Leaving home alone
How to put your child on board a plane and let 'em fly
May 26, 1998
Web posted at: 10:06 a.m. EST (1506 GMT)
(CNN) -- Sometimes it's necessary to send Junior packing -- to see far-off relatives or a cross-continental parent. In general, if your kids are under 5, they aren't going anywhere on a plane without you or a guardian. But if they're older, they can travel alone, under certain conditions.
The obvious: infants must be accompanied by an adult, as is the requirement for most children under 5. One infant (usually defined as a child under 2 not occupying a seat) per paying adult age 12 or over may travel free. Some airlines (in some cases) have reduced-fare seats available for infants. Children 2 and over must pay full adult fare.
Though children under 2 may fly free, they must sit on a guardian's lap if the plane is full. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board have found that children are much safer flying in an approved safety seat (you have to bring your own) than they are on a parent's lap. Even with discounts, a fare for a child may seem extravagant, but holding a child on your lap in a plane is no different than doing so in the front seat of a car -- it's an unnecessary risk that can have fatal consequences.
As for older children, rules and regs applying to flying alone aboard U.S. aircraft vary from airline to airline, but not by much. The following are general guidelines -- please ask your airline before booking flights for unaccompanied kids.
Children 5 through 7 may travel unaccompanied, but cannot be on stand-by, must stay with the same airline from departure to arrival point, and cannot change planes. They must be accompanied by a parent or guardian until they are on the plane -- and that adult must provide the name, address and phone number (preferably both work and home) of the parent or guardian who will be waiting at the end of the line. ID and signature of the receiving adult will be required.
Children 8 through 11 may have connecting flights, even with another airline, and will be escorted by airline employees, usually with a service charge added.
Unaccompanied children are under the supervision of airline employees at all times. Some airlines assign a specific flight attendant for on-board supervision, and most have attended child care centers for layovers or unexpected delays.
The rules for international travel have slight variations -- children 5 to 7, for example, may not have stopovers in any country other than their final destination.
Once again, most airlines have very similar rules for unaccompanied children. Call before you book to be certain you have everything you need.
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