Freelance writer, amateur photographer, over qualified in a number of fields, I'm also a mum and a lover of all things Melbourne :)
Published December 27th 2014
How to book unaccompanied minors on flights in Australia
So it's the school holidays and the kids could go and visit their Grandparents in Queensland or you're divorced and your child needs to visit their other parent in another State. Either way, it is a huge waste of time and money to travel somewhere just to drop them off. If your child is confident and old enough to travel without a parent there is another way.
Travelling as an unaccompanied minor, children are escorted on an off the plane and supervised by staff on their journey. If you would like to send your child on a plane trip on their own in Australia there are a few things to know.
Firstly, how old do they need to be to fly on their own? Children aged between 5 to 11 years old can fly as unaccompanied minors. After that they can travel on their own without assistance, although children aged 12 to 15 can also fly as unaccompanied minors at the request of their parent or guardian.
Secondly, the budget airlines don't have the resources to provide the service so you are limited to two carriers; Qantas and Virgin. For each you will need to complete an Unaccompanied Minor Form. As well as that you will need to pay a fee for the service, fees and booking requirements vary for each carrier.
Virgin Australia charges an unaccompanied minor fee of $40 per flight. They don't allow internet bookings for Children Travelling alone so you will need to call their Guest Contact Centre to make the booking, internet discount fares will be honoured. There is a limit of unaccompanied minor bookings allowed per flight so book early if it is going to be during a peak period such as the beginning or end of the school holidays.
Qantas charges an unaccompanied minor fee of $50 per booking. You can make online bookings for Children Travelling Alone (age 5-11) with Qantas, however for the older children (12-15 years) you will need to call their contact centre.
Unaccompanied Minor Passengers are seated together and near cabin staff (Image courtesy of wikipedia)
Due to the cost difference and the convenience of booking online, my child has only flown with Qantas as an unaccompanied minor. We've done this a number of times now so I feel I can pass on some tips.
You will need to arrive at the airport and allow for a fair amount of time for extra requirements. If you're driving to the airport this could mean paying a hefty parking cost, so I highly recommend investigating cheaper options before you get there. At Melbourne Airport for example, you can book online and pay $15 for 2 hours (instead of $29) which will be plenty of time and mean you're not worried about rushing back.
You can't check-in online or at a machine at the airport with an unaccompanied minor so you have to check- in the old fashion way, by lining up. Have your booking and unaccompanied minor form documents ready and you'll receive your child's ticket and a paper badge to identify them to staff.
No machine or online check-in for Unaccompanied Minors, you'll need to take them to the check-in desk (photo courtesy of wikipedia commons)
Once you've gone through security and made your way to the gate, you will need to wait until everyone else has boarded before your child can board with staff. You may like to introduce your child to the staff before boarding begins so they know who will be taking care of them on the flight. On boarding they will need the ticket and Unaccompanied minor form which you will need to sign.
Your child will need an adult they know at the destination to meet them on arrival at the gate. This person will need identification and need to sign the form on pick-up. Having been a pick-up person I recommend arriving earlier than you normally would to meet a flight, flights have often arrived slightly early and if the flight is at a distant gate it can take a while to get there allowing for security delays etc. I'd hate my child to be waiting on her own with no-one to meet her. To assist in knowing how much time to allow, If you google the flight number shortly before the flight it will give you the gate number before you arrive at the airport. Pick-up may also take some time as, whilst you want to be there to meet the flight, the unaccompanied minors will be the last off the plane.
While children may fly unaccompanied from 5 years of age I waited until my child was 7 to fly on her own. Whether a child is ready or not is best judged by their parents or carers. Just consider how many times they've flown, how capable they are in caring for themselves and how comfortable they are on their own and doing scary things for the first time.
My child's first flight was daunting but was assisted by many other children doing the same thing and the staff were quite understanding. Now she is a fine solo traveller and the experience of being an unaccompanied minor has increased her confidence.
It does take time, organisation and cost for a child to fly unaccompanied but it's much cheaper and less time consuming than taking a flight with them. Once you all get used to the process, it's much better for everyone involved.
Re: Childrens unaccompanied travel. Virgin will only take them business class ($840 Brisbane to Hobart return) Qantas was only $100 cheaper after add-ons, with a non direct flight.. I think that your article should reflect the high cost.
A note to other readers, as stated on their website, Virgin Australia does allow Unaccompanied Minors on economy class "we carry a maximum of eight Unaccompanied Minors per flight - six in Economy and two in Business/Premium Economy class". Also this article does not state that the cost is low (it is $40 per flight with Virgin and $50 per booking with Qantas), only that it is cheaper than purchasing an additional adult ticket.