My 13-year-old son travels to see me two weekends a month. All U.S. airlines will accept unaccompanied minors—that is, children traveling alone—starting at the age of 5. However, the rules and fees keep changing to parents’ detriment.
It used to be that children 12 and over could travel on most airlines “as adults,” without payment of a fee. You would normally be charged $50 each way for children under 12, though JetBlue, the airline we used most often, charged nothing extra. A few years ago, JetBlue started charging $25 each way; then, they raised it to $50, and later to $75.
I couldn’t wait for my son to turn 12. Just as he did, they raised the cutoff age to 13. And just as he turned 13, they raised it to 14. Many airlines have now raised the cutoff age to 15, and some are charging as much as $100 each way, which practically doubles the cost of the ticket.
You might have understood the change if it had happened after 9/11, but for several years after that the normal cutoff age remained at 12. I have to think that the airlines are changing because they need the money, not out of any newly-discovered concern for children’s safety.
Now, I don’t really mind when airlines charge extra for things that actually have value. It may be inconvenient that the second suitcase that used to travel free, now entails an excess baggage fee. And it may seem nitpicky that many airlines now charge for meals and snacks that used to be free. But food and luggage really do cost money. The costs may be egregious in relation to what you get, but at least there’s a connection.
But the airlines don’t do anything for unaccompanied minors traveling on nonstop flights. Basically, they provide an escort up and down the jetway—which they also do for wheelchair passengers, without charging extra—and that’s it. They don’t have any extra staff at the gate or on the plane. The don’t do anything to earn their fee.
As I paid Delta airlines $100 one-way for my frequent-flying son to be walked down the jetway, there was one word that came to mind: Theft. The airlines have now been reduced to stealing from their customers. How sad.