Most children under the age of 18 can fly alone on domestic and international flights, but the process isn't as simple as a minor buying his own ticket and boarding the airplane. Depending on the age of the child, airlines in the United States have placed a number of regulations to ensure youths qualify to fly without being accompanied by an adult.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, many children under the age of 18 fly alone. The reasons for these unsupervised flights vary significantly, and most are for legitimate, parent-approved reasons. The U.S. DOT and airlines work together to protect youth who fly alone and remind citizens that if your child has access to your credit card and the Internet, she can purchase an airplane ticket and travel alone. Parents should be vigilant about monitoring their credit card statements and their child's activities online.
Each U.S.-based airline has a set of regulations regarding children who fly alone, although most of these regulations are similar in nature. In most cases, children under the age of 5 cannot travel alone. Children from 5 to 7 can travel alone on nonstop flights, while children between 8 and 11 can fly alone on any flight, with certain restrictions, such as the size of the airplane. Children between 12 and 17 years of age can fly alone domestically without restrictions, but flying internationally requires that the child meets certain protocols. Airlines require adults to be involved in some manner if their child is flying alone.
Each airline has a different set of regulations for children who fly alone. Many airlines, such as Southwest (southwest.com), require that you present a document such as a birth certificate for the child when you check your child in at the airport. Most airlines also charge additional fees for children who travel alone. U.S. Airways (usairways.com), for example, charges $100 per trip. As a safety precaution, airlines require that the person picking up the child at the destination airport shows a form of identification before the child is released to his custody. If you're arranging for your child to fly alone, contact the airline you wish to use to determine its policies.
Any time your child is on her own, she must be aware of how to stay safe. Before arranging your child's unaccompanied flight, talk to her about avoiding unnecessary contact with strangers, explain how to ask for help from a flight attendant or police officer and answer any questions she has. If you're arranging for her to meet a family member at her destination, tell her to wait in a designated area until the family member locates her.