Unaccompanied Minors Flights – Ultimate Guide

Every airline has its Unaccompanied Minor Flight (UM) rules. And IATA is the legal guardian of the rules, pardon the pun.

We’ll give you the basics – but a whole lot more.

Because there’s a whole lot more to children flying alone. Some are forced to travel by themselves, and others are being trafficked


There are some eye-opening lessons for all of us when we look at the unaccompanied children lawbreakers. We also have useful resources for travel agents or those who want that deeper dive. So, let’s get to the departure gate. 

Safety Features

There are people out there who would seek to benefit from the young, the old and the naïve. But children are the easiest targets and one place they can be targeted is when they are alone while at the airport or flying.

Some kids travel to see friends and family, and some are sent by their parents alone to foreign countries for their betterment and in the hope of joining them someday. This is where the battle is joined.

Childrens Ages

How many unaccompanied minors are there? An IATA study revealed that Brussels airport alone in 2018 handled 20,000 unaccompanied minor travelers. A UN study also tells us that back in 2002, 1.2million children were trafficked worldwide.

International Flights

And right now, there are no binding regulations or laws that might protect these unaccompanied children. This is something that needs to change.

If I asked you to picture an unaccompanied minor. What would spring to mind? A white 5–7-year-old. Dora the explorer (or Spiderman) backpack. Their hand held by Tiffany (from Austin, recently engaged) in a Delta uniform who smiles while the precocious all-knowing child skips to seat 1A where a juice box awaits.

Sometimes. But then there’s the reality. Which ranges from the head-scratching shithousery that boils the blood, such as the man who pretended to be a minor’s father just so he could sit beside her in Business class.

Child Through Security

To the downright despicable, where an abused, bruised girl was forced by her mother to wear party face paint so her injuries wouldn’t be spotted until she was in the custody of her unknowing aunt

And then there are times when you find minors at the center of the storm thanks to those, we expect to protect them the most.

Unaccompanied Minors are headaches for Airports and Airlines because of those walls we build to protect aircraft and passengers from bad actors. Now we give those people a ladder to climb upon. So read closely and hopefully in the future when you see a UM or need to help one, you will be better equipped.

You will know what the rules are, what they might be dealing with, and what dark forces could be ready to pounce. Welcome to the Minor Wars.

Unaccompanied Minors are Children

Persons under the age of eighteen traveling alone are minors by law. But each airline can and will apply its own rules. Most airlines consider children under twelve as minors and adjust their fare structure accordingly.

By breaking them into these categories, they give various levels of attention and charge you for each one. Now if you think the guiding principles are the immigration policies of your country, you are wrong. The guiding principles here are the United Nations’ best interests of the child, with a guardian being appointed.

Flight Status

The child’s rights and the protection of those rights are what we are concerned with. And rightly so. IATA and the airlines have struck an agreement that all under 16’s are minors, but we all know that many children all the way up to eighteen can be vulnerable.

And what we want folks, is to avoid all airline nonsense, airport bullshit, or authority red tape. What we want the most is to have clear and quick action to avoid harm or distress to a child who is unable to protect themselves. Agreed? Good.

What exactly is Unaccompanied Minor Travel?

Here are the definitions;

Minor – Any child under the age of 16 Unaccompanied minor – A child under the age of 16 traveling alone or with another child 16 or under.

Accompanying Person – Any person of 16 years or over traveling with a person of less than 16. The person may not necessarily be the parent or guardian.

aircraft cabin

Departure Time

ICAO Annex 9 is a fantastic document. Especially if you are a travel Agent or Airline professional or just want the rules. Or everything to do with good practice. And you can download it for free there. Go to page 39 for the UM stuff.

One key takeaway is the fact that if there are significant concerns that a child could be in danger from anything – this child should be placed directly into the care of social services on arrival into that country.

Minor Forms

Due to the exponential increase in the movement of underage children across borders in recent years the regulators are making changes. So, to better protect these children the authorities are looking to change the terms of reference of “minor”. This can’t come fast enough. 

Delta, who we recently voted as the best airline for all the right reasons, has an exceptionally good FAQ section for those considering sending a child as a UM.

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