Airline unaccompanied minor policies in the United Kingdom

Jun 26, 2020

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There are all sorts of reasons that you may find yourself in a situation where it makes sense for your child to fly as an unaccompanied minor while you stay behind on the ground. Those reasons may include getting your child to their other parent’s house, to visit their grandparents or a host of other very reasonable situations where a parent or guardian flying with them there and back simply isn’t feasible.

My first unaccompanied minor flight was at five years old and my oldest daughter’s first unaccompanied minor flight was at six years old. While we don’t frequently use the airlines’ unaccompanied minor services, we do have some experience in this area.

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I know some baulk at the notion that a child would fly without them due to safety or logistical concerns, and I understand and share many of those thoughts. On the other hand, my child rides a school bus by herself every day, and I’d bet money the statistical risks of that ground transportation are greater than when she is in the sky. That said, don’t rush down the unaccompanied minor path until you and your child are ready. That may be at six, nine, or eleven years old. However, if you wait until your child is 12 years old to experience their first solo flight, you may be shocked to find that some airlines will not provide any unaccompanied minor services to children once they turn twelve, even if you are willing to pay.

Related: Flying solo: Tips for booking a flight for an unaccompanied minor

Airlines frequently have their own takes on various rules and policies, but I’m not sure if I have seen an area of family travel that varies as dramatically as the rules for unaccompanied minors. Some airlines don’t accept unaccompanied minors at all, some require the service until a child reaches 14 years old, while others will not offer it at all once a child reaches 12 years old. Some airlines let you connect on international itineraries to other airlines and some only permit non-stop domestic flights. The rules and fees for unaccompanied minors are truly all over the places, so let’s look at the unaccompanied minor policies for major airlines in the U.K.

Related: TPG’s best airlines for families in 2019

2nd October 1934: A child from Aldersbrooke Home in Essex setting off for a trip in a model aeroplane. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
(Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

British Airways

  • The minimum age of a person permitted to travel alone on British Airways is 14 years of age (except on flights operated by SUN-AIR of Scandinavia). If young flyers are accompanied by someone who is aged 16 or over (on the same or a linked booking), British Airways will allow them to travel.
  • All young flyers aged younger than 16 and travelling alone must complete a parental/guardian consent form before travel, regardless of when the booking was made. A copy of the parent/guardian’s current passport (or another form of photographic identification showing a signature) must be attached to this form.
  • If you want to make a booking for a person younger than the age of 16 who is travelling on their own, this cannot be made on British Airways website — you’ll need to contact BA directly to make the booking. BA notes that its partner airlines may have different regulations, age limits and charges so you should check with them directly.

The parent/guardian should ensure that the young person carries with them at all times:

  • Any necessary travel documentation such as a valid passport(s), visas and proof of return travel (as required).
  • A signed British Airways consent form and copy of parent/guardian’s passport or another form of photographic identification showing a signature attached to the form.
  • Any required medication and/or health certificates.
  • The ability to communicate with their parent/guardian and/or the person collecting them at the destination (such as a charged mobile phone with international roaming).
  • The means of payment should it be necessary for any expenses.

Related: Benefits of business or first class with a baby or toddler

Virgin Atlantic

  • Children aged between five and 11 are classed as unaccompanied minors when travelling alone and must use the unaccompanied minors service.
  • The parent/guardian of the unaccompanied minor must stay at the airport until the child’s flight has departed. Children younger than five must always travel with someone aged 18 or over unless their parent or legal guardian is under 18 themselves.
  • Children aged five to 18 are also classed as unaccompanied minors if their parents or guardians are on the same flight, but in a different cabin, because the crew in that cabin will be responsible for them in the event of an emergency. Where parents book themselves in a higher cabin than their minors, the parents can go back to check on them, but the minors can not go into a higher cabin to see the adults.
  • Children aged between 12 and 18 may choose to use the unaccompanied minors service if they wish. Otherwise, Virgin will assume they don’t require it.

Related: British Airways versus Virgin Atlantic: Which is better for families?

As for the process of using this policy:

  • This can’t be booked online, so adults should contact Virgin by phone to book, letting them know if the minor has any special requirements or medical conditions. Any visas or documentation for the destination should be organised in advance.
  • On the day of departure, a Declaration of Indemnity must be signed by the adult. The minor can’t fly without one. Both passports must be presented at check-in — the adult will then receive a gate pass so they can accompany them through security to the boarding gate.
  • After everyone else has boarded, a member of our boarding team will take them to the aircraft door, where the flight service manager will then see them to their seat. The adult should remain at the gate until the flight has departed.

Related: Are you allowed to swap seats with a first class passenger?

(Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)
Afternoon tea on Virgin Atlantic. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

EasyJet

  • EasyJet does not allow children younger than the age of 14 to fly alone. Children younger than the age of 14 must be accompanied by a person 16 years or older to fly with the airline.

Jet2

  • Jet2 only allows passengers aged 14 or older to travel alone. Any passenger younger than the age of 14 can only travel if accompanied by a passenger aged 16 years or older who will take full responsibility for them. The airline does not offer an unaccompanied minors service.
  • The airline notes that some countries impose special conditions for minors who are travelling either alone or without their legal parent/guardian — you can find more information about this here.

Related: How to fly with a baby or toddler

Air France

  • On international flights operated by Air France, children aged between five and 14 years travelling alone must be checked in as an unaccompanied minor (UM). They are looked after by Air France staff and benefit from the Kids Solo service. A child travelling alone is a minor who is not accompanied by an adult over 18 years of age. However, the accompanying passenger may be under 18 years of age if he or she is the mother, father or legal guardian of the child.
  • At the moment of booking the ticket, indicate that your child is travelling alone. You will then need to complete an online form.
  • If a child is travelling on the same flight as their parent or guardian, but in a different cabin, he or she will be treated as an unaccompanied minor. The child will remain under the airline’s supervision throughout his or her journey, including any transfers.
  • Unaccompanied minors will not be able to access airport lounges, as their infrastructure prevents the airline from ensuring consistent supervision of your child.
  • If a flight is delayed or cancelled, children travelling alone take priority. Your child will remain under constant supervision by staff, even if overnight accommodation is required. The airline will inform you immediately of any special action taken to accompany your child throughout the journey.
  • At the check-in counter, Air France will let you know where and when staff will come to collect your child. At the expected time, an Air France member of staff will accompany him or her to the aircraft.
  • Parents should wait for the SMS message confirming takeoff before leaving the airport. If the flight is cancelled, they may return the child to the adult to wait for the new flight. The person or people picking the child up at the destination will also receive an SMS message with a new estimated time of arrival.

Related: 8 things a parent should bring on a plane to keep their children quiet

(Photo courtesy of Deals We Like / Jennifer Yellin)
(Photo courtesy of Deals We Like / Jennifer Yellin)

KLM

  • Booking the service is mandatory for children aged five up to and including 14 who are travelling alone, or travelling in a different travel class than the parent or accompanying adult. For children aged 15 up to and including 17 years old, the service is optional. If you choose not to book the unaccompanied minor service for a child aged 15 to 17, KLM will consider them an adult passenger.
  • KLM only allows transfers for unaccompanied minors on KLM, Air France, and Delta Air Lines flights. During a long transfer at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, KLM will bring your child to their Junior Jet Lounge. Here, he or she can sip a soft drink and have a good time drawing, playing with toys and computer games and watching movies. There’s also room to relax on one of the beanbags and read a nice book (in various languages).
  • Before departure and after arrival, KLM staff will accompany your child to and from the aircraft, even in the event of a delay. During the flight, cabin attendants will keep a close eye on your child. The airline will keep the adult or guardian informed by telephone, email and text message about any changes in the child’s flight schedule. At the end of the journey, they will personally accompany your child to the adult that is authorised to collect him or her.
  • This service must be booked through the KLM call centre, or via a travel agent.
  • When booking, KLM will ask for details of the person bringing your child to the airport at departure, and the person authorised to pick up your child on arrival. Make sure to have all information prepared when booking the service. They will use this information to fill out the handling advice form, which your child will carry throughout his or her trip.

Related: How your children can eat for free at Heathrow over February half-term

Norwegian

  • You can book your child as an unaccompanied minor if they’re between five and 15 years of age — ages 5 to 11 is mandatory, ages 12 to 15 is optional. If your child is under five years, Norwegian deems they’re too young to travel as an unaccompanied minor. If they’re over 15, then they’ll have to travel as an adult.
  • If the airline believes there’s the possibility of their flight landing at another airport due to bad weather, or other extraordinary circumstances, they will not allow unaccompanied minors to travel on the flight.
  • Norwegian does not allow unaccompanied minors to travel on connecting flights, nor can they travel with pets (either in the cabin or the cargo hold). If the child has a medical condition that may require medication during the flight, they must have the ability to administer this themselves. Cabin crew cannot administer medication or store the medication in a cool place.
  • Unaccompanied minor fares cannot be booked online — they must be done via the call centre and there is a small fee for this service.
  • Norwegian recommends arriving extra early at the airport to complete all the formalities.
Westend61 / Getty Images
(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Ryanair

  • Ryanair does not carry unaccompanied minors under 16 years. Children younger than 16 years must always be accompanied by a passenger over 16 years.
  • Escort and special facilities are not available.

Related: What it’s like to fly Ryanair with a baby or toddler for the first time

TUI

  • Children younger than 14 years old who are travelling on a TUI flight-only booking must be accompanied by another passenger aged 16 or older who is travelling on the same booking reference.
  • Children aged 14 or 15 can travel alone as long as they don’t need assistance. TUI recommends that they are accompanied to the check-in desk by a parent or legal guardian, though this is not a strict requirement. We’d also advise that the parent or guardian stays at the airport until the flight has departed.
  • To book a seat for someone between the ages of 14 and 17, a parent or legal guardian over the age of 18 needs to call TUI to make the booking.
A boy wearing a face mask sits on a suitcase at a railway station in Daegu on February 26, 2020. - An American soldier stationed in South Korea has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, commanders said on February 26, as the country
(Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

Bottom line

Personally speaking, even if an airline allowed a connecting flight for an unaccompanied minor, I would not put my own child on that sort of itinerary until they were truly ready to handle potential disruptions on their own. In terms of seating, I feel best when my child is seated as close to a flight attendant as possible, preferably at the front of the plane and in an aisle seat for maximum visibility. I would also avoid overnight or late night flights where visibility and supervision are decreased.

Related: What to do if your unaccompanied minor is stranded overnight

It’s disappointing carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair don’t allow unaccompanied minors though I can sort of understand this given their low-cost business model and fast turnarounds don’t allow much time to care for an unaccompanied minor.
Additional reporting by Ben Smithson

(Featured photo by Arkaprava Ghosh / Barcroft India / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

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