CHILDREN have been flying solo long before a cheeky 12-year-old boy pinched his passport and used his mother’s credit card to secure a seat on a flight to Bali.
Boarding an aircraft alone is part of the school-holiday routine for youngsters with a parent or grandparent living in another state, but the unremarkable doesn’t stop the process of sending a kid in the skies solo being stressful for grounded adults and travelling child.
While fingernails will be nibbled and flight-tracker apps monitored, the experts tell us preparation, meticulous explanation and a friendly smile make for a tear-free trip.
What is an unaccompanied minor?
Flight Centre advises an “unaccompanied minor is any child aged between five and 11 not travelling with a parent, guardian or immediate family member”. A specific booking must be made for an unaccompanied minor because young passengers may be refused boarding if they are alone and without the proper paperwork.
Children under five are not allowed to fly without family supervision and once a junior turns 12 they are generally considered to be an adult by “airline ticketing standards’’ with parents able to make a special request that cabin crew passively supervise the young passenger.
Each airline has its own regulations about kids travelling unaided. Jetstar and Tiger don’t allow those aged under 12 to fly solo but Qantas has different rules depending on the length of journey and destination with children as young as five able to travel.
Internationally, Emirates and Etihad offer the formal unaccompanied-minor service to travellers aged five to 12. On Singapore Airlines it’s six to 18, on Cathay Pacific six to 17, and British Airways raised the minimum age to 14 on May 1.
All in the planning
Paula Geinitz from the travel blog Jetsetting Kids says it’s simple preparation that removes the stress from unaccompanied flights.
“There are two types of jetsetting kids, those that can’t wait to set off on a solo adventure — did someone say chocolate for breakfast — and those that cling to you at the gate,” Paula says.
“Once the plane leaves the gate your child is in the hands of the qualified crew on board. Help them do their job by instructing kids to be patient, listen for instructions, and use their very best manners as well as explaining what to expect as the waiting game can be torturous for little people.
“Include lots of boredom-busting activities in their carry-on bag, don’t forget to include replacements for the flight home in their checked luggage, and ensure they have warm clothes and a neck pillow to help them sleep on a long-haul flight.
“Pack nutritious snacks, remind them to accept the provided meal and hydrating beverages, and teach kids to carefully and responsibly place items in and out of their bag while keeping their seat area tidy.”
Jetstar flight attendant Melanie Lynn agrees the most important preparation happens long before a flight. She says “having a child feel comfortable” on the aircraft starts at home with parents advised to share details on every aspect of the journey before the day of travel.
“Parents should explain everything — from passing through security, what they can do on the plane to occupy themselves, to speak up if they feel sick, and of course who is meeting them on the other side — because the more the child has their head around the process the more confident they feel,” she says.
“If a child is nervous we will check on them throughout the flight, to ensure they are feeling at ease. However, most kids I experience aged over 12 don’t like too much of a fuss and are proud of the fact they are travelling on their own.
“We also don’t want to bring too much attention to the fact a child is travelling solo so if a young passenger is confident and comfortable we simply keep an eye on them from afar.
“A friendly smile and a wave during the flight goes a long way.”