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United: Nonstops Only for Unaccompanied Minors

United has quietly amended its rules on travel for unaccompanied minors.

United Airlines quietly amended its rules on travel for unaccompanied minors: Effective immediately, United’s service is limited to nonstop flights only. Unaccompanied minor service provides strict supervision throughout the trip, including fail-safe hand-over to a designated adult at the destination airport. On United, the service is mandatory for children ages 5-11 who are not accompanied by a parent, guardian, or adult age 18 or over, and is optional for children12-17. The charge is $150 each way. United has not posted any explanation for this change, but industry types believe it is to minimize the potential risks of handling children at connecting airports in the event of delay or cancellation, especially in instances requiring overnight stays.

This change will place a considerable hardship on travelers to/from smaller cities, where most flights are limited to short-haul connections to a proximate hub. These cities’ airports typically do not have any long-haul flights, so someone who wants to fly a minor child on a long trip will have no choice but to drive to the nearest hub with extensive long-haul service. At my home airport in Medford OR, for example, United’s only nonstop destinations are Denver and San Francisco, so anyone living here who wants to fly a minor to, say, Chicago, New York, or Boston on United would have to drive 300-350 miles to Portland, Sacramento, or San Francisco to find nonstops.

In these days of extended—and often split—families, flying minor children unaccompanied has become a real problem for many. And, at least for now, unaccompanied minor policies are not uniform among U.S. airlines, according to their Contracts of Carriage as of Late December, 2013:

  • Hawaiian allows unaccompanied minors on connecting flights.
  • Alaska, American, and Delta limit unaccompanied minors to nonstop or through flights for ages 5-7 but allow connections for ages 8-11.
  • Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United (now), US Airways, and Virgin America limit all unaccompanied minor service to nonstop or through (no plane change) flights.
  • Allegiant does not accept unaccompanied minors at all.

Even where they allow connections, most lines to not accept unaccompanied minors on flights starting late in the day or on any flight they determine is likely to be delayed or cancelled. Also, fees and age limits vary slightly.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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