Children Traveling Solo
Family travel options vary and may include children flying alone to visit family members, traveling with a solo parent or leaving parents behind to cruise the world with grandparents. It’s important to know what travel documentation is needed, especially when both parents aren’t accompanying their child, the child is traveling with adults other than parents or the child’s last name differs from the parent’s name. Here are some tips to help you navigate children’s travel.
Passports for Children
All U.S. citizens, including infants and children, must have a valid passport to travel internationally by air. Both parents must provide consent authorizing passport issuance for a minor under age 16.
A passport card can be used for automobile and cruise ship travel to Canada and Mexico from the United States. However, AAA recommends that citizens of all ages use a passport for all international travel, in case of an emergency that requires U.S. reentry by air.
Current passport holders should examine the passport expiration date, and if the document is due to expire within six months of travel, renew it. Passports are valid for ten years for adults and five years for children under age 16. Parents should carefully examine all passport and child travel documentation requirements at travel.state.gov or seek the assistance of a knowledgeable travel agent.
Cruising with Children
To eliminate children cruising alone, cruise lines generally require at least one adult age 21 or older to occupy every stateroom. This person needs to be the legal parent or guardian of any accompanying child. If a child is sailing with only one parent, other non-custodial adults or has a different last name than the responsible legal adult, cruise lines require a notarized letter of authorization to travel. For more information, visit the applicable cruise line website or a knowledgeable travel agent.
International Solo Parent Travel
When visiting a foreign country, including Mexico and Canada, as a lone adult with a minor child under age 18, additional travel documentation is required. To help prevent cases of parental abduction and international child trafficking, many countries now require proof of the lone adult’s relationship to the child and the legal right to travel in and out of the country with that child. In addition to the child’s valid United States passport (and entry visa where required), a letter of permission from the absent parent(s) signed before a notary public is needed.
The letter should include a statement of authorization for the child to travel, details of the trip, and legal names and contact information for the child and accompanying adult. Single parents, grandparents, stepparents, guardians and any adult with a last name different from the child needs to have the additional documentation to present at border crossings, airport immigration check points and cruise line check-in desks. A travel agent can assist in securing the appropriate documents.
Child Medical Care Authorization
When a child is traveling without a parent, receiving emergency medical care could be complicated or refused by a medical facility, unless the emergency is deemed life-threatening. The adult accompanying the child should carry a medical proxy, an original notarized letter from the non-traveling parent(s) granting permission to authorize emergency medical care for the child. The letter should include a permission statement, the child’s health insurance information, social security number and full legal names of the child and accompanying adults. If a child remains at home while a parent travels, this medical authorization documentation should be supplied to the child’s caregiver.
Children Flying Solo
Most airlines offer fee-based Unaccompanied Minor programs that facilitate air travel for children without an accompanying adult. Programs vary by airline, but most airlines require that an authorized adult escort the child to the departure gate and take custody of the minor child at the arrival gate. In flight, unaccompanied minors are under the care of the cabin crew.
If planning an itinerary for a child traveling solo by air, carefully check age requirements, fees and all details for each airline you are considering. For example, some airlines require travel must be on a nonstop flight, while others might allow one or more stops if a plane change does not occur. Specific details of each airline’s program can be found on airline websites.
AAA offers Flying Alone, a brochure to help parents plan for their child’s solo flight, which you can download below.
To locate the nearest AAA Travel Agency, visit AAA.com.
- Children ages 1 to 4 can fly only when accompanied by a caretaker who is at least 12 years of age. A child must be at least 5 years old to fly alone.
- Children ages 5 to 8 can take direct flights to single destinations, but not connecting flights.
- If an airline allows children ages 8 to 11 to take connecting flights, they will be escorted by airline personnel to those flights. Children ages 12 to 15 typically aren’t escorted, but parents can request the service.
- Anyone under age 17 who is flying alone on an international flight must have a signed note from a parent or guardian that grants permission and provides destination and length of stay information.
- Children flying alone are charged full adult prices.
- When making reservations, be aware that airlines usually charge an extra fee, from $30 to $100 each way, for services related to minors traveling. To locate a AAA travel agent to help you with arrangements, visit AAA.com.
- Security measures allow only ticketed passengers past security checkpoints, but arrangements may be made with airlines for non-travelers accompanying minors.
- It’s virtually impossible to put a child on the wrong plane, because airline gate personnel always verify destination and airplane information on each boarding pass prior to allowing passengers to board.
- Parents should confirm that the people responsible for picking their child up at the airport get to the gate before the flight arrives and have proper identification.
- If a plane must be rerouted to a different airport than the scheduled destination, the airline will take responsibility to see that a child traveling alone is escorted to another plane or overnight accommodations. Additionally, the airline should attempt to contact you.