An Aunt’s Tips on Sending Children Flying Alone – Unaccompanied Minor

Alex watching the planes at the airport

Sending your children on a plane to fly alone would scare any parent. But, my family and I have been doing this for 17 years. My family does not live in Michigan so, I have been flying my nieces up to visit me each year. We have been doing this since Kayla and Madison turned 5. Five is the age that airlines allow an unaccompanied minor to fly. I’m going to show you how we did this and what are the things you should know when sending your child on a plane by themselves.Kayla at Detroit Zoo water fountain - First visit as a Unaccompanied Minor, flying by herself

Alex watching the planes at the airport

Know Your Child

This is by far the most significant and most important advice. Each parent should know if their child will be able to handle traveling by themselves. Before I started this, my sister and I made sure that Kayla was comfortable on a plane. Kayla, before she turned 5, was on many planes with her family so, the fear of flying was not an issue. The same with my niece, Madison, who is fearless when it comes to flying. My nephew who is 7 has yet to be flown alone to visit me because he doesn’t like flying. His mom and I are just waiting until he is more comfortable with being on a plane before we attempt this with him. 

What is an Unaccompanied Minor

First is figure out which airline you are going to fly with as each airline has its unique policy and fee. I have consistently flown my nieces on Southwest Airlines over the years. Our experience with them has been top notch, and both of my nieces have had great flights with them. Southwest’s policy is children ages 5-11 traveling without an accompanying passenger age 12 or older will be eligible to fly only on domestic, direct (non-stop) flights. Here are some other airlines with Unaccompanied Minor policies:

Madison's first trip as an Unaccompanied Minor flying to visit me

Each Southwest flight costs an extra $50 ($100 roundtrip) for the child to get individual attention before and during the trip. The child will get a lanyard for them to wear and put in all essential documents (boarding pass, luggage ticket, etc.). They will also be able to board before everybody else does. A flight attendant will check on them periodically but, for the most part, the child should be able to entertain themselves during the flight. Make sure they have plenty to do on the plane. My nieces usually bring a backpack full of coloring books, tablets, games, snacks, etc. Once the plane lands, your child will be escorted off the plane and taken to meet you (parent/guardian) at the gate.

What do the Parents/Guardians Have to Do

When purchasing the flight for an unaccompanied minor, you must include all the details (address and phone numbers) of the parent/guardian at the drop off airport and the parent/guardian at the pickup airport. When arriving at the airport, you must go to the ticket counter to pick up an escort pass for you and your child’s lanyard. Documents you need to bring with you:

  • Copy of your child’s itinerary (flight information)
  • Proof of the child’s age (birth certificate)
  • Your valid, government-issued ID to get your escort pass

The escort pass allows you to go through security and wait at the gate for your child to board the plane. At the gate, you will need to check in so; they know there is an unaccompanied minor on this flight. Once your child has boarded the plane, you MUST stay at the gate until the plane is in the air (just in case it doesn’t leave for some reason).

At the receiving end, the parent/guardian must bring the same paperwork to get an escort pass from the ticket counter. You must arrive at the gate no less than 45 minutes before the flight’s scheduled arrival time. The flight attendant will confirm that you are the correct person to pick up the child before releasing them. Then go pick up their luggage and begin your vacation!Madison swinging in Rochester ParkKayla excited about visiting Cedar Point the next day

Letting Go and Giving It a Try

I have had some amazing adventures with my nieces over the years which would not have been possible if my sisters would not have allowed their babies to fly all by themselves to visit me. I feel blessed that I have the means to give my nieces genuinely wonderful travel experiences that they typically would not have been able to experience. Over the years we have been to Niagara Falls, Cedar Point, Chicago, Holland (in Michigan), and numerous other places around Ohio and Michigan after they have flown up to Michigan.Kayla and I at Niagara FallsMadison and I on a Chicago Architecture Boat Tour

I have no doubt that there will be many more adventures and I am looking forward to when my nephew can join the unaccompanied minor crew.

If you are nervous about sending your child to visit an aunt and uncle that lives out of state, talk to them. Let them know that there is this possibility of them flying alone on a plane. Ask your child how they feel out about that. If they have been on a flight before check to see if they remember the experience.

I can’t tell you how much as an aunt that I love spending time with my nieces and nephews and this is one way that living out of state lets me have some quality time with them each year. Plus, I have asked my niece Madison about her experience flying alone, and she loved it! She loved that Southwest catered to her when she flew as an unaccompanied minor. 

Have you let your child fly unaccompanied before? Are you considering it? Let me know if you have any questions.  


  • Gillian 18January2020 at 8:24 PM Reply

    Thanks for this post! Question – what documentation do you need as the aunt (non-legal guardian) to drop off or pick up your niece? Just trying to figure out logistics. Thanks!

    • Heather 18January2020 at 9:08 PM Reply

      Your welcome, Gillian. The times I have picked up my niece, you need to bring your driver’s license and have the flight information and your sibling’s information. You would need to show up ahead of time to pick up your gate pass. Your sibling should have already put your information in the system and they will compare it when you meet them at the gate.

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