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wundayatta's avatar

What are your experiences with sending an unaccompanied minor overseas (involving plane changes)?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) March 19th, 2012

Do you know the airline rules regarding minors (age 16)? Do you know what the experience is like for a competent 16 yr-old who has never traveled alone before? This is for travel to Guatemala. My daughter speaks a tiny bit of Spanish.

What are the cautions? Where can they get help? How do you prepare them?

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8 Answers

jca's avatar

I would not send an unaccompanied 16 year old female to Guatemala.

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta You just pay the airline to accompany her, and they literally walk her from the gate she arrives into to the next gate she needs to board at when she needs to change planes. I think they will walk her through immigration also? Not sure. 16 might be old enough to travel alone on some airlines, but I think you can pay if you want to, I would want to, it isn’t a fortune for an escort at the airports. Best to call the airline and ask how it will work. the airports likely have English signage. She only needs a few words in the airports, she can keep a cheat sheat of them, Gate, luggage, immigration, customs, exit.

By the way, you should be able to get a pass to go inside the gate when you drop her off. They most likely will only let one person through with her, probably not both you and your wife. That is another question you can ask.

wundayatta's avatar

She will be met in Guatemala. Just needs to get there.

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta Here is Delta’s info on unaccompanied minors. I think it will help.

RareDenver's avatar

I used to fly quite regularly between the UK and Germany as a child. The only time I got worried was when I was about 15 and I suddenly remembered that I had some pot in my bag I had forgotten about. It never got found so it was okay in the end.

geeky_mama's avatar

Hi @wundayatta

It varies per air carrier. Usually (and for Delta) it’s age 15 and up that can fly as “adults” – but our 14 (soon to be 15) year old daughter will be flying to Europe on Icelandair this summer – and they consider age 12 and up to be able to fly as “adults” (without paying for the airline for supervision as an unaccompanied minor).

If you can get a direct flight – really, no worries. Even if she hasn’t traveled before – if she’s 16 and capable, she’ll be fine. The flight attendants and gate agent will help her. You can request to accompany her to the gate if you want to, too. Really, at 16 she’s just fine. I see much younger kids flying alone all over the world (I travel for work a lot).

Here’s how we’re preparing our 14 yr. old for her international flights:

1. We are providing her with a credit card to be used for emergencies and in-flight expenses. A lot of flights are “cash-less” now and so if she wants additional food (and for example, on Icelandair they sell the blanket and pillows, too!) or something, she may need a credit card. Also, if something should happen (if she has a transfer – and for some reason her final flight leg gets canceled and she’s in a city far away from home) she can use the credit card to secure a safe hotel room and buy food.

2. We are discussing what to do in the event our daughter’s connection is disturbed. In our case, she’d be in Reykjavik. We’ll have already talked about what to do if for some reason her flight to Amsterdam got canceled, where to stay, who to contact, etc.

3. We’re reviewing her connection times and what time she needs to be at the gate to board her connecting flights. We’ve instructed her to find her gate first, find the gate agent and confirm the boarding time (they can change!) and THEN find something to eat nearby.

Now here are some things specific for your 16 yr old and her destination:

- Talk to your daughter about turning roaming off her cell phone. Looks for apps (if she has a smartphone) that allow free texting via WiFi. She can connect via airport wifi or find a cafe with wifi and communicate with you for free—much better than getting expensive roaming charges.

- For Guatemala – does she have a local guide or trusted family member meeting her? Airports in South America (not everywhere..but many parts of S. America) are notorious for kidnapping and luggage theft. Warn her to not go with ANYONE but her intended driver. Tell her to keep her hands on her luggage and purse at all times and to NOT have her cell phone out/visible. Tell her to stay in the secured exit area (just outside the exit doors from customs/arrivals, but where non-passengers are not allowed) until she sees her guide/person picking her up. Anyone who tells her that he is a representative of her driver and she should come with him is to not be trusted! Aside from kidnapping there are also illegitimate taxi drivers that may rob you, too.

Talk to her about safety – and it would be helpful to keep an eye on this site —or ask her to read through it once before she leaves.

If you have a guide meeting her it would be helpful to have a picture of the guide in advance—best that she knows who she’s looking for an to only go with the person she should go with.

Last but not least – talk to your daughter about currency exchange, and the value of the local currency. In advance of her trip she should get familiar with the quetzal: “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guatemalan_quetzal” – the names of the coins, their value, the conversion rate compared to USD.
People in Guatemala will want USD – but if she uses local currency she’ll avoid overpaying. Usually the official airport exchange is safest…but tell her to keep at least 50% of her funds in USD, and the other half in quetzal. (USD is widely accepted.. but her exchange rate can widely vary..it’s another chance to get ripped off or robbed.)

trailsillustrated's avatar

I’ve sent my kids halfway around the world. My daughter was alone and it involved plane changes. She was 15 and it was fine. They are very careful with kids, and attendants even called me at each stop to let me know her progress. International flights they can’t leave the airport, they put them into the flight lounge with the crew. It’s very safe. They are guided to each flight and through the ticketing and boarding.

JLeslie's avatar

Also, on board the flight attendants know she is an unccompanied minor, and they will watch out for her.

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