Flying alone can be fear inducing to say the least. Without a travel companion you are forced to rely on yourself to get from A-Z. Which terminal should you run to? Where do you go after you have arrived or departed? And most importantly, do you still have your boarding pass to prove your reason for being in the duty-free area? But the fear could be a lot worse if you are flying as a child, unaccompanied by parent or guardian. So how exactly would this work?
It is estimated that approximately 285,000 kids fly solo each year (figure excluding COVID-19 times). Often children need to fly alone to visit their parent or relative who are overseas without the means of being accompanied by an adult. For parents who wish to instil courage and resilience in their children, they can simply book a ticket for their child to fly solo.
Each airline stipulates specific requirements for children flying unaccompanied which includes age, the kind of flights they can board, and documents that need to be provided; airlines requiring parents to complete a parental consent form which further details requirements and responsibilities.
You are probably wondering exactly how old the child needs to be? Different airlines have different perspectives, indeed the phrase ‘flying unaccompanied’ is not strictly true for it all depends on age.
With LOT Polish Airlines, children can fly unaccompanied at the tender age of 8 days old, providing that a qualified escort is designated to help the child navigate their way through check-in to boarding through to landing. For Air France, children need to be 4 years old for flights within Metropolitan France, or 5 years old if flying International, whereas British Airways (BA) state that the child must be 14 years old to travel alone.There are further requirements from the airlines mentioned above. Air France state that the child must not have a connecting flight, perhaps to avoid anxiety and confusion if the child needs to find the next boarding gate with or without bus transfers; LOT do however allow children aged 8 days to 12 years old to board connecting flights under their care, but this service is billed per route, for instance: Krakow to Warsaw and Warsaw to New York. The same applies for BA but parents must take heed that their child ‘‘will be booked to travel as an adult, and therefore will be making their way through departure and arrival airports and boarding their flight(s) without a chaperone’’ and that ‘‘British Airways cannot parental responsibility for the young person.’’
Once checked-in, the child should make their way (un/accompanied) through security, to their boarding gate and then onboard with exciting provisions to hand; for instance, Air France offers a choice of kid friendly channels, games, and organic food.
There are of course many risks to flying alone, especially as a minor, and one of the biggest risks is getting lost and being transported to somewhere else.
Back in 2016, United Airlines was forced to review a case when a 10-year-old girl was left stranded at Chicago airport – despite waiting and calling for assistance. In the same year, lack of communication saw Jet Blue staff presenting the wrong 5-year-old boy to a parent stood waiting for their son at JFK airport. However, airlines such as Air France aim to solve this issue by encouraging parents to download the Kids’ Solo app to keep track of their child’s journey from departure to arrival.There also lies the risk of abuse when flying as a minor. Numerous reports have shown evidence of unwarranted behaviour and assault on vulnerable children by strangers when left alone. To try and prevent this from happening, experts have suggested for parents to teach their children on how important it is to shout for help if another person makes them feel uncomfortable, and to ensure that their children receive clear instructions before their journey overseas, including phone numbers they are to ring if something unexpected occurs.
Flying alone can be an exciting time for any young explorer. It can lead them to think for themselves, to be brave and courageous unaccompanied or otherwise – maybe we could take a leaf out of their book next time we travel solo…
Would you be able to fly alone as a child? Do let us know in the comments below.