Additional fees for unaccompanied minors vary as well. It costs $25 each way for direct flights on Alaska and $50 for one-way itineraries involving connections. Southwest charges $50 a flight. On JetBlue, the service costs $100 one way, and American, Delta and United Airlines all charge $150 each way.
Different fees may apply to multiple children traveling together. For example, American Airlines only charges one unaccompanied minor fee for parties of two or more, and Delta charges one fee for up to four children traveling together.
For those fees, children are usually promised a seat close to the front of the plane. Airline agents will escort minors to their seats, again when they deplane, and to connecting gates.
Not all flights are available to children traveling alone. Many carriers limit younger children to nonstop or direct flights. Delta allows 8- to 14-year-olds to make connections, assisted by an employee. American Airlines allows connecting services, with an escort between flights, at several of its busier airports, including its hubs in Chicago, Dallas and New York.
At the airport check-in desk, parents with government-issued identification can obtain a pass that allows them to escort the minor to the gate. Some airlines require them to stay at the airport until the plane has taken off, and most experts advise doing so in case the plane experiences a mechanical problem or delay and must return to the terminal.
At the arrival airport, most airlines will similarly issue a gate pass to the person designated to pick up the minor, allowing the person to meet the child at the arrival gate.
To better track unaccompanied minors, Delta has instituted a system that relies on bar-coded wristbands that are scanned at way points in the journey. The airline has said that it intends to make that data available to parents and custodians.
Experts recommend parents prepare children for flight as they would themselves, including sending them off with identification such as a birth certificate or a passport. Pack a water bottle to fill after passing through security; some form of entertainment, like books or a tablet computer with an extra battery booster; a fleece or sweater for chilly flights; and food.
“Send the equivalent of a school lunch,” Ms. Ogintz of Taking the Kids said. “Chances are there’s not much food.”
In the lead-up to the trip, position it as an adventure to ease anxieties. Rainer Jenss, the president and founder of the Family Travel Association, a group that advocates travel as educational, suggests involving children in planning flights to make them feel empowered, and accentuating the positives to get them excited.
“Compliment the child on what a big boy or girl they are,” he said. “Emphasize how they can now be trusted and how grown up they are. Talk about how fun flying is. How they can get somewhere so fast without having to go on a long, boring car ride.”
Finally, just because children can fly solo doesn’t mean all of them should.
“If they’re truly nervous, wait until they’re older,” Ms. Ogintz said. “Or if you’re paying $150 each way in fees, it might make sense to pay for a niece to go with them and fly back.”