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For many parents and guardians, putting a child on a flight alone may seem terrifying. Belligerent passengers, delays, turbulence: All loom large in a caregiver’s imagination.

Life sometimes leaves no other option. Hudson Crites, 17, of Marshall, Va., was 10 when he started flying unaccompanied to visit his father in Kansas and later Georgia, said his mother, Chelsea Tippett. But the extra attention from airline staff made Hudson “feel special,” Ms. Tippett recalls. Other than a single tarmac delay, he has had no problems.

On rare occasions, children have had troubling experiences. In December, Spirit Airlines accidentally flew a 6-year-old to Orlando, Fla., instead of the intended destination of Fort Myers. Spirit apologized, fired the gate agent responsible and offered reimbursement to the boy’s grandmother for her travel to Orlando. But while the boy was unharmed, his grandmother expressed worry that he had been kidnapped.

If you decide to fly your child unaccompanied, you’ll discover that each airline has its own procedures, fees and routes open to children. While some may find the process complicated, flying alone may be exciting for your child, instilling some independence. Here’s what you need to know.

Regardless of the airline or route, flying an unaccompanied minor differs from an adult or a family catching a flight. Airlines require a trusted pre-authorized adult to be at the departure and arrival gates, and will ask you at booking to provide contact information for those adults. They will also need to present identification at the terminals.

The journey begins at the originating airport’s airline ticket counter. There, airline staff will check your identification and check in the child, perhaps handing them a lanyard or wristband to wear. The agents will provide you with a pass to get through security with your child. You will accompany them to the gate, where you will hand them off to a gate agent. You must stay at the gate until the plane takes off.

In the air, the flight crew will keep watch — but will not babysit, or sit with, your child. If the flight has a connection, a crew member will walk your child off the plane and a gate agent will take him or her to the next gate.

At the arrival airport, the child will be handed off by staff to the authorized guardian or parent who should have already checked in at the ticket counter with proper identification, gone through security with their gate pass and be waiting at the gate.

To learn more about this process, read the Department of Transportation’s online guide, “When Kids Fly Alone,” followed by the website of your selected carrier.

Before purchasing a ticket, experts advise you to consider an airline’s on-time performance. “Solid on-time performance is hard-earned, and signals a carrier that has tight control of its operation,” said the Ask the Pilot author, Patrick Smith. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has those numbers.

Booking procedures vary. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines require you to call. United Airlines allows bookings online. JetBlue Airways does online bookings, too, but asks for three printed copies of its forms upon arrival at the airport.

International flights may call for a notarized consent letter describing where the child is traveling, with whom they’ll stay and how long they’ll be there.

On top of the ticket fare, flying an unaccompanied minor can be pricey.

Southwest Airlines charges $100 one way for each child, regardless of distance. Alaska Airlines charges $50 per child if the flight is nonstop; a connection adds $25. On Delta, one $150 fee will cover up to four children, and American’s $150 covers all siblings, with no cap on number. United charges $150 for one child, or two children flying together.

U.S. carriers allow children to fly as unaccompanied minors once they turn 5 and before they turn 18. But regardless of your child’s age, make sure he or she is ready by discussing the trip details and your expectations of their behavior. No policy can replace your judgment.

The low-cost carriers Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air don’t allow unaccompanied minors, Other airlines have restrictions that, in the broadest terms, differentiate between young children and teenagers. American and Delta restrict children under 8 from routes requiring connections. Both airlines allow children between 8 and 14 to take some connecting flights.

On American, no unaccompanied minor is allowed to take an overnight flight requiring a connection, or a flight that includes a connection on its final leg that also happens to be the last such flight that day (“unless it’s the only flight,” the company adds). Minors are not allowed on code-share flights.

United and Delta have similar rules. Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit don’t allow unaccompanied minors on connecting flights.

JetBlue prohibits minors from flying to Europe, and limits the number of unaccompanied minors in one party to three. Spirit does not allow children on flights to Central or South America. Southwest doesn’t allow children on any international flights. American, United and Delta let minors fly abroad, but restrictions on connections, code-shares and overnights limit options.

American and Delta allow children to opt out of flying as unaccompanied minors once they turn 15 — that is, the child can fly without the assistance of airline personnel. JetBlue ends unaccompanied minor service at 14, while Alaska has an opt-out option at 13. Southwest boasts the lowest opt-out age: 12.

However, you should be able to accompany your child to the gate even if they’re not flying unaccompanied. American requires that you do so for teens between the ages of 15 and 17, even if they’ve opted out.

Have a plan to head off your child’s hunger, boredom and thirst. If they are older, make sure they have emergency money and a charged phone.

When her two daughters, then 9 and 11, flew to Denver, Joey Conover of Charlottesville, Va., had a long list for their carry-ons.

“Pack a backpack with iPad, headphones, lightweight book to read, a pad of paper and colored pencils (markers might smear), a small travel game, water bottle (bring empty and fill in airport), snacks, some kind of surprise fidget or animals to play with, hoodie, and a lovey,” she wrote in an email.

“Write your name and phone number on the inside of their arm in Sharpie and put a parent’s business card in a luggage tag on both suitcase and backpack,” Ms. Conover said. (A sheet of paper with all their identification, and their guardian’s contact information, also works. Simply stick in an easy-to-access pocket.)



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