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Q. Is it possible to buy an airline ticket for a 10 year old traveling alone?
A. Yes, it is. I discussed this very same question recently on NBC's Today show. Here's what I learned from my research.
Each airline has its own specific set of rules, but there are some general guidelines.
Most major airlines allow unaccompanied children from 5 to 11 to fly as long as the parents pay an escort fee (usually of $30-$40 each way). An escort will place them on the plane, then hand over custody to a flight attendant, then will be met by another escort at the other end who will hand them over to whomever was authorized to meet the child—and that person must have ID.
Usually, children from 5 through 7 years old can fly only on nonstop or direct (i.e., one or more stops but no change of aircraft) flights. Children 8 through 11 (or 8 through 14, on Continental) are permitted to make connections.
Most airlines won't allow unaccompanied children to book the last flight of the day, in the event that a cancellation causes the passengers to wait overnight in the terminal, nor will the airlines allow unaccompanied children to travel on a flight that has a likelihood of a missed connection because of tight timing.
Information sheets for unaccompanied minors are required. Some airlines ask for that information when the reservation is made (Continental and United), while others take all the specifics at the airport (American). Most airlines have an Unaccompanied Minor form that is placed in the child's ticket envelope, and some airlines give the child a special pin to wear for easy identification by airline employees.
Children 12 or older (15 or older on Continental) are considered young adults and can fly without escorts, although parents can request escort service for anyone under 18 years of age.