So, Your Child’s Flying Alone?

How to prepare them, which airlines to fly and everything else for a no-fuss flight.

Today, more than ever, children are flying without their parents. It’s safe, largely hassle-free and for children, quite exciting. To ensure these trips are memorable for them (and less stressful for you), here are some handy tips:

Age Children between the ages of five and 18 are generally considered to be unaccompanied minors, although this range can vary depending on the airline and the nature of the flight (i.e. domestic or international). Check with the airline, but more importantly, consider whether your child is actually ready to fly without you.

Airline Before booking the ticket, research all available airline options carefully, especially in terms of the services that they offer unaccompanied minors. Fortunately, most airlines have recognised this as a growing demographic and have embraced it wholeheartedly by offering a slew of services. Some airlines may usually give children discounted fares if they are travelling with their parents, tickets for unaccompanied minors are usually full price because of the additional services the airline offers. Make sure you inform the airline in advance that your child will be flying alone, either by filling the forms online or by contacting them directly. 

Flight While choosing the flight, opt for a direct flight so that your child doesn’t have to deal with the hassle of connections. If possible, try and choose one of the first few flights in the day, as later ones have a greater chance of being delayed, which in turn affects all the other flights after them. A delay could frustrate your child and put him or her in a cranky mood, making matters difficult for airline staff—who are essentially strangers—tasked with caring for your child.

Prepare your child The trip will be much easier for your child if they know what to expect. Explain to them in detail what the process will be, especially if this is their first time flying. If possible, take them to the airport a few days before the trip, to show them around and introduce them to the airline staff. This will be especially helpful if you won’t personally be dropping your child to the airport on the final day. When you’re there, point out the uniforms of the crew and make sure that they understand that these are the people who will be taking care of them and that they should not be talking to strangers.

Packing Pack your child’s luggage as smartly as possible, keeping it light but including everything that is necessary. In their hand luggage, include some money and a cell phone. Teach them how to use the cell phone, at least enough for them to be able to call the person picking them up when they land or in case of emergency. Children are usually fussy eaters, so including snacks that they like is a good idea, especially ones that came in smaller packets so that they can eat one each time that they are hungry.

Information card Prepare a card with all the relevant information about your child. This should include their name, age, address, flight number and destination. Include the name, contact details and photograph of the person who will be picking your child up at the other end, as well as any emergency contact details. Do not forget to mention any medical conditions or allergies that your child might have.

Pick up and drop off On the actual day of the flight, reach the airport early and make arrangements to accompany your child to the gate if possible. Verify that they are on the unaccompanied minors list and that the flight is on time. If you haven’t managed to do a practice run to the airport, introduce your child to the airline crew and the gate staff. Communicate with the person who is picking your child up, letting them know when the flight takes off, and if there is any delay. Most airlines require parents to stay at the airport until the flight takes off, so that in case there is a problem, the child can be returned to you. 

CARRIERS Indian carriers Indian carriers have almost the same rules for unaccompanied minors across all airlines, with the only difference being in the age of the child: GoAir (ages five-18), Jet Airways (ages five-12 domestic, six-12 international), SpiceJet (ages five-12; above 12 optional), Indigo (ages five-12). These airlines charge a fee of Rs1,500 for domestic travel and Rs2,000 onwards for international travel. The child is required to have valid photo identification, as is the parent or guardian who drops them off at the airport.

International carriers British Airways (ages five-12; 12-18 optional) offers the Skyflyer solo service, whereby the child will be assisted throughout. The airline staff will keep the child’s passport for safeguarding and return it at the end. They have special children’s in-flight entertainment, a children’s meal and a Skyflyer activity pack. Cost: From Rs3,130

Lufthansa (ages five-11; above 12 optional) has special check-in counters for unaccompanied minors at Frankfurt and Munich airports, as well as supervision rooms with movies, toys and games. Children are given a yellow pouch, to be worn around the neck at all times, containing their travel documents. On board they are seated near the crew and given toys and colouring books. There is a special in flight entertainment, and a children’s menu. Cost: From Rs3,387

Air France (ages five-14; above 14 optional) offers unaccompanied minors priority boarding. Once on board they are given games, films, cartoons, radio programs, gifts to play with and a children’s meal. In case of a delay, a staff member will be with the child throughout, even if they have to stay at a hotel overnight. Cost: From Rs4,234

Singapore Airlines (ages five-12, above 12 optional) gives unaccompanied minors water bottles, toys to play with and souvenirs to take home. There is a special children’s meal. All aspects related to children’s travel are changed every quarter, and varied across inbound and outbound flights so that children travelling frequently get a variety. Cost: No extra charge

Emirates (ages five-12; above 12 optional) requires you to inform them in advance as to your child’s seating and food preferences and they will arrange it accordingly. If your child is travelling on their birthday, they will have a cake waiting for them on board. There is a special in flight entertainment for children. Cost: Full adult fare

Etihad Airways (ages five-12; above 12 optional) has a dedicated childcare crew member called the Flying Nanny on long haul flights. Identified by their orange aprons, they are trained in child psychology and well-equipped with supplies for arts and crafts, magic tricks, origami and quizzes. Cost: Full adult fare

Swiss Air (ages three to four allowed if with a sibling; five-11 compulsory; above 12 optional). The child is assisted with everything, right from check-in till the moment they are handed over to the person picking them up. Cost: From Rs3,347

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