United Airlines makes changes to program for children flying alone

United Airlines jets sit at gates at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The carrier has changed its program for unaccompanied minors.

United Airlines jets sit at gates at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. The carrier has changed its program for unaccompanied minors.

(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

With little public notice, United Airlines has expanded the age range of children who must use a $150 service when flying without an accompanying adult.

For tickets sold after Dec. 14, any child ages 5 to 15 flying solo must pay for the “unaccompanied minor service.” Under the service, airline employees chaperone children to their seats and ensure they are united with designated adults upon landing.

For tickets sold before Dec. 14, the “unaccompanied minor service” was required only for ages 5 to 12.


Why the change?

“We made a thoughtful review of the policy and decided that this change will provide the best possible care for these travelers,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said.

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There is a better way to pull off such a change without angering travelers, said Jay Sorensen, a consultant on airline revenue and president of Wisconsin-based IdeaWorksCo.

Because the change will mean more parents must pay the $150 fee, Sorensen suggests that United offer an upgrade to the service to ease the pain of the extra cost. For example, he noted, Air New Zealand recently announced that it plans to give unaccompanied minors wrist bands embedded with computer chips to send text messages to let parents know where the children are throughout the flight.

“Obviously, they are going to generate more revenue from this,” he said. “They should make an attempt to improve the product.”

Delta and American Airlines charge $150 for unaccompanied minor service for children ages 5 to 14. Southwest Airlines requires the service for children 5 to 11, with a $50 fee.


To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.


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