kids traveling alone

Kids flying solo? Here’s what you’ll pay.

My Well-Mannered Traveler column on this week –Are airlines cashing in on your kids? -addresses some of the new fee airlines will charge you to put your kid on a plane as an unaccompanied minor.

Southwest Airlines gets kudos for not charging customers a fee to take along two checked bags. But the “Bags Fly Free” airline has a different attitude about kids: starting Friday, April 23, 2010 Southwest Airlines is doubling the fee it charges to transport children age 5 to 11 as unaccompanied minors.  The new UM fees — $50 each way, up from $25 each way — are still on the low end of a fee scale that can top $300 per round-trip. But as we learned last June when one airline “misplaced” very young travelers on two much-publicized occasions, parents don’t always get what they think they’re paying for when they fork over these fees.

So as summer travel planning gets underway and kids start looking forward to camp or a visit to a friend or relative in another city, it’s a good time to review airlines fees for unaccompanied minors and the tips for making sure your little solo traveler flies safely.

Bags may be free; your kids aren’t

The news isn’t all bad: Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are actually lowering the fees they charge for accommodating unaccompanied minors.  Starting with tickets purchased May 1, 2010 for travel after June 16th, customers will pay a $25 fee per child for direct flights and $50 per child for connecting flights. This is a reduction from the current $75 fee.

What about other airlines? Prices and rules are always subject to change, but here are the current charges for unaccompanied minors on most domestic airlines. Fees listed below are one-way.

Airtran Airways: $39 for non-stop/direct flights; $59 for itineraries with connections. If two or more children travel together, only one fee is charged.

Alaska/Horizon Airlines $75 each way for children ages 5-12. This fee is for up to three children.  Effective May 1 for travel after June 16: $25 fee per child for direct flights; $50 per child for connecting flights within the Alaska/Horizon network.

American Airlines: $100 each way. Covers two or more children from the same family.

Continental Airlines: $100 each way. Covers children traveling together.

Delta Airlines: $100 each way, per child.

Frontier Airlines: $50 for direct and non-stop flights; $100 for connecting flights. One fee per family.

JetBlue Airways: $75 per child.

Spirit Airlines: $100 each way, per child.

Southwest Airlines: $50 each way, each child.

United Airlines: $99 each way; covers 2 or more children traveling together.

US Airways: $100 each way; non-stop only. Covers two or more children.

Virgin America: $40 one way; non-stop only.

Some details to keep in mind:

Be sure to check for updates, rules and additional fees, which can vary widely and often change on short notice.

For example, some airlines waive the UM fee for children who have achieved frequent flier status. Some airlines do not allow unaccompanied minors to fly after 9 p.m., on the last flight of the day or if bad weather or some other condition (i.e. impending strike or volcano eruption) might cause delays.

Several airlines promise to give your child a snack; others will waive the checked bags fees; and a few charge just a single fee for two or more children traveling together, which can offer significant cost-savings.

And be sure to check those age restrictions: some airlines charge unaccompanied minor fees only for children aged 5-11. Others might insist on collecting an unaccompanied minor fee for teens 14 or even 15 years-old.

Airlines take the fee; you keep the responsibilities

There’s that old saying, “You get what you pay for.” That rule doesn’t necessarily apply when it comes to picking an airline to transport your young solo flier. Remember those ‘mis-delivered’ kids? They were flying on Continental Airlines/Continental Express, which levies a $100 UM fee. Last June, the airline sent a 10-year-old girl to Newark, N.J. instead of Cleveland and flew an 8-year-old girl to Arkansas instead of Charlotte, N.C.

Mistakes happen, of course, and millions of kids fly alone each year with no problems. But there’s plenty you can do to tip the scales in favor of your little unaccompanied minor having a smooth flight.

Make sure you’re prepared:

Nancy Schretter of the Family Travel Network urges parents to do their homework. “Avoid airlines that have had problems [caring for unaccompanied minors] in the past. … Choose larger aircraft and, if possible, stay away from small regional jets. … And think about everything that could happen and be ready to deal with problems.”

Some of those problems could crop up with the all the paperwork associated with sending a child as an unaccompanied minor. Study the rules, have the required phone numbers and identification information ready when you go to the airport and make paper copies of everything, including the airline’s posted unaccompanied minor policy. In researching current fees and rules, I discovered that the advice of reservation agents can conflict with an airline’s posted rules.

Make sure your child is prepared

Arm your child with snacks, some cash, a charged cell phone, emergency phone numbers and books, games and other activities to keep them entertained. And make sure your child knows what to do if things go wrong.

Airlines want your money, but not your cash


In researching my Well Mannered Traveler column for this week, I discovered that just about every U.S. airline has gone “cashless” in the cabins.

Those that haven’t surely will.  So if you think you’ll want to buy a snack, a sandwich or a headset on your next flight, make sure you have your credit or debit card handy.

Continental, Delta and Northwest (Delta’s new partner) recently joined United, AirTran, Virgin America, Alaska, Frontier and Midwest in the cashless cabin movement.  Now that flight attendants are equipped with card readers, cash is no longer accepted for onboard purchases.

The airlines say they’re doing this for the convenience of passengers who will now “not have to deal with the hassle of fumbling for money.” Flight attendants say they like the new policy because it means no more having to keep track of cash and rushing around trying to make change.


But many passengers aren’t so sure. recently did a survey on this topic and found that 54% of the 1,918 respondents would prefer paying for in-flight food and services with cash.  In the thumbs up/thumbs down survey that accompanies my column, 81% of the more than 5,000 people who voted in just the first twelve hours thought airlines should continue to accept cash.

Andy Johnson, of LeRoy, Ill., is one of those cash-only customers who’d like airlines to continue accepting cash on board. “Cash is king,” she said, “but people also need to carry appropriate bills. Whenever I travel, I always check out the costs and prepare in advance so that if I want to purchase something, I’m ready.”


Cashless cabins also have some parents concerned. “I don’t like it,” said Colorado mom and family travel writer Amber Johnson. “I understand the convenience of not having to deal with counting out change. But what happens when my kids fly alone to see their grandparents? I really don’t want to have to go through the hassle of sending a credit card with them.”

She may not have to.

Snacks are complimentary for kids and adults on JetBlue Airways.

Complimentary meals are still served on some Continental and Hawaiian Airlines flights.

Some carriers, including Delta, Northwest, Frontier, Midwest and United, officially include the cost of a snack or meal in the unaccompanied minor fee. (On Frontier, the fee also includes use of the TV.) On Virgin America, which has been cashless since the airline’s 2007 launch, in-flight teams will provide an unaccompanied minor with complimentary snacks or meals “if they are hungry onboard and didn’t plan ahead,” said spokesperson Abby Lunardini. Alaska Airlines has had an unofficial practice to provide a free meal to unaccompanied minors who don’t have food with them, but a spokesperson says the policy will be formalized in early 2010.  And US Airways, which plans to go cashless in the first half of 2010, is “looking into things like vouchers, so unaccompanied minors without cards can purchase snacks or food,” said spokesperson Valerie Wunder.

To read the full column – and cast your vote on the whether or not airlines should continue to accept cash, please see: Airlines want your money, but not your cash on