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Traveling With Children

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Taking children on a trip always expands the checklist of things to remember. Yet each year millions of children travel on trains, planes and buses. Sometimes they travel with their families and sometimes alone. During the holidays and summer vacation, children are a common site-and a vulnerable target. Here are a few tips and guidelines to make the trip safer and more comfortable.

At what age will my child need a ticket for transportation?

For airlines:

On many carriers, children more than 14 days old and less than 2 years of age can often fly free if the child is not occupying a seat. Some airlines offer a child fare, which is usually 50 percent of the adult fare. You may be asked to provide a birth certificate to validate age. For information on traveling with infants less than 14 days old, contact the carrier directly. It is a good idea to check with your carrier for its specific rules.

For rail:

Since Amtrak is the only commercial interstate passenger train currently operating in the United States, you must follow its guidelines for traveling with children. On most trains and on most days, up to two children may travel at the half-price fare with each fare-paying adult. If any additional children will be traveling, you must make a reservation for that passenger as an "adult" and pay the full adult fare.

If my child travels alone, how does the airline ensure safe arrival?

For airlines:

With blended families, divorce and extended families across the country, it is not uncommon for a child to travel alone. In fact, one airline says it carries 200 to 900 unaccompanied children each day as domestic passengers during school holiday periods.

Airlines charge a full fare for unaccompanied children and are careful to make clear that they have no obligations to the child before or after a flight. Let the airline know that a child is traveling unaccompanied in advance; most airlines require this information at the time of booking. Some airlines will permit a child who is more than 12 years old to accompany a child who is between 5 and 11 years old-without requiring the younger child to travel as an unaccompanied minor.

Children who are 12 and older can be accepted as unaccompanied minors, as long as the fees are paid and the proper documentation is completed. This may involve completing a form detailing the child's name, age, medical considerations and other relevant information.

There are restrictions that are unique to each carrier, but almost all airlines will charge an escort fee (approximately $50) for unaccompanied minors. The escort does not travel with them. The child is only escorted to the flight and met at the gate. Most airlines impose restrictions on unaccompanied minors. Many do not accept children less than 5 years old without being accompanied by an adult. Some airlines insist younger children travel on nonstop or direct flights.

TIP: To reduce stress to your child and to yourself:

  • Be available by phone or beeper for the duration of your child's trip.
  • Book your child on a nonstop flight.
  • Plan a back-up strategy if an alternative plan must be used.
  • Avoid the last flights of the day because they are more likely to be delayed or cancelled.

If I have to pick up an unaccompanied child, what procedure is required?

For airlines:

Airline personnel cannot release an unaccompanied minor to a waiting parent or guardian without seeing the adult's identification and matching it with the information on the form filled out before departure. If no parent or guardian picks up the minor at the end of the flight, or if a connecting flight is canceled or delayed, some airlines will turn the child over to the local child welfare authorities or the police, so make sure you are constantly available while your child is in transit. Parents and legal guardians are responsible for bringing their child to the departure gate and having an authorized parent or guardian pick up the child upon arrival at their destination.

By rail:

Children less than 8 years old may not travel alone. Only children aged 8 to 14 may travel alone, subject to certain rules and conditions. Children 15 and older may travel by themselves, but are not entitled to a children's discount.

What happens if my child's connecting flight is cancelled?

If a connecting flight is cancelled, unescorted children 12 and older should be instructed not to leave the airport in search of lodging-even if they are carrying a credit card, because many motels reject reservations of teenagers.

Can a young adult make a hotel reservation?

There are thousands of hotels, motels, and inns across the United States that accept guests with children and pets. Most of the national hotel chains are kid-friendly. Most hotels set their own policies, so it is important to call ahead and ask if children and pets are permitted and if there is a size limit and/or extra charge. However, most hotels do not accept reservations from a young adult less than 21 years of age, even if she is carrying a credit card.