An unaccompanied minor (or “UM” in airline-speak) is the term for a child travelling alone. Here’s a quick primer on what you should know before sending your little bundle of joy off on a solo adventure:
- Airline definitions of UM can vary, but commonly apply to kids between 5 and 11 – check your carrier’s website to be sure – or better yet, ask your travel agent. Kids younger than 5 must be accompanied by a travelling companion at least 16 years of age. Some airlines, including WestJet, won’t accept UMs at all – they publish a “travelling companion” fare for an accompanying friend or relative who must return on the next flight.
- Direct, non-stop routings, where a change of plane is not required, are easiest. Many airlines are not able to accept responsibility for transferring a child through an airport and on to a connecting flight. There are exceptions – KLM, for instance, has a highly sophisticated process for shepherding minors through Schiphol airport’s labyrinth, including a private waiting area called the Junior Jet Lounge where the mini-VIPs are treated to soft drinks, video and computer games, videos, books in various languages and a variety of toys. There is a fee for this service.
- If you are booking on your own rather than through a travel agent, you will have to make the UM reservation by phone rather than on the website. And look out for surcharges for UM treatment – Air Canada, for example, charges $100 per flight (Air Transat is free). Consider advance seat selection, with a seat by the galley, so the flight attendants will always be nearby.
- Be prepared to show up at the airport extra early to complete paperwork, including designating who will meet your junior jetter at the opposite end. Your child will receive a lanyard to wear around his or her neck in order to be readily identifiable. You’ll be asked to stay at the airport until the flight has departed. UMs are taken to the gate by a passenger agent and handed over to the flight crew. On arrival, your child will be taken to the arrivals area by an airline passenger agent to meet your designated greeter. He or she will be asked to show photo I.D. before the airline will surrender your wee one.
- Try to prepare your child as best as possible, providing snacks and favourite games in a backpack (but don’t weigh it down with too much stuff – those airport concourses can be long). Explain that s/he may have to pay for meals or drinks; and that if there are any questions (a favourite being “Where’s the bathroom?”), the flight attendants will be happy to help. All being well, you’ll have prepared a youngster for a lifetime of memorable flying!
Photo Credit: alle12