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What you need to know if your child is flying alone

When divorced parents live a significant distance apart, they're often faced with the decision of whether to let their children fly between homes during school vacations on their own.

Airlines have varying regulations, procedures and prices for kids flying without an adult, called "unaccompanied minors." If you believe your child is mature enough to fly alone, it's important to look at the unaccompanied minors programs of the airlines you're considering. Find out their minimum and maximum age requirements, what services they offer and what their fees are.

For most parents, their top priority is their children's safety. They dread that a flight may get diverted or their child may miss a connecting flight and be stranded in a strange airport. Due to this risk, some airlines, such as JetBlue, will only book unaccompanied minors on non-stop flights. They are generally given a lanyard that contains their boarding pass and/or an identification bracelet that lets airline staff track them.

Airlines also vary on what age they'll let children fly alone without having to use the unaccompanied minor program. Twelve is a common cut-off age. Parents can elect to pay for unaccompanied minor service for older minors, however. Just don't lie about your child's age to avoid the fee. Airline personnel may ask for their birth certificate.

Fees among U.S. airlines vary significantly. One airline may charge an additional $50 each way for a minor to fly alone, while another may charge $150. The amount the airlines decide to charge may seem arbitrary. The fees are to cover the cost of airline personnel assisting children in the airport both before they board and then when they arrive. While they're on the plane, flight attendants are tasked with keeping an eye on them.

Regardless of the airline's age restrictions, parents must determine whether their minor children are ready to travel alone. There may be no way of knowing for sure until they do it.

Don't just consider whether they can handle an event-free flight. What if they hit turbulence or there's a security issue or unruly passenger? If the unexpected happens and they wind up at another destination, will they know how to contact you?

Co-parents should address issues regarding unaccompanied minor travel in their parenting plan, either when it is first drafted or when one parent moves a distance away later on. Your North Carolina family law attorney can provide important guidance.

Source: New York Times, "When It Costs Double to Let Your 12-Year-Old Fly Alone," Ron Lieber, Jan. 05, 2018

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