Airlines call a young person, flying without an older companion, an unaccompanied minor (UM). Most airlines offer special supervision for UMs and require it for UMs below a certain age. When they provide such supervision, the child is said to have Unaccompanied Minor Status. Even when you are not required to arrange UM Status, you may wish to do so for your peace of mind. Sometimes the UM fee also gets you free checked bags and an onboard snack; it's always worth asking when you register. However, UM Status is also costly, and restricts the flights that are available.
Each airline has its own UM rules, fees, and definition of "young". For instance, some airlines will not book someone with UM Status on a flight that involves a change of plane and none will book you on the last connecting flight of the day, unless it is the only flight. Some require you to pay for UM Status for all youths age 14 or less, that is, for everyone eligible for MathPath. For others, only youth age 11 or less are required, or sometimes even allowed, to pay for UM status.
In addition, with UM Status you are generally not allowed to make bookings on multiple airlines, even codeshare airlines. For instance, you probably cannot book a trip to MathPath that starts on Air Canada and switches to United. (A trip to MathPath entirely on Air Canada with a return entirely on United is ok, though you may have to buy separate tickets. However, even if you buy your ticket with Air Canada, you must meet all of the UM requirements of both Air Canada and United for this ticket to be honored both ways.)
So please check with your airline(s) and make sure your booking is allowed before you make a non-refundable booking. This usually means contacting a live person, although we have sometimes found that airline personnel don't always know their own rules; be sure you have the rules as stated on the airline website at your fingertips when you talk to their agent.
Below is a summary of the UM situation, current as of September 2018, for all airlines that fly to Grand Rapids (Gerald R Ford International, code GRR) with links where you can and should check for updates; see the bottom of this page.
The basic situation is that UM rules have gotten stricter in the last few years. Airlines are requiring young people traveling alone to take UM status to an older age, and often restricting the flights you can take to nonstops. We regard this as unfortunate because it greatly increases your travel costs and makes it difficult to book at all from airports that have no nonstops to our location.
On the basis of the information below and past experience, we recommend Southwest Airlines if you don't think your child needs UM status and don't want to pay for it. Southwest is the last major US airline that allows most MathPathers (those age 12 or older) to fly as adults. (On Southwest to GRR your child will probably have to change planes like an adult as well because Southwest only has nonstops to GRR from Chicago, Denver, Baltimore, and certain Florida cities.)
On the other hand, if your child is required to take UM status (s/he will only be 11 this June) or you want to have the extra security of UM status, unless you fly from a city with nonstop flights to Grand Rapids, your choices may only be American and Delta; they likely fly to your airport and they allow you to change planes to other planes of their airline. Delta is probably better because it allows up to four kids to travel together on one UM fee; you can combine forces with other MathPathers from your metropolitan area and cut costs. American only allows family members to travel on the same fee.
There is another workaround if you come from an area with several MathPathers. One parent can be the guardian for all MathPathers on a flight. It may be cheaper to pool money to pay one parent to fly round trip at the beginning of the program than to pay the UM fees for that trip; Similarly at the end.
Note: None of the comparative online services like Travelocity will allow you to book a child under 18 flying alone, at least if you state correctly that you are booking 0 adults. You must book directly with the airline, either through their website or by phoning them. (Sometimes for UM Status they insist that you phone them, which is a good idea anyway to make sure your booking is allowed.) However, you can use an online service to compare flights and prices and then contact the airline with the best price. Type in an older age so that the comparative online service lets you explore. But also note: the prices you find on the comparative websites might not be the same prices you find at the airline's own site or when you phone them.
When you contact an airline to make a UM reservation they will ask for specific information about the person to whom they will hand over your child at the other end. Sometimes they will let you give them this information later, as late as the day of travel, but sometimes they want it at booking. We don't know who our receivers are yet; they will be experienced counselors but we don't hire counselors until early 2019. If you must book now (and why should you; there is plenty of time to wait for lower prices) and the airline must know a receiver now, contact us and we will give you a name you will have to change later. Once we do know our receivers, we will get that information to families of enrolled students in a secure way.
If you have a connecting flight and it is cancelled, do not worry. If you are flying with UM Status, either alone or in a group, the airline staff will not release you; they will make arrangements for an onward flight the same day since you are not traveling on the last flight of the day.
Airline Mandatory minor (a) Minor Fee (b) Fees for 3 bags ------- -------------------- ------------- --------------- Allegiant to age 14 (c) NA NA American to age 14 (d) $150 (e) $25, $35, $150 Delta to age 14 (f) $150 (g) $25, $35, $150 Frontier to age 14 (h) $110 $30, $45, $80 (i) Southwest to age 11 (j) $50 $0, $0, $75 United to age 14 (h) $150 (k) (a) "to age x" means all children age x or lower must fly UM (b) Per child unless otherwise noted (c) Allegiant does not accept UM (d) Not accepted are: connections to/from other airline, ground/co-terminal connections, last flight from final connection city (unless only option), overnight flights (unless only option). Children age 8-14 can travel on any non-stop or direct flight, or any connecting flight through Charlotte, NC (CLT), Washington Reagan, D.C. (DCA), Dallas-Fort Worth, TX (DFW), New York, NY (JFK and LGA), Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Miami, FL (MIA), Chicago, IL (ORD), Philadelphia, PA (PHL), and Phoenix, AZ (PHX). (e) Per family (f) Children age 8-14 may travel on non-stop or connecting flights. UM may only connect to other Delta, Delta Connection, Air France, and KLM flights. Not accepted: travel on last connecting flight of the day (unless only option) and Red Eye flights (between 9:00pm-5:00am). Red Eye flights are accepted in the following situations if a qualifying connection flight is not available from the airport: international flights, domestic short-haul flights (2 hours or less, non-stop), and flights to/from Alaska and Hawaii. (g) Only one fee will be charged for up to 4 children traveling together. Must contact Reservations to ensure that the documentation is correct. (h) UM may only travel on non-stop domestic flights. They cannot travel on connecting flights or on flights that make a stop enroute. (i) Price depends on when the bag is checked. There is also a charge for carry-on baggage. For more information click here. (j) Child may only travel on non-stop flights or flights that make one or more stops but for which the plane and flight number do not change. (k) Depends on the itinerary. For more information click here.
You should click below to check the original sources for each airline to confirm the above, and to find out about yet more fine print about unaccompanied minors.
Last update September 18, 2018
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