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Is It Legal for Kids to Fly Alone?

Many parents would be worried to let their kids fly alone, but is it even legal to let young children travel by themselves?

In one unusual incident, a 9-year-old boy in Minnesota somehow managed to board a Las Vegas-bound flight alone on Delta Airlines without a boarding pass last week, NBC News reports.

Though the TSA has stated the boy was screened in security along with other passengers, there are other legal worries when children fly alone.

Federal Regulations for Unaccompanied Minors

There are no federal laws that prevent any child -- regardless of age -- from taking a flight by themselves. The individual airlines are the ones that have policies dealing with unaccompanied minors flying.

However, there are special rules for children as they head through the airport, especially when being screened by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA).

According to the TSA, children 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening, but they will still be subject to patdowns in limited circumstances. Children of any age will also still need a boarding pass and are subject to the same rules about carry-ons and liquids.

Once a child flying alone gets through security, each airline's policy on unaccompanied minors comes into play.

Airline Policies on Kids Flying Alone

None of the major carriers will allow children younger than 5 years of age to fly by themselves.

If your child is between 5 and 11, most airlines will allow him or her to fly alone as an unaccompanied minor, ironically accompanied by an extra fee for the ticket -- for example, $100 each way on American Airlines.

For these children, parents will typically be required to:

  • Fill out a form with a ticket agent for the airline,
  • Obtain a gate pass from the ticket agent (to clear security), and
  • Accompany children through security to the gate, leaving only once the child has boarded and the flight departs.

Since most children don't have a passport, parents will also need to bring a birth certificate or other document proving the child's age. This may be trickier if a parent is in the middle of the green card process.

Many airlines, like Southwest, will also not allow unaccompanied minors on any flight that requires passengers to change planes, so young children may need to take direct flights.

Children 12 to 17 years of age are free to fly like adults on most airlines.

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