In the United States, young adults and minors make up a large portion of the passengers on aeroplanes. Hundreds of thousands of minors travel alone each year, a number that increases during the summer and busy holiday periods. By law an airline ticket is considered a contract of carriage, which means you must be considered a legal adult in order to sign the contract. Though this number is rather arbitrary and not monitored, the legal age requirements for buying a plane ticket is 18.
In order to purchase a plane ticket on any airline, a person is supposed to be at least 18 years old. A minor, under the age of 15, may be permitted to fly only in the event that his parents or legal guardians have notified the airline and filled out an Unaccompanied Minor form. Minors between the ages of 15 and 17 are considered young adults, rather than unaccompanied minors, and can fly alone without an Unaccompanied Minor form and without any additional arrangements being made. Some airlines like American Airlines have lowered the age limit to 12, but the majority of the airlines, including Delta, hold the young adult age limit at 15. While young adults can fly alone, they cannot legally purchase a plane ticket on their own. The absolute minimum age for flying alone on major airlines is 5, but arrangements must be made in advance with the carrier airline.
There are strict regulations regarding youth plane tickets for unaccompanied minors and the types of air travel and services they can receive. Unaccompanied minors may never be booked on the last flight of the day. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 must be attended by a service member of the airline providing the flight, while minors between the ages of 15 and 17 can travel alone. Those children that are between the ages of 5 and 7 may only fly on direct flights, while 8 to 14 years of age allows for children to fly on either direct or connecting flight itineraries. Unaccompanied minors are only allowed on red-eye flights if connecting from an international flight or flying between Alaska and Hawaii.
While most airlines follow similar regulations regarding the age limit for purchasing tickets and minors travelling alone, The Department of Transportation does not have any legal regulations regarding these age limits. You must be 18 years old to legally purchase a plane ticket, but this doesn't keep minors from doing it. It is still possible for young adults to purchase tickets and travel alone because almost all airlines will allow a child over the age of 14 to travel alone without proof of parental knowledge. If a young adult has a passport, she may even be allowed to fly internationally. Though there are guidelines regarding age limits for purchasing plane tickets, they are not closely monitored. If a young adult has access to a credit card and computer, they may purchase a plane ticket online. Airline companies do not require the credit card holder to be present during check-in, only the passenger listed on the ticket. Additionally, a young adult can purchase a plane ticket with cash at any ticketing window in a local airport.
While the age limit for buying ticket to travel by air makes this form of travel convenient for many parents and their children, it is not a flawless system. Several problems have been reported over the years when it comes to minors flying alone. Airlines aren't required by law to report problems or incidences that occur during unaccompanied minor air travel, which has led to an increase in complaints. In 2007 there were more than 2,000 complaints regarding child and young adult air travel with the most complaints being made against US Airways and Delta. In June 2007 Northwest put two children on the wrong flight; in December of that same year a 9-year-old boy travelling on United Airlines was stranded in a snowstorm during a layover.
Travel experts and child psychologists believe that most 15-year-olds are capable of handling the mental demands and mature enough to handle the physical demands of travelling alone by plane. While the law states that a person must be a legal adult in order to sign a contract of carriage, it is a common belief among experts that most young adults are perfectly capable of understanding what is required of them when it comes to travelling alone. Because there are no age limit regulations in place by the Department of Transportation, the airline companies have taken it upon themselves to protect unaccompanied minors and young adults when it comes to air travel. Experts believe that preparing a child for a solo flight can be easily achieved by simply breaking it down prior to travel day.