How young is too young when letting your children fly alone?

Would you let your seven-year-old travel alone on a domestic or international flight?

Would you let your seven-year-old travel alone on a domestic or international flight?  (iStock)

Would you let your seven-year-old travel alone on a domestic or international flight? Do the airlines even allow it? Give me your answer to the first question after I tell you the answer to the second question: It’s yes!

Policies vary, but children ages five to 12, and in some cases up to 14, are considered unaccompanied minors by the airlines. They have programs that let you drop your kids at the airport and send them across the United States or even off to Europe. Are you ready to do that with your kids? Here are some of the pros and cons of sending your kids off on their own:

It costs more…but is it actually cheaper?

Every airline charges a fee to send your kids on a solo flight.  This is on top of a adult ticket price. These charges vary, with some airlines tacking on an extra $50 or $75 per flight.  Last month, American Airlines upped its charge to $150 each way, doubling the cost of the ticket in many cases.

It will certainly save you time to send your child alone, but it’s also cheaper in the scheme of things. Otherwise, you’d be booking a total of two separate round-trip tickets to do what the airlines will do for you: accompany your child on a flight.

There are some stipulations, since the vast majority of airlines only allow minors to fly alone on non-stop or direct flights. Direct flights can have one or more stops, but do not have a change of planes. International carriers, such as British Airways, will allow for connections based on different ages.

Since the rules vary by age and by airline, check with the carrier’s website to make sure you fully understand the rules for minors traveling alone. Better yet, call a travel agent who can check all of the rules and secure the best flight for your child’s travel.

Is it safe for children to fly alone?

When you are greeting a friend or relative at the airport today, you are trapped on the other side of security. Forget about getting through the TSA security checkpoint to meet your husband, wife or father at the gate. Those days are long gone.

But this is not the case with a minor. You are required, in almost every case, to accompany your child to the gate and you can’t leave until your child has boarded the aircraft. This is a comfort to many parents and their children and the airlines want to limit their liability by having parents with their kids as long as possible.

Children will be first to board, and in most cases they will be required to sit in the same area on the plane where flight attendants can keep an eye on them (typically the back row near the galley). This policy adds an extra level of security and really makes it much safer for kids to travel alone. Airlines also require a designated person, complete with identification, on the other end of the flight to meet your child; they will not release them without that person being on hand.

Who do airlines consider to be adults?

Some airlines will allow any child over 12 years old to travel on their own, though most push it to 14. That means they will not be treated any differently than the 55-year-old business traveler heading to a meeting. Are you comfortable with your 13-year-old heading off to Colorado to ski? The airline has no problem with it as long as that 13-year-old has a ticket and identification to verify he or she is old enough to be traveling alone, such as a birth certificate.

A few more things to consider

--A reservation for an unaccompanied minor must be made in advance through the respective airline, and you may not be able to do a last minute booking, depending on the airline and program.

--You also must arrive at least two hours prior to flight time, since you will be required to sign various forms and get a gate pass to get you through security.

--In some cases the airline might not be able to have you go through to the gate, so be prepared to have an airline representative get them onboard.

--Most airlines don’t accept cash for onboard food purchases, so it’s a good idea to give your child a debit or credit card.

“Helicopter” parents need not apply?

You may have heard the term “helicopter” parent before. It describes those parents that literally hover over their children. Could this be you? If so, any policies or procedures, no matter how secure, might not sway you to let your children out of your sight.

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Mark Murphy is a noted travel expert, author and founder of  You can follow him on Twitter at @murphytravels.