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I was just wondering because if minors were able to travel alone without supervision, isn't that extremely dangerous for them, as they are still minors and wouldn't have any supervision?

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    Why is it "extremely dangerous?" Plenty of minors around the world get themselves to/from school every day, often riding buses and trains to do it. Many kids have traveled extensively and are comfortable flying by themselves. Yes, there's a potential for things to go wrong, and the situation where a 13-year-old is stuck in Chicago due to bad weather is worse than when it's an adult, but it's not really that dangerous. – Zach Lipton Aug 9 '16 at 17:02
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    @user49558 what if it isn't their first time flying? Or what about an adult completely oblivious to how flying works... isn't it the same? Experience with flight doesn't correlate to age... – Patrice Aug 9 '16 at 18:57
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    @user49558: "it's more dangerous than school buses because they know their way to school and back" - none of the public buses and trains that children use to get to their school and back every day in many places "know their way to school and back". Children have to know how to get from the nearest bus/train stop to school and back. And arguably, it is much easier to get lost in a city than in the relatively restricted confines of an airport that feature signs indicating where to go next everywhere and that have information desks to help passengers find their way. – O. R. Mapper Aug 9 '16 at 19:52
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    @user49558 If they get in the wrong immigration line, someone will help them back to the right immigration line (or just process them anyway). Forgive me, allowing your child to play with gasoline and matches is “extremely dangerous”. Letting a teenager take a flight by himself is not, and arguably is a safer and more controlled environment than your typical city bus. – Calchas Aug 9 '16 at 20:51
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    When I was 13, 3 other students and I went on a school trip to D.C. We were accompanied on the flight, but were allowed to explore the city on our own for a couple full days (be back at the hotel by 6, sort of thing). Had no problem taking the metro and finding our way around, even though we had never been there before had no idea where anything was other than a map. No GPS, no cell phones. Not something I'd consider dangerous at all. – pwcnorthrop Aug 9 '16 at 21:58
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Most airlines set a minimum age where children can travel alone. The exact policies will vary between airlines, but they generally work like this:

  • Minimum age to fly alone at all. This is often around age 5 for airlines in the US. Children below this age must always fly with a parent or other responsible adult.

  • Unaccompanied minor service. Some airlines offer this service for an additional fee. It is often required for children age 5-11 or so and optional for kids 12+, but the rules and age cut-offs vary between airlines, with some requiring it through age 14 or even 15. The airlines will also set rules about when this service can be used: some won't offer it on international flights, or itineraries with any connections, or itineraries with tight connections, etc...

    With this service, an adult must bring the minor to the airport, get them checked in and signed in with the airline, and airline staff will escort them from place to place as needed until they arrive at the destination and an authorized adult shows ID and picks up the child. On board, the flight attendants will introduce themselves to the unaccompanied minor and will give them some extra attention, though kids are still generally on their own during the flight and should be able to occupy themselves. If there are connections, airline staff will escort the child to their next flight. In many cases, the adult dropping off the child must wait at the airport until the departing flight has taken off as well.

  • No supervision required. Above this age (somewhere between 12-15 for many airlines), the airline's policy does not require any supervision. Some airlines may still offer optional unaccompanied minor service for older travelers if parents want to pay for it. Parents should still consider their child's maturity and their ability to solve problems or get help if things go wrong.

As always, parents need to know their kids best and decide what is appropriate for them. Many five-year-olds may not be ready to fly by themselves, especially if they've never been on an airplane before. Some 12-year-olds may be seasoned world travelers and not need any assistance. Ultimately, parents need to decide this for their kids before making travel plans. There's a big difference between a direct one-hour domestic flight and a three-stop 24-hour around-the-world trip.

The exact policies and even the availability of these services will vary from airline-to-airline (and many low-cost-carriers do not offer unaccompanied minor service), so it's important to research all possible airlines and the fees involved before booking tickets. Most airlines have a page on their website explaining the policy, and a search for the name of the airline and "minors" will bring it up.

I certainly wouldn't say that it is "extremely dangerous" for kids to travel alone. As with all travel, there's a risk that things can go wrong due to delays, missed connections, bad weather, etc... The result is generally lost time and inconvenience, which may certainly be stressful for kids, but isn't "extreme danger." All the requirements for human life, telephones to call home, airline staff who look after unaccompanied minors, etc... are all available at airports.

  • I'd go so far as to call it un-heard-of that an airliner would land at an airport where literally nobody is home -- even out-of-the-way divert airports where niceties like airline gate staff, food outlets galore, etal aren't present will still have somebody present in an official capacity that can help. – UnrecognizedFallingObject Aug 10 '16 at 2:25
  • @pnuts -- well Gander Int'l has scheduled service from WestJet and Air Canada Express, as well as being a major GA waypoint for ferry flights etal and a military base (CFB Gander), so it's not quite as deserted as you're making it out to be. OTOH, Eareckson Air Station (PASY) would likely come close -- about all you'll find for help there is a small military unit that maintains the base as a military fuel stop. PMDY (Henderson Field @ Midway Atoll) is also this way, with a small FWS contingent resident there. – UnrecognizedFallingObject Aug 10 '16 at 3:01
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    Midway is one of the more remote diversion points, but even there, somebody has always been home the few times flights have needed to divert there in recent years. – Zach Lipton Aug 10 '16 at 3:22

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