An unaccompanied minor is a term applied to a kid (normally under 16) traveling on an airplane, train, or Greyhound bus (and similar forms of transportation) who is traveling without the accompaniment of an adult. Most transportation companies require you to pay for extra supervision for the minor during the trip, and will tell the flight attendants/stewards that there is an unaccompanied minor on board.
Now, for the educational portion of this node!
Tips for unaccompanied minors
- Provide the unaccompanied minor with a cell phone or change to use at a pay phone. Also, provide them with a list of important phone numbers, including the number of their destination.
- Provide them with a generous amount of cash and possibly a credit card. You never know how long planes/trains/busses can get delayed, and without money, they may be forced to go for a while without food or drink. Also, as for the credit cards, some airlines no longer take cash on their planes.
- Buy the unaccompanied pass if the kid isn't old enough to handle themselves in a large, confusing area. Especially after 9/11, when it is hard to get past security if you aren't flying. You do not want your kid to have to wonder through airport terminals that they've never been in.
- Make sure to pack entertainment for the minor. There is nothing quite as bad as sitting in an airplane bored, for 4 hours, with no one you know. Don't count on IFE (in flight entertainment), as those systems are prone to breaking down.
- It generally makes sense to check bags for the kid, as you don't want them to have to lug a bag around a terminal all day, and most kids don't know how to use overhead compartments correctly.
- Book the simplest itinerary possible, within reason. A non-stop flight is the best choice, as connecting flights can lead to confusion, terminal transfers, and misconnections due to delays.
True story: When I was 11, I traveled alone by plane from Washington, DC to Los Angeles to spend a few weeks with my uncle. My parents decided not to get the unaccompanied minor help for me, figuring that I was a smart and mature 11 year old. When I arrived in Los Angeles, my uncle was stuck in traffic. I had expected to meet him right at my gate, and upon exiting the plane, he was nowhere to be seen, and my parents had not given me his cell number. After 30 minutes of waiting, I realized something was wrong, and that I was 3000 miles away to home, didn't know anyone, and had no money to make a phone call. After a while, I found a nice gate agent who got me some help from the people who were in charge of unaccompanied minors, and I made a phone call to my parents, who got in touch with him. He wound up being stuck in traffic for 2 hours getting to the airport. Moral of the story: make certain to make extra preparations for unaccompanied minor traveling.