Last August, the whole family was enjoying a Laguna Beach vacation. The only thing missing: my son Calvin, age 11, who was attending a soccer team event in Portland, OR. We wanted him to join us when his obligation was over, so we booked him a one-way PDX (Portland, OR) to SNA (Orange County, CA) flight on Alaska Airlines (escorted to the plane by his grandfather). While we’re accustomed to flying and booking flight arrangements, we’d never booked an unaccompanied minor’s flight. Below, find a step by step guide to the process of minors flying solo:
Step 1: book your minor’s flight
On Alaska Airlines, booking your unaccompanied minor’s flight is as easy as clicking ’0′ in the ‘adults’ field when booking a ticket online. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be automatically directed to Alaska’s unaccompanied minor page, which will list restrictions and fees ($25 each way) and provide the Guardian Contact Form you’ll need to fill out to ensure your child’s parent or guardian can pick him or her up on the other end.
Note: Children ages 5-17 can fly as unaccompanied minors. Kids 5-7 are restricted to only direct flights (recommended for all unaccompanied minors if possible).
Step 2: Fill out the Guardian Contact Form
Once you have your child’s flight number(s), fill out the Guardian Contact Form, keeping in mind that your child will only be released to a person listed on it (be sure to have at least two listed, just in case). Print the form using your child’s confirmation number, and bring it with you to the airport.
Note: What you’ll also need at the airport: your child’s e-ticket or confirmation number, and a debit card for your child to use if you’d like him or her able to purchase food on the plane. (We recommend simply feeding your child a meal or purchasing a meal prior to boarding instead, if possible.)
Step 3: Arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to departure to accompany your child to the gate
An escort pass to accompany your child through security must be obtained prior to the standard check-in process, and can be obtained at the check-in counter. Be sure to have your ID handy, and make sure any purse or bag you’re carrying is security-ready. What else you’ll need at check-in: your child’s passport if flying internationally (no picture ID was needed for a minor’s domestic flight) and your Guardian Contact form.
Step 4: Arrive at the gate 30 minutes before departure:
Alert the gate attendant that your child is flying unaccompanied, and he or she will board first with an escort. Before he or she boards: make sure he or she has eaten (or has food with him or her) and has a carry-on that is manageable, in which his or her on-board entertainment is readily accessible. If your minor will be connecting with another flight, it can be useful to give him or her a cell phone. The gate attendant will ask you to wait until the flight has departed.
Step 5: Picking up your minor
The parent or guardian at the other end of the journey will need to arrive at the check-in counter of your airline in time to get through security before the plane lands (I recommend 1 hour prior, to be safe). At the counter, the guardian will identify him or herself, show ID, and be given a pass to allow your through security to the gate. (You should also be given gate information, including the time the plane is due to arrive.)
Once your child has deplaned, an escort will check the guardian’s ID against names listed on the Guardian Contact Form, and release your child.
Why Alaska Airlines? Alaska Airlines did not sponsor this post in any way. We used Alaska in this step-by-step guide because we it’s the airline we patronized when flying Calvin solo, and (to no surprise) found the process to be friendly, easy, and enjoyable. Alaska is a top family-friendly airline, and Pit Stops for Kids recommends it wholeheartedly for its efficiency and stellar service.
Photo credit: Alaskan Dude.