Top 10 Safety Tips for Children Traveling Alone

Many airlines, including all of the major U.S. airlines, allow children as young as five to travel alone. In addition to the usual risks that come with flying, there are additional risks that are associated with children flying alone. Many of these risks can be overcome by using common sense and taking a few basic precautions. The following tips will help both children traveling solo and those responsible for the child to deal with many of the problems that may be encountered.

  1. Consider the maturity of the child: While airlines allow children as young as five to travel unaccompanied, younger children may not be ready or willing to be in the presence of strangers for several hours, and may not be able to handle unusual situations that they may encounter. AirSafe.com makes the following recommendation: if your child is old enough to travel alone on public transportation, is able to spend time away from family in an organized setting like an overnight trip with a youth group, then that child is probably old enough to travel unaccompanied on a flight that includes a change of planes. Nonstop flights would be appropriate for children with less maturity.

  2. Coordinate with whoever is picking up the child
    Make sure that whoever is picking up the child knows all the relevant details of the child's trip and is able to contact either you or the airline to confirm the arrival time of the flight. The person picking up the child should also have identification that exactly matches the information that you supplied the airline. You should have the pickup person arrive early at the airport and contact you when they arrive. If you can't confirm their arrival at the airport, have an alternate person pick up the child.

    You should also include with the child a copy of all of the contact information that you supplied the airline. I If the child is able to use the telephone, you should provide them the means to contact someone (change, phone card, cell phone, etc.) if there is a flight cancellation, flight delay, or other problem.

  3. Tell your child what to expect during the flight
    You should explain clearly to the child what will likely happen during the flight, and what kind of experiences to expect. This is especially important if the child is an infrequent or first time flyer. They should know basic things such as where in the plane they will sit, how long the flight will be, and who will pick them up. It may help to have the child carry a picture of the person or persons who will be picking them up.

  4. Discuss appropriate behavior with your child
    Make sure you take the time to discuss appropriate behavior with your child. That includes the behavior of other passengers and the child's behavior. If another passenger acts in an inappropriate way, be sure that your child knows to inform a flight attendant or other airline representative.

    Inappropriate behavior on the part of other passengers includes rude, offensive, or threatening comments; inappropriate touching; inappropriate conversations; taking food or other items away from the child; or other behavior that makes the child uncomfortable or fearful. In addition, inappropriate behavior would include any attempt to elicit personal information about the child. Make sure that you child understands that no passenger they meet needs to know things such as their full name, their home address, their telephone number, or where they are going.

  5. Request appropriate seating
    When you make a reservation and especially when you check in you child, make sure that the child has a convenient seat. Request to have your child seated in a row without any other passengers, or with at least one empty seat between the child and the next passenger. Also, request that your child not sit in the same row as passengers who are consuming alcohol.

  6. Review the airline's policies
    Every airline has slightly different policies on how they accommodate unaccompanied children. Take special note of their policies for escorting children at connection airports and accommodations in the event that the flight is delayed or diverted. Note that some airlines policies do not include providing overnight accommodations and the airline may turn over your child to local authorities if the flight is delayed overnight. General information and insights concerning airline policies are available at AirSafe.com's Airline Rules for Unaccompanied Children.

  7. Take extra precautions for connecting flights
    If the child has to change planes, make sure that the airline has an adequate process for supervising the child when traveling between gates or while in waiting area. Make sure that the child understands that when traveling between gates that they must be escorted and that when waiting for their next flight that they must remain in clear view of whatever airline person is responsible for them.

  8. Spend extra time at the airport
    You should plan on coming to the airport early and staying for a while after departure. If there are last minute changes before the flight's scheduled departure, getting there early gives you a better opportunity for dealing with the situation.

  9. Identify the lead flight attendant
    Either you or your child should take the time to identify the lead flight attendant so that they know that there is an unaccompanied child present. On larger aircraft, you should identify at least one flight attendant who will be in the immediate area of the child.

  10. Escort the child to the seat
    If possible, escort the child onto the aircraft and check the area around the seat for hazards such as heavy carry on items in the overhead storage bins. If there is anything about the seating situations or about nearby passengers that do not meet with your approval, contact the lead flight attendant or a gate agent to help deal with the situation.

Related Resources
Airline Rules for Unaccompanied Children
Child travel advice
Using child restraints on aircraft
Tips for novice fliers
Airport security issues
Airline Baggage Issues
How to complain about airline service


Fear of flying resources

Fear of flying resource guide

Top 10 Safety Tips for Children Traveling Alone
http://airsafe.com/kidsafe/kidsolo.htm -- Revised: 13 August 2010