United Airlines Has an Absurd New Unaccompanied Minors Policy

Very quietly, just before the Christmas holiday last year, United Airlines changed its unaccompanied minors policy. Previously, United only required children age 11 and under and younger traveling without an adult to pay an additional fee; in 2012 when I booked unaccompanied minor status for my teens, then ages 10 and 12, for a plane trip from Denver to Boston, I paid one fee total round-trip for the pair of them (plus the regular airfare).

airplane

Now, United requires all children ages 5 to 15 to pay a fee one way, on top of the regular fare, for unaccompanied minor status. Indeed, United wants to charge me an additional money one way (another cost of money round trip!) for my well-traveled, mature 14-year-old son who will be traveling with his 16-year-old sister on a nonstop flight from Denver to Boston this summer.

Oh. Hell. No.

My son has been traveling by plane multiple times annually since he was an infant. He will be accompanied by his responsible 16-year-old sister — who is not young enough to be forced into unaccompanied minor status, but apparently not old enough to be a legal guardian during the plane ride (aka United Airlines’ no-man’s land of age).

My teens are traveling on a nonstop flight between two major airports and are perfectly capable of walking themselves from the security line at Denver International Airport (where I’d drop them off) to their gate. They both travel with cell phones.

They can negotiate their way together from the gate at Boston’s Logan International Airport to baggage claim, where they’ll meet their grandmother (and if they get lost, I’ve taught them well enough to be able to identify and ask an airport employee to point the way).

My 14-year-old does not need these services (as outlined on the United Airlines unaccompanied minors policy FAQ) from flight attendants, who will supposedly:

  • Personally greet your child
  • Introduce your child to the cockpit, time permitting
  • Take your child to their seat and assist with carry-on items
  • Orient your child to the safety features of the aircraft
  • Point out lavatory locations

I’m pretty sure my six-foot-three-inch 14-year-old can reach the overhead bins more easily than a petite flight attendant, and he’s been on enough planes that he knows darn well where to find the bathrooms!

United's new policy requires ALL unaccompanied children and teens ages 5 to 15 to pay an additional $150 fee per one-way nonstop flight.Now I understand that some 14-year-old kids might need some extra TLC. Perhaps if my 14-year-old were traveling all by himself and had a connection, I might be slightly more willing to pay the charge to help ensure he’d get additional, focused care from airline employees — just in case there were a canceled flight and/or he needed to stay overnight in an airport hotel due to delays. But, here’s the rub: United Airlines doesn’t even offer unaccompanied minor status to children who need connecting flights. It’s nonstop flights only! Paying to have a flight attendant point out the airplane bathrooms and an airline employee walk my kid(s) to arrivals to meet their grandma is outrageous. (Oh, wait. For my charge, my child would also get one complimentary food item onboard.) At best, that service might be worth the money.

I also understand there could be a (rare) diversion of this nonstop flight to another airport if there were weather problems in Boston. And, sure, there might be some sort of emergency in the air. But…

Would paying a unaccompanied-minor fee for my teen truly guarantee a flight attendant would watch out for him during some horrible in-air catastrophe during which flight attendants are responsible for all of the of passengers?

It’s not like flight attendants (or gate agents) get any extra stipend or bonus for supervising unaccompanied minors; they’re just paid their regular wages regardless of whether they have six minors in their care or zero.

Wouldn’t flight attendants focus attention on an elderly couple who couldn’t make their way quickly to an emergency exit, versus my tall, athletic teen who could reach the exit in a matter of a few steps?

To me, the new policy just makes no sense. To go from requiring children age 11 to have (and pay for) unaccompanied minor status to age 15 is a huge, unnecessary jump.

My colleague Beth Blair, a former flight attendant, makes a great point: “Unless a teen has some kind of special need there’s no reason for that fee. Here’s how I look at it:If a child is old enough to babysit, he or she is responsible enough to fly alone without being monitored.”

Mind you, in some states, children who are 15 are allowed to drive a car. (ETA: One of my Facebook friends pointed out, after reading this piece, that 15-year-olds can get pilot’s licenses and fly planes!) But they are not allowed to fly alone on a nonstop with United Airlines. Nuts!

My guess is that United jacked up the price of the unaccompanied minors fee, and upped the age limit, because the airline had lost too many children over the years. (See this story, too.) The airline needs to cover its butt.

Or it just wants to make money by gouging parents of teens with this outrageous fee. Or it simply doesn’t want to have unaccompanied minors on its flights, period, so the airline makes it as uncomfortable as possible for families to book their children alone.

Thankfully, other airlines have not fully followed suit with this asinine policy of requiring children ages 5-15 to pay charges one way for unaccompanied minor status:

  • American Airlines allows children ages 2-14 to travel as an “accompanied minor” with a 16-year-old.
  • Delta Air Lines requires all children ages 5-14 to have unaccompanied minor status, though it does allow for some connecting flights. (Not helpful for my 14-year-old; note to self.)
  • Alaska Airlines requires children ages 5-12 to travel as unaccompanied minors,¬† depending on if connecting flights are involved.
  • Frontier Airlines allows children ages 5-14 to travel with someone as young as 15 years old without any unaccompanied minor fee.
  • Southwest Airlines allows children ages 5-11 to travel with another child age 12 or older without having to pay an unaccompanied minor fee. Its unaccompanied minor fee for children ages 5-11 is a reasonable charge each way.

I think United Airlines needs to loosen its unaccompanied minors policy. Lopping my mature, well-traveled, strong and athletic high school freshman into a one-size-fits-all policy with never-before-traveled 5-year-old kindergartner is utterly absurd.

Fourteen- and 15-year-old should be able to travel with older siblings without having to pay a fee. It should be up to parents to decide on the maturity level of young teenagers and whether or not they need that extra care.

(Recall, my daughter was 12 years old and didn’t need unaccompanied minor status on United four years ago–but I paid the fee anyway for peace of mind.)

And the fee for unaccompanied minors should definitely not be a ridiculously high for a one-way flight — whether that flight is just over an hour long from San Francisco to LAX or five hours long from Seattle to New York.

As for me and my teens’ travel plans, I chose to spend my travel dollars elsewhere. Though I have long been a United customer (I have two MileagePlus credit cards, and frequently fly the airlines since it’s basically the only game in town from my small Colorado mountain airports to its Denver hub), I refuse to pay this the charge one-way fee for my kid’s flight this summer.

My teens are now booked on nonstop Southwest Airlines flights for the regular fare — no unaccompanied minor fee necessary. Even better, I’m glad we shopped around: The standard DEN-BOS fares were cheaper on Southwest anyway, saving us on top of not having to pay the ridiculous charge round-trip extra fee for my 14-year-old son.

And you can bet that I won’t book my son on a solo flight on United next summer either — unless the airlines smartly changes its policy and allows 15-year-olds to fly solo for no additional fee.

What do you think? Sound off! Am I being unnecessarily annoyed by this United Airlines unaccompanied minors fee? Would you pay it for your young teen?

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67 Comments on "United Airlines Has an Absurd New Unaccompanied Minors Policy"

  1. Absolutely not! That’s prohibitively expensive. I think that in all our travels, I only once paid for an unaccompanied minor fee–and that was for my peace of mind and a twelve-year-old who truly needed that reassurance. By the time my son was fifteen years old, I had no qualms sending him across the USA with multiple connections. He was an experienced traveler armed with a smartphone and a credit card, no hand holding needed or desired.

    • Kara Williams | February 11, 2016 at 8:09 am |

      EXACTLY!

    • It’s ridiculous I just paid $1200 for an international flight with us for my 16 yr old bought an adult ticket to be told AFTER I had paid as it is a connecting flight she can’t travel alone. OK I said through gritted teeth I’ll play and pay your chaperone fee. Sorry mam she said we don’t do chaperone on international connecting flights arrrrrrggghh. Now I have to wait 8 days to be refunded so I can buy her the same ticket through virgin Atlantic .was it so difficult to tell me this before she charged my credit card?????? And why am I buying an adult ticket for someone they class as a minor ????
      United airways need to sort their stupid rules out

    • Kara Williams | July 22, 2016 at 10:01 am |

      SO FRUSTRATING!

  2. Super frustrating. That would be enough for me to boycott United as well. I think after age 12, parents should be allowed to decide if their children need the unaccompanied minor assistance or not. For someone as well traveled as your 14-year-old, this is ridiculous. Thanks for informing us of the policy change.

    • Kara Williams | February 11, 2016 at 8:10 am |

      I’m sure I”ll return to United, since I do have a couple of MileagePlus cards… but I’ll never pay that unaccompanied minor fee, that’s for sure.

  3. I saw this last summer when we thought my son would be needing it (not by the airlines, but by the organization he was traveling with and would leave midway to meet us. After telling the person in charge about the craziness, they allowed for him to travel unaccompanied on a direct flight without the unaccompanied minor gauging.

    Did you notice that not only is it only direct flights, but that the parent or guardian is required to stay at the gate until the plane departs? Plus on the receiving end, the person picking them up has to be waiting AT the gate. So basically, you are paying a bunch of money for 2 people to get through security and be in charge of your child until the plane is gone.

    Crazy, crazy, crazy! No wonder so many of my friends with kids in that age bracket choose Alaska Airlines. No one can get direct flights to most places from Alaska.

    • Kara Williams | February 11, 2016 at 8:12 am |

      I did NOT note the “parent must stay at the gate” — when I paid the fee for my 12- and 10-year-olds a few years ago, I WANTED to stay at the gate, but you’re right, what are we then $150 paying for? Just care in the air? Ridonkolous.

  4. Absurd! And utterly right to sound off about it – thanks for flagging this differentiator up, highway robbery.

  5. I am debating sending my 12-year-old to Michigan this summer. Assuming we had a direct flight, I think he has traveled enough to know how to find his seat and follow signs to baggage. I hope there are a variety of options for people to choose from – would hate to feel like it’s coming to this.

  6. Thank you for the update. The airlines are ridiculous (and inconsistent) with their policies and it drives me mad. As you say, most kids ages 14-16 can take care of themselves. Heck, my 11 year old did a better job taking care of himself flying alone than the Frontier flight attendants this past summer. It is absurd and ridiculous. Maybe us family travel writers need to get together as a united front (pun intended) and refuse to pay these fees going forward!

    • The flight attendants are not there to babysit your child during the flight. They are there to sign your child onto the flight, provide a briefing, help if there is an emergency, loosely keep an eye on your child, give a snack/drink if available and sign your child over to an escort. If your child needs a babysitter, then they should not travel alone.

      You can refuse the fees by flying with your child A to B.

      This may sound cruel, but the crew has 144 to 250 other adult passengers begging for attention too.

  7. Anything for an extra buck. I wouldn’t be surprised if more airlines try the same shenanigans.

  8. This is such a pathetic money-grab. Nothing to do with safety whatsoever. Another reason to avoid United!

  9. As a former FA for a major airline, I agree this is outrageous, including the age requirement and the overpriced fee. As pointed out, not every child is as responsible as another 14-15 year old though. To avoid the fee, parents may judge their young teen more mature than they are and send them on their way without an escort. Quite honestly, on a short flying time, I didn’t have the time to comfort a child in need and once the plane lands, most crew need to scoot to another flight or to a hotel for minimal layover time. I don’t have a solution other than to lower the fees to a more reasonable level and even perhaps the age.

    Here are a few examples of unaccompanied minors (some register, some not) I have had on flights:

    1. Me in 6th grade… Not registered. I flew from IL to STL, 6 hour sit, then onto OKC by myself the entire time, prior to the increased security (early 80s). Only one shop worker stopped me to inquire about my lack of parents.

    2. A flight from SJU-JFK. A 6 YO boy with his under 2 YO sibling (lap child), essentially alone (not registered). The parents “hired” a random, male passenger to pretend the kids were with him (no paperwork, nor fees). The hired help ignored the kids and the 6 YO tried his best but was not capable of changing a diaper nor feeding the younger one. This was before we quit serving food, so the crew had no time to look after the kids. Thankfully, a lady stepped up to watch the kids. Also, the kids didn’t speak English.

    3. A 6 YO non English speaking girl traveling alone, (registered), from JFK-SJC (6+ hour flight). Again, before we stopped serving food trays. The young girl was a handful, but sweet. No crew spoke Spanish so it made for a long flight of trying to communicate. She was bored and had no source of entertainment. We were expected to be her entertainment. We found one pax that did a bit of translating, then we pulled out our airplane Spanish. When we landed at SJC, the girl screamed bloody murder and refused to go to the appropriate relatives. We had to leave her with them since their IDs matched the paperwork.

    4. 16 YO female from JFK-CDG (registered). She was upset when she boarded the plane and cried throughout the flight. We checked on her quite a bit, but she avoided answering direct questions. Before landing, we reminded her to stay seated and wait for us to get her, so we could sign her off to an escort. She must have covered her head because she did not wait and walked past us at the deplaning door. One crew member went down to customs to try to find her. We were absolutely frantic. When we left the next day, the agents informed us that all the phone numbers provided on her form were not working/false. The person that checked her in at JFK most likely was not a relative. Our guess is that she was either running away to see a boy or she was a part of the sex slave industry.

    5. Several tweens, flying solo or with sibs (registered and even not registered), internationally or domestic that are the most well behaved kids and seasoned travelers. They knew the ropes better than us, knew how to fill out their customs forms and could give a few adults some tips. Of course there are always the kids that haven’t flown much and sucked the life out of the crew. You are correct, I didn’t get any extra pay for “watching” the kids.

    The 4th example is very serious. The sex slave industry is thriving and real. Clearly, the unaccompanied program did not work in this case. One, the adult checking the 16YO in did not provided accurate info. There isn’t a verification check in place. Second, the 16YO did not follow simple instructions. Recently, there has been a push to train crews in recognizing young people in need of help, FYI.

    My (then) 14 YO nephew has flown standby solo (not registered). That’s a non confirmed ticket. My brother got him thru security on one end and I picked him up on the other end, after I landed from an international flight. He had to sit for 4 hours in the food court by himself. I had given him local friends names and numbers incase I was delayed.

    My suggestion is to travel with your youth until you feel they are seasoned and mature enough to travel solo, choose non stop flights, use airlines that don’t charge in excess fees and have a back up plan incase of diversions. You are required to stay at the gate u til the plane has taken off, not just backed up. Make sure your children have snacks, entertainment, a phone, contact info for you/whomever is picking them up, and a few extra $$ in their pocket.

  10. Brian McChesney | March 8, 2016 at 6:38 pm |

    United Airlines, should rethink the obvious negative impact to their business and the overall mind share the public will take away from this 150 dollar one way charge. I hope their CEO, who boasts, as a recorded intro message at the begging of each flight, how creative and responsive they are to the customers of the “Friendly Skies.” Families with little kids should not be targeted. I hope the “friendly skies” correct this error and the executive staff takes action on this item. Concerned parent of 4 kids……. Keep it “friendly skies”.. United.

  11. Konrad schneider | April 11, 2016 at 9:34 pm |

    I am 14.

    I make the stretch from New York to Denver about 10 roundtrips a year since my parents are divorced.

    Occasionally I flew United but now this is absolutly ridiculous! I mean, seriously. I fly alone all the time WITHOUT the unaccompanied minor service, thank you very much. And now if I want to visit my grandparents from Denver, i have to stop over in Seattle or portland or something. Now I can’t make the non-stop flight from Denver to Redmond Airport in Oregon. At least Alaska flies to Redmond, since they are the only airline that flies there that allows me to go unaccompanied without needing the special service. Is United such a money hog that it has to increase the age limit on unaccompanied minor service????? If you are worried about your child dealing with the bureaucracy that is airlines, then educate them (and have them practice). If airlines are soooooooo worried, then have them check how mature the child is.

    Whoever made this sh**** rule should have his/her royal bum ass slaped across the U.S.-Mexican border, heading south.

    • Konrad Schneider | April 11, 2016 at 9:36 pm |

      Alaska is referring to Alaskan Airlines.

    • Kara Williams | April 12, 2016 at 8:05 am |

      Thanks for chiming in, Konrad! It’s nice to hear from a well-traveled young reader such as yourself.

    • Konrad Schneider | October 20, 2016 at 8:33 pm |

      Now that I have turned 15, pretty much the only airline I can’t fly is united. I mean, I can fly Spirit which is America’s worst airline, and I can fly alone. Also, because of this united is America’s second worst airline.

  12. Samantha Charles | April 18, 2016 at 4:08 pm |

    This is truly insane and has made it nearly non-affordable for us to exercise visitation with a child living in great falls MT as United was was one of the only airline offering non-stop flights from Great-Falls to Denver. A parent was putting him on the plane, a parent was getting him off the plane. We need a babysitter for a 14 year old for $300 because why? When he babysits his younger siblings has been flying since he was 3? They should be ashamed of themselves!!!!!!

  13. To fly my 9-yr old to see her grandparents this summer, I have on one choice — United. No other airlines go direct from the SF bay area to the Orlando area. I feel like my hands are completely tied. I will pay about $800 for the flight (and a trip spanning about a week.) Shame on you United. Anyone in this position (flying a child unaccompanied) likely has strong reasons for doing so. In my case I need to stay home to work …

  14. I was totally surprised this morning to find out that I had to pay $150 for my 14 year 5 ft 10 son on a United flight to see his dad. His dad pays for his travel. There is no indication on the ticket or itinerary that stated there would be a fee. Way to go United for fining me $150 plus $25 for luggage for being a single parent and following court ordered visitation. My son received no special treatment he was twice the size of the stewardess and had to sit and wait on the plane for everyone to get off before he could see his dad he hasn’t seen in 5 months. What made it worse for me…..I sat and watched their staff working hard to manage passengers carry on bags that wouldn’t fit. All that extra work for the price of a ticket while my son required no assistance. Ridiculous! I will not fly with them and will make sure to share my story with others!

  15. A friend offered to fly my son out to visit them after we had moved away to another state. She paid with her airmiles program. HOwever, I was required to pay a $150 each way unaccompanied minor fare for my son who is 14 years old, and has flown all over the world with me and knows how to navigate international airports! For this ridiculous “fee, we still had to get a direct flight. (not available from our departure airport, so I had to drive 4 hours to Atlanta. There I had to spend time going through security, after United spent maybe 5 minutes working on this. Being unaccompanied meant not being able to pre-book a seat, so he had to sit in the middle seat. No “checking out the cockpit”, or additional attention. he did get a miserable snack. After everyone had boarded the plane, they are still calling his name asking for him to board, when he went on first! Then on the plane, after his luggage is stowed etc, they move him from his seat as it had been double booked. So he sits on a plane without his luggage anywhere near him. On arrival, I requested by phone that he be walked to the arrivals exit gate as my friend had her two young children with her and couldn’t get thru security, and that just created endless problems, even though it had been OK’d by phone with customer service. Goodbye United for this family!

  16. Ron Annan | June 20, 2016 at 3:10 pm |

    My first experience/awareness of this policy: Flew my 14-year old granddaughter from Omaha to Denver last week. This was her first flight ever. I’m unsure what my $150 bought for us!? Her mother had to get a gate pass at Omaha, go through security and then wait with her until she boarded the plane. At Denver I assumed a United staff would escort her to me at the arrival area. No! I get a call from my granddaughter telling me I have to come “claim” her. I spoke with an agent at her arrival gate and was informed I now had to go to the United ticket counter, get a gate pass, go through security, take the train to her arrival concourse/gate and then sign for her. At a busy airport like Denver that process took me an hour while my granddaughter, near tears, nervously waited for me. Near as I can tell I gave United $150 so I could do their work for them?? In my opinion this policy is yet another scam to reach deeply into the consumer’s pocket. I sent a message to United Customer Service and am awaiting their reply.

  17. It makes perfect sense “if” our government sees people as not being “adult” until they have graduated college. I’m glad you’re upset about this too – it seems you have raised RESPONSIBLE and SELF RELIANT children.

  18. One correction: the minimum age to get a private pilot license in the U.S. is 17, not 15, although a student pilot may solo as young as 16 with his instructor’s approval.

  19. Gary Reedy | June 23, 2016 at 12:53 am |

    What happens if you buy the ticket for him as a 16 YO, even if he is 14. Do they check and enforce at the gate?

    • Kara Williams | June 29, 2016 at 7:56 am |

      I’m thinking they do NOT check and enforce. But I do not know for fact. Children (under 18) are not made to show ID, so he could be good to go.

  20. Cindy Weil | June 28, 2016 at 4:26 pm |

    Yes. I just got slapped with this myself sending my well-traveled, 6foot, deep voices, daily shaving 15 year d on a non- stop SF to MPLS flight to see my sister. He did this solo last summer. I’m furious and fighting hard with them. Indeed I’ve been in contact with travel reporters around the country. I’m determined to make them peel back this greedy money grabbing policy.

  21. Hello. Yes, I would gladly pay the fee. Not worried about my daughter traveling alone but some creep on the plane. Twice I have been asked to trade places and move next to a young child traveling alone. Need to watch our kids!! Have a great day everyone.

    • How absurd to think planes are full of “creeps” ready to pounce on unsuspecting young travelers.

      Furthermore, how does one ascertain who’s a creep and who isn’t merely by looking at the (presumably male) passengers??

      Helicopter parenting at its finest…

  22. Sheila cheng | June 28, 2016 at 11:08 pm |

    My 15 year old daughter will start boarding school (on scholarship) in the fall. With United being our only option for direct flight, Apparently she won’t be able to come home for breaks, unless I travel there each time to bring her back and pay $150 extra for return. This will become prohibitively expensive for thanksgiving and Christmas when the tix is already 4x as usual. Can’t believe this !!!!

  23. Unfortunately, United is my only option for a non-stop flight out of Denver into a tiny airport an 1 1/2 hour away. My daughter who is 14 and has flown this route unaccompanied since she was 12 with no problems, and suddenly has an additional $300 added to her ticket price, doubling the fare. This “fee” is nothing more than another money-grab by United. This became even more apparent after reading the policy on their website. It is the same for a 1 hour flight as it is for an international flight, and they really don’t provide any special services, It would be reasonable if they could prorate this fee by mileage, but there is nothing reasonable about United airlines. I don’t think they care a bit about how this increase effects someones ability to travel.

    BTW, the picture on the website shows a pilot talking to 2 kids, about 7 years old. I think they need to change it, and show two 15 year old teens, rolling their eyes at the pilot.

  24. My son has been traveling United since he was 12 years old. We went with United specially for that reason, because all the other airlines charged him for unaccompanied minor. He visits with us 3-4 times a year and has never had an issue flying. When we originally booked his flight at age 12, the phone assistant told us to put him as an adult with his age in the birthdate section. The last flight was during Winter Break. I booked his summer flight this June like normal, but once he got to the desk to get his ticket, he was told he is now an Unaccompanied minor and we have to pay additional $150 each way. Obviously very angry of the new rule that we knew nothing about, we complained and was told that going through online is the only option for a possible refund. As if the extra charge was not frustrating enough, my son had no one to escort him off the plane or even to contact his father to see if he made it. I have emailed the site and called to only get that they will not refund me.

  25. I found this article because I am 17 years old. I turn 18 in a month and my best friend (also 17) and I traveled to Mexico to go visit some missionaries. We have flown together before. Flown so many times we know it so well. So our return flight got cancelled due to weather and when we asked to change flights and get a hotel they said no we can’t stay in a hotel. Apparently, in Texas you have to be 19 to check into a hotel room. So our parents called and they wouldn’t do anything. We, 17 year olds who have traveled out of the country have to stay in a giant room with an older lady to spend the night. Our flight doesn’t leave till 10 and she just informed us we have to be out of the room by 6. We are sleeping on cots. This whole thing seems crazy.

  26. This is good information to know! I will never look at United let alone book with them for anything!
    Airfares are out of control. They keep nickel and diming the public. The only way to get their attention is to stop using them and to continually keep posting their money hungry rules

  27. Good bye United!!! Too point out how ridiculous this policy is- my now 14 year old son was able to fly solo on United summer of 2015 on a two hour direct flight to Maine but somehow magically in 2016 he became less mature and needed to pay $300 more for the same flight in 2016.

  28. Great Thread. My 14.5 YO son is 6′ 1″ and has traveled the world with us. He’s flying soon from SFO to SNA soon. Q – I’m thinking about just sending him through and state that he is 16yo if asked. Is United really checking at the gate when boarding 200+ passengers?

    • I wonder if you ever did this – just send the kid through. If they are not 18, they do not need to provide a govt-issued ID card…. so would be easy to say a 15 year old is 16. I think!

  29. The airlines were awarded 15B bailout after the catastrophic impact of 9-11. The tax payers continue to foot the bill for this commercial industry with 1.8B paid per year to underwrite Federally mandated security measures that have escalated the intrusion into our privacy.

    Many of the largest airline reported their biggest earnings in a decade, due in part to $6.6 billion in fees levied on passengers to cancel reservations, check luggage and other expenses, a nearly 400% increase from the fees collected in 2001.

    United airlines, on of the worst offenders, made $5.703 billion in 2013 from ancillary revenue. This seems to be a model that this airline capitalizes on and they are clearly motivated to expand their revenue in this area. There is little left for United to exploit since there are fees for checked baggage, unaccompanied minors, food & bev., entertainment (WiFi, etc) and many other options.

    United’s recourse has been to raise fees and, in the case of the policy for unaccompanied minors, they have raised the age to 15 years AND raised the fee. Raising the age to 15 nets millions in additional fees from people that have no choice but to comply. You can skip a meal on a flight but few are willing to skip seeing their child. Unfortunately, most of the top airlines have fallen in step with United’s policies to stay competitive.

    I would be interested in any information regarding consumer protection because it certainly seems like our rights are being abused.

  30. My 14 year old daughter goes to a tennis school in Spain(she has all the travel docs for any eu country) . She has flown many times in 2016 without a guardian. Now she is coming back to Chicago and there are no Direct flights between Barcelona and Chicago. My wife had to go and meet her in Newark, then they had to go to another terminal to catch a flight. Because they didn’t allow her to book multi leg flights they didn’t allow her luggage to be check to Chicago, only to Newark. So with only one hour between flight they wouldn’t allow her to recheck the luggage.

  31. I will never ever never fly United Airlines again! I cannot tell you how much this stupid airline has traumatized my family today. Mercy is two months away from her 16th birthday and has flown all over the country by herself. Today, United airlines would not let her board her plane in Newark after the bus from her boarding school dropped her off at the airport to come home today. She is there, an hour away from school, and they tell her she cannot check in until we pay $300 because she is an unaccompanied minor. So, after over an hour on the phone, we pay the stupid $300 and now they still won’t let her check in because she doesn’t have an adult with her. We could not get it through these people’s heads that we live in KY, she is in NJ. We also couldn’t get it through their heads that now they are possibly causing her to miss her flight and be stuck at the airport. Are you serious? Then they try to tell us it’s a “law”. We did some checking, and it is NOT A LAW, it is a stupid made up policy by United . The policy was put in place to “make flying fun and safe” for children. (From their website) Fun and safe? They traumatized our daughter thinking she would be stranded at an airport and not get home. Finally, after Rich screaming at them, (I do not think my husband has ever raised his voice) the finally gave in and let her on. There are no words to describe how I feel about this airline now. Oh, and to inform us, they sent an email which Rich found in SPAM. Is there a complaint department? I bet no one will even care. United Airlines is the worst! Ugh.

  32. This just happened to a friend of mine who was sending her daughter to me. They did not say anything when she booked the flight. The worst thing is that one her daughter arrived she waited for everyone to leave the plane like she was told but walked out when she realized no one came to get her. Alone she went to get her carry and walk out to meet me.

  33. Well, I will be testing United later this month. They allowed me to book a ticket for my 15 yr old son from Boston to Ottawa (Canada). He will be traveling alone 2 weeks before his 16th birthday. He doesn’t need to check any bags or anything. It is with a partner airline, Canada Air, so we shall see.

    I have always flown United, and like them. But this policy change seems very strange. Just like the fact that when my 17 yr old son was traveling alone he was too old for the unaccompanied minor service, but too young to be allowed in the United Club (that we pay for). When teens are in this “no man’s land” age wise it is definitely interesting.

    I am taking my son to Boston and am considering buying a cheap ticket (that I will not use) just so I can go with him and make sure he is allowed to board and isn’t hassled at all. It will be interesting to see what happens on the return as well.

    I will let you know after Jan. 2

  34. I just found out about this new policy. I’ve been bringing my nieces to Colorado from Northern Virginia for a couple years now. I fly them direct, drop them off/pick them up at the gate and never had an issue. I went to purchase a ticket for my nephew, who will be 15 when he flies out here in the spring, and just saw the price-gouging by United. Not that he’s going to get much, but he doesn’t need any special attention. He’s flown for years and knows how to navigate an airport. The only reason I’m going to pay the fee is because I’m using miles to purchase his ticket and the overall cost is ~$150 (or more) less than a ticket on any of the other major airlines. This is completely frustrating.

  35. Kristin Wallace | January 5, 2017 at 4:00 am |

    I canceled my nieces trip from San Diego to Houston on united last year bc of this fee. My oldest niece is 16 and her little sister was 12, almost 13. It would have cost an extra $300 for the nonstop flight. I moved them to southwest. United made a bad decision here. I hope they change this ridiculous rule.

  36. When my eldest son was three (back in 1978) he flew to Idaho to visit his aunts. At five he flew from Los Angeles to London for a visit with his grandparents. The return flight was delayed because an engine caught fire and the captain had to return to Gatwick.

    I worked for US Airways for 15 years and my sons flew standby between Charlotte and San Diego as middle schoolers.

    I am taking my 11-year-old granddaughter to London from Charlotte on American, which has the same draconian UM policy, but she has to fly from Jacksonville, NC. The UM fee is equal to the round-trip airfare itself on a non-stop commuter flight of about 200 miles. $600 is about half the price for the London return ticket! Of course, at her age she is paying the full adult fare while being treated like an infant.

    I’m glad parents have the options if other airlines. Unfortunately Jacksonville is a small airport with limited service from yes, you guessed it, United and American…

  37. I’m trying to book flight for my 14 years old twins from ORD to KRK by using Miles. However system is not allowing me to go through because stupid minor policy. Entire trip will be in Lufthansa aircrafts. ORD to FRA, FRA to KRK then return KRK to FRA , FRA to ORD. Lufthansa policy alow to travel kids alone with out any problem. I can even buy minor assist for tickets issued by United (I called Lufthansa to confirm ) but United is not allow to purchase it. I called United then rude rep told me to buy tickets directly through Lufthansa instead using United Miles then disconnect.
    I’m still very desperate to use my Miles for my twins and have question.
    If I change my twins birthday year just to go through United Miles system, then at the airport during check in at Lufthansa desk provide twins passports with correct birth date.
    1. Can Lufthansa correct birth date if tickets has been issued by United (016….)?
    2. Do you think that this will work?

    • Kara Williams | January 23, 2017 at 10:54 am |

      I’m no expert, but if you are flying internationally and your underage twins will have their passports, my guess is you’ll “get caught” trying to circumvent the extra fees and you’ll be forced to pay the fee.

  38. Ryan Johnerson | February 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm |

    YEP! I have been dealing with this problem for years. Being a divorced dad, I had been looking forward to my daughter turning 12 so I wouldn’t have to pay the ridiculous $300 add on charge ($150 each way). Then United pulled the age bump and no connecting flight rule. I have voiced my opinion via email, phone, blog and anywhere else someone will listen. I have found people in my shoes to be great listeners, but companies like United apparently have selective listen. Thank you all for sharing your stories. Maybe one day this country will get back some sanity.

    Any Angel Investors out there that wants to take on the kid friendly flying business. I have the concept, the model and the vision. I can thank all of this to crappie companies like United and my 7 years, three times a year unaccompanied minor fees and the steam that blows out my ears.

    Regards,
    Ryan
    [email protected]

  39. steven stark | April 26, 2017 at 3:40 pm |

    I need to book one hour flight that only cost $100. for my 14 yearold and they want a extra 150. another reason to not use United. Booked with Alaskan.

  40. Mrs. wilson | May 9, 2017 at 8:31 pm |

    This is absurd!!!!

    In the best case scenario – where we are all independently wealthy, have loving happy marriages and insane amounts of time on our hands… we would gladly fly with our children to their destination.

    Since we all snickered and know that this scenario is very far from any reason we are even discussing putting our children on a plane by themselves, let’s review United’s Absurd UA policy.

    Most of us are stuck in this situation because we are single parents, and contrary to our children’s belief, the money does not grow on trees. Most of us are probably having to save and scrimp to get the (possibly court ordered) ticket in the first place. We didn’t move away from the other parent because the situation was peachy, we moved probably because of necessity. Or the other parent moved for similar reasons.
    As one reader pointed out, several years ago, a UA was someone under 12. However, United offered assistance to children up to 14, for $100 (I think round trip) if you wanted. But over 12, they could fly unaccompanied. At that time, the restrictions were less as well, they could fly on connecting flights, but they couldn’t be on the last flight of the night (just in case).

    Last year I went to book a ticket and was informed that the age had jumped to 14. Luckily I was able to arrange for an older sibling to fly out with him, and his dad paid for a regular ticket and flew him back ($340 for reg ticket vs $300 UA fee… Ya we chose the regular ticket)

    This year I went to book a ticket and was informed again that the age had raised to 15. I mean COME ON…. SERIOUSLY…. So, all these kids that have been flying alone at 12 and 13, now suddenly need assistance. On top of which it has to be a non-stop flight. Uhm, newsflash. There are no non-stop flights from SFO to DSM (as confirmed by 2 very un-apologetic United CSRS) So assuming that my kid COULD fly alone on your airlines – you want to charge me $300 for what? I have to walk him to the gate and wait for the plane to take off. His Dad has to pick him up. Does it really cost $300 for you to make sure his seat belt is buckled and our photo id’s match?

    I’m not going to argue that SOME children might need help, and it might even be traumatic for some parents – having to put their child on an airplane alone, and if you chose (CHOSE) to use the service, it’s a blessing I’m sure. But I’ve been on these flights with UA’s, and they get what… 3 minutes of “Hi, my name is so and so – push this button if you need anything” time, and have to wait till everyone has deplaned to get off because the flight attendants are busy doing what they are doing. They might get a 50 cent cheap plastic ‘wing’ pendent – Maybe (my kids never did), and possibly… if there is time, they might get to see the cockpit (which anyone can usually do when boarding the plane, just look left.). This is worth $300?

    Let’s be honest here, we have all been on flights where children ARE flying with their families, and they are horribly behaved, and the parents are either over-apologetic or just plain don’t care. Does the airlines charge them for having to have the flight attendants ask them to stay in their seats, or the 52 snacks that they pass out just to attempt some peace? Because I’m pretty sure more time and effort would be extended in that instance, than the well behaved 14 year old flying alone.

    No ‘one size fits all’ rule is going to apply here. It’s very easy to determine if the child has ever flown (either alone or accompanied) before. They keep records, I keep records, I’m pretty sure there are at least 3 data points that can point to the fact that a child has/has not flown alone/accompanied before. You don’t have to take my word for it United, look in your records. My son is fully capable of navigating airports all by his big-boy self.

    On the other hand, a 14 year old that has never flown before will likely need and take all the (little) assistance you might offer.

    That being said, any reasonable parent is not going to force their child to fly alone if they don’t think they could handle it. Even if it’s a court ordered visitation and the child HAS to fly, I’m pretty sure that a parent is not going to deny the child help if they (or the child) think they need it. (For the sake of this argument, I’m referring to a child 12+ that would take advantage of the UA service).

    Just for the record, I do feel that children under 12 should have to use the UA, and have some restrictions, and as a parent, I did pay for it when my son was that age.

    In the end, this gripe is just a gripe. I doubt anyone reading this is going to disagree with me, since the only reason to find this article is because you’re in the same boat as me. United is taking advantage of this set of travelers and their families. Maybe it’s because they are constantly having to pay out “undisclosed” settlements to patrons, I’m not sure. And just in case someone reads this and thinks… well Dang Lady – you have choices, chose another airline, I’d like you to take a minute and check out the flights in and out of DSM. I think the airport (the whole thing) closes at 10pm. Maybe later, I don’t know – but you get my point. We have probably gates in 2 wings. It takes all of 20 minutes from parking to checking in to past security to standing at your gate.. .maybe 30 minutes at holidays. The point is, I don’t have many options.

    As a side note, I bought a one way ticket for my 18 year old today at 3pm, cost me $188. When I learned that I couldn’t put my 15 year old on a flight by himself (later in the summer), I decided to buddy him up with my 18 year old for the flight out. I was informed by un-apologetic CSR #2 that from 3pm to 8:30pm when I went to buy the second ticket, that the price had gone from $188 to $231. Thanks again United!

    • I hear ya! This is stupid! My 14 year old has flown by herself before and is at the age where she is old enough to do things on her own. She is not going to want me to walk her to the gate and be fussed over and bothered. I got a email over a week after we got this ticket!

  41. Mrs. wilson | May 9, 2017 at 8:36 pm |

    @Ryan – When you’re ready – I’m great with advertising!

  42. Marie Kennedy | June 6, 2017 at 10:02 pm |

    Delta has the same fees now too ! It is a joke and as pointed out several times – just another money-grab.

  43. I just found this out by email from United about my 14 year olds trip next week! She is on a nonstop flight to Texas! And the big kick in the pants is that she has flown by herself with united before! I’m so irritated!!!!!!

  44. So, I’d never send my children alone on an airplane…sexual predators, sex trafficking, medical emergency, diversion, mechanical, or cancellation could occur. I’m sure every child that their parent believes will have no issues and is mature enough will not complain when their child has issues while traveling alone. Safe travels!

    • Not to mention to mention when a parent WITHOUT legal guardian shows up to take a child even though the courts have not granted access to the children. But, any whoo! Safe travels!

  45. I just stumbled across this looking for something else. A friend of mine told me that her ” unaccompanied minor ” 10 yr old daughter got fondled by the passenger in the next seat. Paying $100 per flight for extra care should mean just that. Personally, I think it’s just another excuse to take peoples money.

  46. Stumbled upon this outrage travel policy change by United. Tried to book a trip for two well traveled boys 15 and 16 years old on their own from NJ to Los Angels. Could not complete the booking via United App citing unaccompanied minor service needs to go through booking by phone. Was informed the $300 fee plus another $50 booking fee for phone orders when I called. The deal breaker was the need for an adult to pick them up at the arrival gate. These two, over 6ft tall, boys know how to navigate around due to many years of traveling all over the country attending Fencing competitions. Ended up cancelling the order; booked the trip with Virgin American. Saved $200 on the airfare plus not having to pay this ridiculous $350 fee. I am a 1k member now looking to join another airlines mileage program.

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