In the state of Texas, summer visitation can begin the day after the school year ends, on June 15th or July 1st. For your personal situation, please review your child custody agreement for exact dates. While many children will be picked up by your ex, some may have to fly via the airlines. That’s where their summer vacation starts and they may be with their other parent for a period of 30 days, 42 days or the entire summer. There are no Department of Transportation rules concerning children flying alone. Not every airline follows the same rules either. You will have to call the airline you are using or check their website and do a search for “children traveling alone” or “unaccompanied minor.” Then you will get a lot of information regarding this issue. Just to reiterate, I’m not a license legal professional and if you are in doubt, consult an attorney.
If your child has to travel by air, here are few things that you need to be aware of:
- Who is paying for the airplane ticket? Depending upon the jurisdiction or location of where the divorce was finalized, if the custodial parent (the person with primary custody) moves then the custodial parent must pay for the full cost of the ticket. If the non-custodial parent moves, then that party pays for the full cost of the ticket. If both parties move, then the cost should be split 50-50. Check your child custody and visitation agreement for more details. This is why communication and understanding are so important because the person buying the ticket needs to know the requirements of each airline.
- At what age can children begin flying alone? Probably the reason you are asking is because it can be expensive to pay for multiple tickets and any extra fees. In a nutshell, here are some guidelines. However, check with each individual airline for their procedures.
|Under 5||Cannot travel alone under any circumstance||N/A|
|Ages 5 through 7||Can travel alone on NONSTOP and through flights (meaning same plane that may stop in between)||Yes (See below)|
|Ages 8 through 11 or ages 8 through 14 for some airlines||Can travel alone on any flight except on small aircraft with no flight attendant||Yes (See below)|
|Domestic Flights ages 12 through 17 or 15 through 17 on some airlines||Can travel alone on any flight without restrictions except on small aircraft with no flight attendant||Only on request by the parent|
|International flights ages 12 through 17 or 15 through 17 on some airlines.||Can travel alone on any flight, but carriers may require special procedures||Required by many carriers|
Special procedures are what many airlines will also call “Unaccompanied Minor” procedures. These are special procedures that each airline has in place to ensure that your child gets on the plane. It doesn’t guarantee monitoring or safety, it has to do with ensuring your child is released by one legally responsible party and picked up by the other legally responsible party at the other end of the trip. This typically is an added cost on the original ticket.
- Booking the Flight – When booking the flight, your best bet is to book a direct flight. Keeping the itinerary simple can give you better peace of mind with less of a chance of delays. Also try to choose a route using the same airline. If by chance you book with multiple airlines, you must be aware of each airline’s policy on unaccompanied minors, since it may be different. Also be sure to get a “gate pass” so that you can accompany your child through security to the departure gate and let your ex or other party on the return leg of the flight to do this as well.
Keep Identification, itinerary contact lists and paperwork organized – I can’t stress this enough. Make multiple copies of all your documents and back them up on jump drive or hard drive. Keep copies of the child’s birth certificate, divorce decree or child custody arrangement (optional, but I always have it), itinerary, electronic tickets and contact numbers of responsible parties that are dropping off and picking up the child at their destination and origin at all times. Your child may need to keep paper tickets, their itinerary as well as those contact numbers in their bag or in their pocket. This information is required and essential.
As an aside, a copy of the itinerary should include dates, airline name(s), flight numbers, departure and arrival times, and the reservation record locator number. Children should be familiar with this information and know that it is in their bag. All parties should also have a copy of this. Write your home, work and cell phone numbers and the phone numbers of the person meeting the flight on this itinerary. Also include your name and the child’s name, in case the carry-on bag is inadvertently left on one of the flights or in an airport.
- Keep your child informed – Do all that you can to help your child be comfortable on the plane. Pack necessary books, toys and snacks for your child. Allow your children to pack their own carry-on luggage and be aware of what’s in it and what’s important. Do a practice run. With my five year old we talked about TSA and how to go through security checkpoints. While you may be there, the less anxiety the better prior to take off. We also talked about what we do when we get in our seat from buckling the safety belt and waiting to watch DVD’s until after the flight has already taken off. If your child has a cell phone, remind them that they need to turn it off in flight but let them know that they can turn it back on and give you a call when they get to their destination.
Here’s a list of airlines and links to their policies regarding children traveling alone. Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. If I’m missing one, please leave the URL in the comments below are shoot me an email via my contact form.
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About the Author: Heather is THE Dallas Single Mom! and has lived in Dallas-Fort Worth for over 10 years. The quintessential multi-tasker, she splits her time with her three children. She has her BA in communications from Hawaii Pacific University and her MBA from University of Maryland – University College. She is employed in the energy industry but is also a social media consultant and freelancer writing about life as a single parent in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for Dallas Culture and Events,Single Parenting and Kids Nutrition and Exercise. She has been divorced since 2008 and shares her experiences in that process. To learn more, please subscribe to her RSS feed.