Every summer, my mom does “Grancie Camp” with the grandkids. The grandchildren fly to her house as unaccompanied minors. Here’s some info about our experience of sending our children on flights alone.
Flying as an unaccompanied minor
A few weeks ago, my oldest son, B, went to visit my parents in Las Vegas for my mom’s yearly “Grancie Camp.” (We call her Grancie instead of Grandma). We had lots of questions about him flying as an unaccompanied minor.
This was his fourth year of attending Grancie Camp, and his 7th and 8th flights as an unaccompanied minor, so I’ve compiled all your questions and I’m answering them below.
All your questions about unaccompanied minor travel
Which airline did we use?
Every year we fly Southwest. There’s a fee for unaccompanied minor travel on every airline, but Southwest is the least expensive of them all. It’s $50 each way on top of the airfare.
How does it work with connecting flights?
Connecting flights are not allowed for unaccompanied minors on Southwest Airlines. On other airlines, some connecting flights are allowed for certain ages and certain cities. For American Airlines, they have lounges in certain airports for unaccompanied minors to go during their layovers.
Check the restrictions and eligibility for other airlines — you can google “Unaccompanied Minor Delta” and get all the fees and information you need.
Can unaccompanied minors fly internationally?
It depends on the airline. Southwest does not allow it, but other airlines do. Some will require a letter of consent. A quick Google search will tell you if your location, airline, and child’s age makes them eligible.
How old were your kids when they started flying alone?
Southwest lets unaccompanied minors fly as young as five years old. We started when B was seven.
How does airport drop off go?
When you book the flight online and put in your child’s date of birth, it pops up as an unaccompanied minor flight and adds the additional fee to your airfare. At this point they also ask for the drop off and pick up contacts on both ends of the flight. They ask for a primary contact and a back up contact. ONLY those people listed will be allowed gate passes.
You cannot check them in online before the flight, so when you arrive at the airport, you go to the desk and they’ll print your child’s boarding pass, give them an unaccompanied minor lanyard, and give you (or the guardian) a gate pass. You both go through security and to the gate.
When you arrive at the gate, you check in with the gate agent so they know you’ve arrived. Your child will be the first one to board the plane.
Once they board, they are assigned a flight attendant who will attend to their every need during the flight.
You, as the guardian, are asked to stay at the gate until the plane is in the air, just in case the plane has to come back to the gate for any reason.
How does pickup go?
On the other end of the flight, Grandma (or whomever) checks in at the check in desk and gets a gate pass so she’s at the gate the moment the child gets off the plane. This pickup person will need to go through security as well.
The unaccompanied minor is the first person off the plane as well.
Do the children sit in a certain assigned seat?
On Southwest, there are no assigned seats, but since they’re the first person on the plane, they usually put them on the front row so they’re easy for the flight attendants to help and assist them when needed.
Do you feel safe about them being on the plane alone?
I know some people are worriers by nature. I am not a huge worrier, and I know they’re in good hands with the flight attendants. And honestly, there’s nowhere for them to go while they’re on the plane.
For long flights, do you send electronics, food, and medication?
Yes! We’ve never done more than a 3 hour flight, but it’s definitely great to stock them up with a few essentials. We usually send B with the iPad or his GameBoy and a bag of snacks. He doesn’t have any medication, but if your child does, it’s definitely important to include it in their carry-on luggage.
At what age do they age out of “unaccompanied minor” status?
For Southwest, age 11 is the last year of unaccompanied minor status. For other airlines, the status age varies.
Does the flight attendant sit with them?
No, they do not. The airline websites all say that the flight attendants are there to assist and check on your child periodically, but not monitor them continuously. But in all of our experiences, they’ve been very attentive and have gone above and beyond to help these unaccompanied minors have a great flight experience.
But you probably won’t want to do unaccompanied minor travel if your child isn’t responsible enough to sit by themselves for a few hours.
Does the flight attendant walk them to the bathroom?
I’m sure if the child requested them to walk them to the airplane bathroom, the flight attendant wouldn’t say no. But they are not required to do so, and your child should be responsible enough to go on their own.
Can you choose a male or female flight attendant?
No. Once they’re on the plane, the flight attendants will introduce themselves and assist however the child might need, but it may be more than one helping your child throughout the flight. However, in our experience, there’s usually one flight attendant who is sort of “assigned” to the unaccompanied minor and is the one who checks on them frequently.
Is there any control over who the child sits next to on the flight?
No. Right now, with social distancing on the planes, some flights keep the middle seats empty, so your child wouldn’t sit next to anyone. But typically, they’ll sit next to someone and there’s no control over who will sit there. But remember, if they’re in the front row on Southwest, the flight attendants will be right there at all times. B has done 8 flights on his own now, and we’ve never had any issues with seat mates.
Had my children flown much before flying on their own?
Yes. We have traveled a ton, and we have raised them to be very independent. Whenever we’re in the airport, we have them look at the flight monitors and then follow signs to get us to our gate. Once we’re in the plane, they have to find our row and seats. They have all flown many, many times and are very comfortable on a flight.
Do I tell my kids what to do in an emergency?
Since they’ve flown so much, they’ve heard the flight attendant’s information about emergencies many times before, and we’ve certainly talked about that on flights together. But when they’re about to head on a flight by themselves, I think talking through worst case scenarios would add fear and stress to their trip, so we haven’t mentioned it specifically.
Does your child have a phone or a tracking device?
No, he does not.
What happens if your pickup person is delayed?
Um, don’t let this happen. Since you have to get a gate pass at the check-in desk, and go through security, and get to the gate, you need to allow plenty of time before their flight arrives. Have Grandma clear her schedule completely and get to the airport at least 1 hour early so there is absolutely no chance of not being there when the flight arrives.
But of course if there was a delay, they have contact information for the primary and backup pickup people, so they will hang on to the child until the pickup person arrives.
Were we worried about COVID?
We talked with my parents many times leading up to Grancie Camp, and my parents are both in good health, not in the high age bracket, and we all had been quarantined. So they were absolutely comfortable with the two grandchildren coming to stay with them. If they had been uncomfortable, we would have cancelled this year.
As far as our family’s health, and B’s health on the plane, he was required to wear a mask during the entire flight, and everything was overly cleaned and disinfected. I think planes are cleaner than they’ve ever been and people are being overly cautious and clean. So I felt comfortable with him flying.
Am I a worrier? Are your kids worriers?
I mentioned this above, I’m not much of a worrier. However, B is a major worrier. I chatted in my instagram stories about this a few weeks ago, but I’ll share it again here.
When B turned 7, my mom did her first Grancie Camp with B and my niece who is his same age. We lived in California at the time, and in order for him to go, he needed to fly alone. He was TERRIFIED.
When my mom heard how stressed he was about flying alone, she offered to drive from Las Vegas to pick him up and then drive him back to Las Vegas, and then drive him home when Grancie camp was done. I said “no way,” and if he wanted to attend Grancie Camp, he needed to fly. It was his choice.
He stressed about it for several weeks, because he really, really wanted to go to Grancie Camp, but he was so worried about flying alone. Finally decided he could be brave and he would fly. It was still scary for him, but the second he arrived in Las Vegas after his flight, he was beyond proud of himself.
Doing things that scare you is such a valuable life skill, and that sense of confidence that comes from overcoming a fear is so amazing. I think it’s so much easier to learn that skill when you’re 7 than when you’re 37 or 67!
Every year, he worries less. This year he jumped right on that plane without a backward glance.
Did I miss anything? If you have any other questions, leave a comment here or on my morning instagram post!