To make sure your child has a great time flying solo, this is what you need to know: it’s a planning game! The more you prepare the more she will enjoy her time on the A380.
Letting your child fly hundreds or thousands of miles alone – maybe even to another country – can be one of the most stressful moments for parents. But there’s no need to worry!
Being prepared can help ease any fears and ensure you have all your plans in place for a safe journey and that it will go smoothly!
Here’s what you need to know to ensure your solo flyer has a great flight.
Your child is not the only one flying on her own. For Air France alone roughly 480,000 minors fly without their parents each year (overall number of unaccompanied minors for both foreign and domestic flights).
There are no international regulations for children traveling alone. Each airline has its own policy on unaccompanied minors* (see list below for the USA).
Firstly, not all airlines allow children to travel without an adult. For those that do, the definition of ‘minor’ varies. Some airlines will allow children as young as 4, but this age differs across carriers. Others accept 12-year-olds without unaccompanied minor paperwork, while still others set the limit at 15. It’s important to check airline policies and procedures before buying your tickets.
Choosing a RouteDiscuss flight options with your airline as some routes are better suited to young flyers than others. Your airline may have restrictions, such as not allowing unaccompanied minors to take flights with layovers, or may recommend specific flights (for example, early flights may have better re-routing options in case of delay or cancellation).
Keep the itinerary simple. Aim for the following, in order of preference:
1) Non-stop flights.
2) Flights with a layover that doesn’t involve changing planes.
3) Layover using the same airline for both legs.
4) Connection using different airlines (not all airlines will agree to pass minors on to another airline).
What Paperwork is Needed?You’ll need to complete ‘unaccompanied minor’ paperwork to authorize the airline to care for your child. It can also give a friend or relative at arrivals permission to collect your child and take them home. You may need to apply for a gate pass to accompany your child to departures. You may also need to pay a fee for the unaccompanied minor service.
When you receive the final paperwork and ticket, check all details, including your child’s name and passport number, and confirm flight times and airport names. Ask the airline who to call if you have questions, and don’t forget to reserve in-flight meals in advance. Making sure your young flyer has a ‘special’ meal on the flight can also help ease their nerves and give them something extra to look forward to.
What Young Flyers Need to KnowAirline staff pay special attention to unaccompanied minors and will make their journeys as comfortable as possible. However there may not be constant supervision. You should encourage your traveler to be as self-sufficient as possible. For this reason, consider her maturity when deciding whether she is old enough to fly solo.
What You Should Discuss with Your Child(ren):
- Safety procedures
- Remember that your kids will never be alone while waiting to embark at the airport: they will always be accompanied by official flying personnel to answer all their questions.
- As a safety precaution, once on the plane, unaccompanied minors are usually seated on their own. Check your airline’s procedures in advance to ensure you’ve got all the necessary details. In any case, they should identify whom to speak to on the plane if they have questions or concerns.
- Airport procedures
- What will happen at check-in and departures?
- Who will take her to the airport and who will pick her up?
- What to expect at arrivals (an airline staff member will usually take her to meet the person who’s picking her up).
- Details relating to any stopovers.
If your child has never flown before, it may be a good idea to visit the airport in advance so the day itself is less overwhelming.
On the Day of the Flight
What to Wear and PackA young traveler should wear comfortable clothes that are easy to manage (buttons and zips they can do up on their own, etc.). Pack a small carry-on bag with toys, a tablet, coloring or reading books, and some flight snacks. You may want to include a surprise treat in the bag for her to discover mid-air - for example, a packet of her favorite cookies, handwritten ‘I love you’ notes, or some extra money to spend on souvenirs.
Providing extra treats or ‘grown-up’ privileges she would not normally get at home can also offer reassurance, and make the trip feel like an adventure. Consider whether to give her a phone so she can keep you updated on her progress. She could call you from the airport before boarding, during any layovers, and again when she arrives at her destination.
If it’s an overnight flight, pyjamas and a fresh T-shirt are always a good idea in case of food or drink spills. Make sure she has a warm sweater for the cabin and for layovers, and ensure all belongings are marked with her name.
Pack anything your child needs in her first few hours once she arrives in the carry-on bag in case luggage is delayed (e.g. any medicine, toothbrush, change of underwear). Also give her some spending money for flight delays or layovers.
Take All PaperworkMake sure you take all relevant paperwork to ensure safe and hassle-free passage through security and departures. That includes her ticket, passport and any visas for her destination, plus all unaccompanied minor paperwork and receipts. The person taking her to departures should also take their own photo ID, and a copy of the child’s birth certificate. Confirm with the airline how many copies of each document are required.
Make sure your child knows where her ticket and passports are (and has a ‘system’ in place for looking after them), and keep photocopies in their bag in case of loss or theft. Include your full name, address and phone numbers – and those of the person at arrivals – on the itinerary.
What to Do at the AirportArrive early to allow time to relax and put your young traveler at ease. Keep her informed about what’s happening at every stage of the journey so she feels reassured.
Make sure the person taking the child to the airport (if it’s not you) understands that it’s not just a matter of dropping the child off at departures. Some airlines will ask that you take her through to the departure gate and wait until the plane takes off.
There may be a designated unaccompanied minor waiting area – ask the airline in advance about their airport procedures.
On the FlightAhead of the flight, reassure your young flyer about their A380 adventure. She will usually board and disembark with an airline attendant. Obviously, flight attendants keep a close eye on unaccompanied minors, but let your child know that she should NEVER leave the plane on her own or with anyone who is not airline staff.
Talk to her about plane safety, such as keeping her seatbelt on when seated: it can also help to offer reassurance in terms of how safe flying actually is. Remind her it’s normal to hear noises such as an increase in engine thrust and the wheels going up and down. Also explain what air pressure is and the effect it may have on ears. She should know that she can call for assistance using the button on the remote control.
Most importantly, share the fun, exciting stuff: what inflight entertainment there will be to look forward to (most airlines have this information available in advance on their websites or via smartphone apps), that she may receive a goodie bag from the airline when she boards (again, you can check this in advance), and that she has a special children’s meal to enjoy. If she carries a smartphone, check out the iflyA380 app: it offers fun features to interact with the plane in augmented reality.
Make sure she has a camera and ask her to take lots of photos so you can share the adventure when she gets home. Most of all, remind your young traveler about what an adventure she’s about to embark on, and how lucky she is to have this opportunity to travel. Encourage her to have fun and enjoy it!
At ArrivalsDouble-check that the person meeting your traveler knows the airline procedures, that they have copies of the unaccompanied minor paperwork, and that they take photo ID with them to the airport. The airline will not sign the traveler over to a person not listed on the unaccompanied minor paperwork.
They should arrive early to ensure they are there in plenty of time to meet the child at the arrivals gate. Make sure they have your number so they can call if the flight is delayed and – importantly – to let you know the child has arrived safely. You’ll also be able to hear about the adventure directly from your solo flyer – and maybe even receive a selfie in your inbox. That happy, smiling face will say it all: it was all worthwhile and a huge success!