remember when booking the ticket?
  • List 2 people that could/would pick up or drop off your kid/s.  What if the first person can't make it.  Our kids mom has been at the airport before and they would not release the kids to their own mom.  As frustrating as that was for her, I'm happy to report airlines take this VERY seriously!  
  • Make sure you give everyone who needs access to the reservation access.  Making it so Dad or mom can't access the information just makes it more difficult.  Your children are traveling cross country without adults they know.  This is not the time to be petty.
  • If your kids are flying connections, put them on the earliest flight possible.  
    • Airlines do not allow kids to fly on last flight of the day.  Doesn't matter if it's non stop.  
    • Allows kids to have more time with visiting parent on arrival
    • You want as many flight options available if your kids are flying connections when there is bad weather or a cancelled flight.

What time should I arrive at the airport?
Make sure you arrive 2 hours prior when it's their departure.  I know I know... that seems crazy.. but the process at the airport can take a bit.  Especially your first time there.  You can arrive 1 hour prior when you pick them up.  Sometimes less, just depends how busy the airport is and the security line.

What age do my children have to be to fly unaccompanied?
They fly nonstop from 5-7 years old.  Your child must be atleast 8 years old to fly on a connection.  If there are more than 2 children flying the rule to follow is that of the youngest child.    Verify with the airline you are utilizing when booking tickets.

Airlines our kids have flown Unaccompanied
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • US Airways

Reminder:  This is our family experience.  Please check with the airline you are booking with to ensure you have an eligible flight for your children.  Fees and rules are subject to change.  This article may become outdated.

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