Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tips and Tricks Ticketing Unaccompanied Minors - Youth Travel

Tips and Tricks Ticketing Unaccompanied Minors - Youth Travel

Every once in a while I get a question on ticketing flights for a youth to travel alone. Usually because two parents live in different states or countries. So I thought I'd write a few tidbits to help parents in selecting flights for and preparing for youth travel.

It's a great idea to hire a travel advisor or travel agent (please see Difference between Travel Agents and Travel Advisor blog I wrote here) to help in this planning. I won't go into a spiel boring you with the whys and hows of getting one. I'm sure we all get sick of being told this from time to time.  I think this article is going to speak for itself.  I'll just simply say: DO IT. But not without preparing before you do... Here's a bulleted list...
  • Set your Parameters for the Flight
So what are the "Parameters"? Well, like anything you need to know what you're willing to do and not do, correct? They're kind of like boundaries you set. You want to stay inside a certain circle. What's good, not good - for you (and your youth)! There is no rhyme or reason to this. It's really all about what YOU want and some on what your Travel Advisor might recommend. The best thing I can say is - do not be afraid to ask your Travel Advisor / Travel Agent for help on this but be prepared to provide your payment details up front. Reason? So that when a flight price jumps down you both can jump FAST to secure that price! Flight prices change by the second, minute, hour or day. You really never know when. See the blog I wrote on Tricks to Purchase Cheap Flights.
    • Parameter 1: Date and Times
The first parameter you'll want to know in advance is obviously the date you want your minor to fly. Do you and your other adult have this set in stone? Or are you both flexible in order to secure the cheapest flight available (?) - and I say this with a grain of salt : based on class, category, time of day to fly, airline, day you're flying (again check out Tricks to purchase cheap flights for a little commentary about this). You've got to have some idea on this before moving forward. Telling your travel advisor/agent to just book anything that is cheapest is great but again be prepared to fork over the payment details up front. A good travel advisor / agent will also work with you prior to handling the payment so it doesn't come with surprises. And know that a travel advisor will never advise you take the absolute cheapest flight route available and there are VALID reasons for this. I personally prefer to do what I think is best for the youth and the parent (I'm a parent of children myself!)
So folks.... know your dates. Know your youth's limits. Only you know your child best.
About times...Well, here's a juicy tidbit I can offer. Pick the first flight of the day. I know most of you are going to say - but that's just too early. The likelihood of a flight being cancelled or delayed is less if you select the earliest flight of the day. Unless of course there's a huge snowstorm overnight. At least you'll be aware of it. And have plenty of time to plan out the rest of the day or make adjustment accordingly. There are other reasons for selecting the earliest flight and I won't go into that here. The list is loonnnnngggg. Just trust me on this one....
    • Parameter 2: Connecting, Direct flights or Non Stop flights?
So what's the difference you ask? Connecting flights will have your child landing, changing planes and taking off again. Direct flights will have your youth landing, not changing planes, and taking off again. Non Stop will have you mid-air the entire flight.  So what's best? I suppose that depends on you as a parent but my guidance : Select the least taxing for the child. You will pay an accompanied minor fee on top of the flight cost itself based on the age of the child but that fee doesn't guarantee you a "babysitter" at all times. Thus, why we have tips and tricks! Each airline has their own set rules and for a child to fly solo one of those rules might be for a child above age 5 and above. Each airline is different. Yeah it's a lot of research for the parent. Does your travel agent know and understand the rules? You bet your sweet buppies they should! And if not, they should know where to find and how to read them! But basically yeah... select the least taxing for the kid. You will most likely pay the least for connecting flights. And so on and so on. Are non-stop flights worth the price? Definitely! 
    • Parameter 3: Flight Times - do they matter?
When I say Flight times what do I mean? Well it's not just about what time the flights are leaving and arriving - it's also about how long the flight will be! Again, selecting the least taxing for the youth is the best rule of thumb. A youth can get into a lot of mischief on a long flight. But really, it's not about the flight attendant assigned to your child and what's easiest for them (I mean you ARE paying them to do a job after all...) but it's more about what's easiest on your youth and your own piece of mind!  Do you really want to spend the whole time thinking and worrying about your child during a very long flight? Just know that some flights with the shortest time frames will cost more.
  • Airline Policies - the 4 core:
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of flights that issue policies on unaccompanied minor rules. I did list the four core airlines and their websites however. I do not expect you to understand all layman's terms. But if you are going to book this yourself you can find the information for each of them here:

  • Flight costs
So many parameters are taken into account for this! Please read Tips and Tricks for purchasing a cheap flight on my blog. However, with that said there will be additional costs to consider. If your youth is within a certain age you would be required to pay the unaccompanied minor charge ON TOP OF the flight price itself. Then if you select to use a travel agent/travel advisor you may be asked to pay additional small fees on top of that. Be prepared to pay the price for unaccompanied youth travel. It will be well worth the money. It's called VALUE over CHEAP for a reason. And value is not always cheap but you have to know what you're getting for the cost you're paying. You can be expected to pay anywhere from $50 upwards to $150 or more for the unaccompanied minor fee. You can be expected to pay a small to large fee for the travel agent/advisor because airlines just do not pay any commissions to them. Not to be crass or anything but -Would you work your everyday job for free? I think not. Being a travel advisor/agent that works full time to pay their bills is no different. Just because we are travel advisors does not mean we fly for free. The rules my friends have changed from eons ago!
  • Sharing Flight Details
I can't say enough about this section! No matter what you do - ALWAYS, always share the flight details / itinerary with the other parent or adult selected to meet the child. Airport, dates, times, notes and please stay in touch with that other adult at all times! For the sake of your youth and for your own sanity, prepare to do this in advance. The other parent or adult may be provided with a pass to meet the child either at the gate or the pick up station. The other parent needs to know where to go. And the worst thing that can happen is if the other adult goes to the wrong airport for pick up. There is a huge difference between Dallas Love Field airport and Dallas Fort Worth airport! (this is just an example of one situation folks...) Basically, do what's best for the youth no matter what and that goes for both adults! 

  • Tips for Parents - Preparing your Child for the Flight!
This is an area again that is not all-inclusive. So I'll highlight a few going down the list with short explanations.
    • Necessary documentation
One of the questions I get asked is what documentation is necessary for my youth to fly? My first question to you might be what is the age of your youth? If your youth is old enough to drive and has their drivers license, they should take it. If your youth is not old enough to drive yet old enough to fly solo then perhaps a birth certificate is wise. Either way, keep the documentation with the child for the entire time. Through the check-in process, through security, through in-flight navigation, through landing, through leaving the airport and then some! No matter what most people are expected to have some sort of identification on them in order to fly. Youth 16 and above can have their own passport with out the other parents signature. Youth 15 and younger may obtain a passport with the other parents approval and they are often good for around 5 years. Adult passports are different. Be sure to have your phone number and your name as well as the phone number, name and address of the pickup adult on the child at all times.

    • Security and Child Escort
Yes you're paying for an unaccompanied minor fee with the airline but does that mean your child is always accompanied by an able-bodied adult? Not the case. Be prepared for anything and everything! Generally you may be asked to escort the child through check-in, security and to the gate to directly hand over the youth to the airline staff member. Again, be prepared for everything and anything. Yes youth will be expected to go through the whole entire process just like an adult will when going on a plane or in travel. And often times the child may be able to pre-board before others.  Make sure you leave yourselves plenty of time to check in and get through security. It's a good idea to request confirmation of the flight landing and when the child has been handed over to the other adult.
    • Is there help for the Child?
There should always be help for anyone when traveling. Prepare your youth for who a child can turn to if the unaccompanied minor staff is unavailable. This may be in-flight for example. Just because you are paying an unaccompanied minor fee does not mean you are hiring "a babysitter" the entire time. Explain to your youth who and how to find the right help. Unformed attendant dress, name tags to look for, the button above the seats for attendant needs (given your child is old enough to reach it...) , etc. There is always help for the child. It might not be such a bad idea to role play before the child travels. It's also a great idea to arrange the seating in advance for your child. Either sitting as close to the front or as close to the back as possible. Airline attendants are normally required to seat themselves in these areas.
    • Dress and Pack for Comfort
Plane change altitude and weather permitting your youth could become hot or cold in-flight. Be sure the child is prepared for the different layers. It is much easier for a child to put on clothing than to take off clothing. Either way prepare the child accordingly. Make sure all clothing is properly labeled with first initial of first name and the last name on all articles. Most flights allow you as an adult to take one personal item and a carry on. The same often applies for the youth as well. An item can safely be stored underneath the seat in front of you - say a small backpack for example. Fill that with items such as snacks, books, travel games, crayons, coloring books, youth magazines, favorite photograph of a parent or a pet, kids favorite item such as a "blankie", etc. This will keep your youth busy while in-flight. Remember that just because you are paying an unaccompanied minor fee does not necessarily mean you have a full time "babysitter" at all times. This may be one of those times! Be sure to stock the backpack with the full flight itinerary with your info and the other parents info on it. Youth's medication. Tell the youth to leave them well enough alone in the backpack unless asked for it or unless they are old enough to know when to take them out. Sometimes (most often times) the other adult is required to have some sort of ID on them. After all you do not want the attendants to release your child to just anyone. The other adult may be given an escort pass by the airline.  The other adult may be able to pick up the youth at the gate or in the arrival area. Know where! This goes without saying communicate with the other adult at all times. Do it for the sake of the youth and your own sanity in worrying about the child the entire time. It may not always seem like the sane thing to do at the time but overall it really is!

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