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Teens Flying Alone Face Maze Of Rules

Teenagers face extra challenges when flying alone

Most of us will never forget our first solo plane ride. Whether you made that flight when you were seven or seventeen, getting on an airplane alone for the first time is a very grown-up feeling. A little scary, a little special, definitely memorable.

Unfortunately, for teen travelers it can also be confusing and expensive. The New York Times takes a peek into the world of minors traveling alone, and it’s a minefield of conflicting rules and extra fees.

Airlines often quite reasonably charge a fee for a child to be attended by a flight attendent while they’re in the airlines care. But the fee can range from $50 on Southwest to over $100 on some of the legacy airlines.

The age cutoff for needing an attendant varies widely, too. Some airlines will let a 15-year-old travel alone, others require her to be babysat by a flight attendant. Some will let that same teen supervise her younger siblings. Others won’t.

The fees are a burden to parents, but for teens it’s the close supervision that rankles. The NYT author writes about her 14-year-old son’s dislike of being treated like a child by airline staffers.

I sort of feel like anyone traveling by air these days gives up a lot of the autonomy and respect they’re used to being granted. I’m not used to having my bags searched and my seatbelt checked when I travel by any other means, but I do those things to my 5-year-old every time we leave the house.

That’s not to say teenagers complaints about airline babysitting services are unwarranted. I don’t like the way I’m treated on airplanes, so I totally get where they’re coming from. Kids who are old enough to go to high school can probably handle reading a boarding pass and getting their carry-on stowed correctly.

Not all airlines are difficult for teens to travel on. My teenage stepson flies back and forth between his mom’s house in Colorado and our home in Boston several times a year. He’s made the trip alone ever since she moved out there when he was 13. He’s made every single one of those flights on JetBlue, and we’ve never had any problems or hassle with them.

What have your experiences with kids traveling alone been like?

Photo: Sean MacEntee

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