A lot of parents and grandparents who’ll be shuffling kids back and forth on airplanes during the holidays may be in for a shock when booking the flight.
That’s because of a hefty fee most airlines charge for any minors flying alone. The fee, of course, is on top of the price of the ticket. And as with many fees and policies affecting travelers, the details are in the fine print.
In early September, American Airlines stirred up fliers by expanding its policy on escorting unaccompanied minors on and off a plane. The nation’s largest airline now charges $150 each way for unaccompanied children age 5 through 14. Previously the charge was mandatory for children up through age 11.
For a roundtrip ticket, that adds $300 to the price of a trip. The expense could be huge not only for grandparents wanting to see the grandkids but also for parents who live in different cities.
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To this total, add that base prices on airline tickets for flights over the busy holiday season are starting to creep higher, in some cases by hundreds of dollars. And as anyone who’s ever flown with young children knows, you’ll need to shell out more money for meals, snacks, entertainment and such for the flight.
American said it changed its unaccompanied minor policy to match its merger partner, US Airways. “We’re going through the process of putting the airlines together and merging policies in some cases,” said American spokesman Josh Freed.
Indeed, most airlines set age 5 as the minimum for any child to fly domestically on a nonstop or direct flight without an adult. And children younger than 5 are not accepted as unaccompanied minors.
Beyond that, policies and fees vary.
For example, Southwest Airlines charges $50 each way for children ages 5 to 11. Delta charges $100 each way for unaccompanied 5-to-14-year-olds. And United’s fee is $150 each way for children ages 5 to 11.
What do you get for paying the fee? It’s basically peace of mind insurance that an airline representative will escort your child through security and to his seat, assist with carry-on items, and accompany him off the plane to meet the person designated to pick him up.
There are no arguments about the need for adult supervision, but the price charged by some carriers seems steep, said veteran travel writer Ed Perkins. “Of course it’s excessive,” said Perkins. “Almost every … fee is excessive.”
For those who are arranging flights for kids traveling on their own, here’s what else you need to know.
▪ Airlines generally do not accept unaccompanied minors on long red-eye flights or others that stand a good chance of a delay or cancellation, said Perkins.
“They don’t book them on the last connection of the day; they generally don’t accept kids on trips that require a change of airline or airport,” he said.
In the event of a major scheduling glitch, Perkins said airline personnel are required to arrange for accommodations — with monitoring.
▪ Most airlines provide supervision to children traveling alone up to age 17, if requested by parents.
▪ Most major international airlines have provisions for unaccompanied children, with generally the same fees and age requirements as U.S. carriers. However, as one would expect, paperwork requirements are more extensive, said Perkins.
▪ Some unaccompanied minor fees are non-refundable. So before you book the flight — no matter how far in advance — ask whether the fee is refundable in the event of a change in travel plans.
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