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Preparing to send your child on a flight alone

Many children and teens of divorced parents fly alone between their parents' homes for vacations and other occasions. The airlines call them "unaccompanied minors" and have services to help get them where they're going safely and comfortably.

If you're planning to send your child on his or her first flight alone, do your homework. There are no specific federal regulations for unaccompanied minors. Therefore, airlines vary in their minimum and maximum ages, what flights kids can take, what services are available and how much they charge. Some airlines let parents use the unaccompanied minor service for teens under 18 even if it's not required.

Fees can vary significantly. Southwest Airlines charges just $50 extra per flight for the service. Other airlines charge three times that. Some airlines charge one fee whether a child is traveling alone or with one or more minor siblings.

Parents should ensure that their children have a copy of their birth certificate. Just as you would if you were accompanying your child, make sure he or she has water and a snack. Let them carry on books or games to occupy themselves at the airport and on the plane.

Most airlines will allow parents to accompany their children to the gate to drop them off and go to the gate to pick them up. Some airlines require the parents to remain at the gate until the plane is wheels-up, just in case there's an unexpected problem. Many airlines will only book unaccompanied minors on direct or non-stop flights.

Unaccompanied minors are escorted on and off the plane by airline representatives. Often, they're seated near the front of the plane so that they'll have extra supervision.

Find out what the procedures are for the airline you've chosen so that you can tell your child what to expect. Also prepare your child for the unexpected, such as if the plane is diverted or they miss a connecting flight. Be sure they know whom to ask for help and how to contact you.

Don't transfer your fears to your child. Treat this as an adventure that you know your child is mature and independent enough to handle.

Many parenting plans don't cover the topic of solo flights because parents live close to each other or the children are very young. However, if circumstances change, you should talk to your Arizona family law attorney about making the necessary amendments.

Source: The New York Times, "Tips for Parents of Children Flying Solo," Elaine Glusac, accessed Jan. 23, 2018

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