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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to

Unaccompanied Minors

Many of you remember the stories of unaccompanied minors diverted to the
wrong airports last summer. The first incident involved an 11-year-old girl
who was supposed to be on a flight from Los Angeles to Detroit but wound up
in Orlando, Florida. We have the story of two sisters ages 11 and 8 on a
flight from Texas to California. The girls made it to California
unfortunately they landed in Ontario when they should have been on a flight
to Lindbergh Field in San Diego. The airlines have since clamped down on
their procedures for unaccompanied minors after the rash of lost children.
Since September 11, many of the airlines have gone even further when it comes
to protecting and accounting for children traveling alone. Given the choice
between accompanied and unaccompanied most of you would choose to fly with
your children, especially during the busy holiday travel season.

But if you must send your children alone here’s what you should expect when
dealing with the airlines. The policies referred to below are for Alaska
Airlines and Horizon Air only. Please call the carrier of your choice for
their guidelines and procedures. First the age restrictions:

*Children ages 5 – 12 are considered unaccompanied minors unless they travel
with an adult 18 or over. Children are still considered unaccompanied when
they travel with another child age 13 – 17.

*Children ages 0 – 4 are not allowed under any circumstances to fly alone.

*Children ages 5 –7 are permitted to fly unaccompanied on nonstop and direct
flights only.

*Children ages 8 – 12 are permitted on nonstop, direct and connecting flights.

*Children ages 13 - 17 are permitted on nonstop, direct and connecting
flights. Children in this age group can travel under the rules of an
unaccompanied minor or on their own at the discretion of a parent or guardian.

Regardless of your child’s age, parent and guardian information will be
required at time of booking and again during check-in.

Alaska and Horizon Airlines charge a service fee of $30 one-way when a minor
between the ages 5 and 12 travels alone. The fee applies to both domestic
and international flights. When travel involves a connecting flight, for ch
ildren age 8 and over, the fee is $60 one-way. The service fee will be
collected in each direction. You can send up to three children together for
the same fee provided they go to the same destination and are met by the same
adult upon completion of their trip.

Many airlines have flight restriction times in place. On Alaska and Horizon,
unaccompanied minors between the ages of 5 and13 will not be allowed to
travel on flights that depart between 9pm and 5am or on connections to the
last flight of the day out of any city. Teenagers 13 to 17 have no flight
time restrictions unless accompanied minor service has been requested.

Reservations for minor children must be done through an airline ticket agent
or a travel agent. You are not allowed to book minor travel online. When
making reservations with Alaska or Horizon be prepared to give the following
information: Child’s name and age, your name and relationship to the child,
name and relationship of the person bringing your child to the airport and
the person picking your child up once they arrive at their destination. You
will also be asked to provide all primary phone numbers for all adults
involved in picking up and dropping off your children. Please make sure you
include cell phone numbers, pagers, home and business phone numbers. Once
you arrive at the airport you will be asked to complete an Unaccompanied
Minor Envelope.

Most air carriers and airport authorities will allow unticketed parents or
guardians to escort their minor children to the gate past security
checkpoints, but the policies vary, so again please call ahead. At Alaska
and Horizon, only one guardian will be allowed through the security
checkpoint with an unaccompanied minor. All guardians must obtain a Security Service Pass at the ticket counter.

Most airlines have similar policies in place for unaccompanied minors.
Please follow the recommended guidelines and double and triple check
everything before sending your children on a plane alone. As an added safety
measure make sure your children have on their person all the contact
information necessary to assist the airlines should they get lost and if
possible have your children memorize certain pieces of information like your
home telephone number. Also train your children to look for uniformed airport
or airline personnel if trouble occurs or they get lost.