Last week, I wrote about a father who ditched his eight-year-old in economy class while he flew business class on a 12-hour flight to Asia. The story has garnered fierce opinions on both sides.
Some have argued that it is never appropriate to separate children from adults on an airplane. Many have argued there is a certain age where it becomes acceptable to place the kids in economy class while the parents fly business class.
My title question expresses an implicit assumption that there is an appropriate age, at some point, to relegate children to economy class. Where that age lies may vary by child, but I do not believe an eight year old should be left alone on a longhaul flight. Now a 16 year-old? That’s a totally different matter.
When a child is old enough to be self-sufficient, the child is old enough to fly alone. But since every child matures differently, leaving it to self-evaluation can create problems. Parents tend to think highly of their kids…sometimes to a fault. A bright-line rule is a better solution, even if it means that some kids who can fly alone without issue are not permitted to.
Let’s not forget that the story last week was a blatant violation of United’s unaccompanied minor policy. Parents are permitted to separate from their children onboard, but must pay unaccompanied minor fee if the child is under the age of 14. That fee ensures that FAs, not passengers seated nearby, care for the needs of the child.
14 strikes me as a fair age. Sure, there may be 12-year-old who are far more mature than than older teenagers, but 14 represents a reasonable compromise.
I’m still relatively new to the parenthood game. My son is approaching two years old and will soon be required to buy his own seat. Up until this point he has only flown in premium cabins because it just makes sense as a lap child. But as he grows older, I’d don’t want to spoil Augustine. While I can see myself banishing him (and any potential siblings) to economy class while Heidi and I fly business class, part of me find this idea sad. I’d also like to think that we will enjoy traveling together and can all tough it out in economy class, if necessary, to travel together.
I guess time will tell.
The issue is not whether children should fly alone, but how to define a child. What do you think is an appropriate age for a child to fly alone? Or do you believe that families should always just stick together on airplanes, even if it means everyone flies in coach? Chime in below with your opinion.
Try to look at the bright side: More economy reviews to come shortly, yay!
Is providing better for the parents and lesser for the children, whether it is food, first vs. coach, etc. a cultural issue?
I would never, for example, eat steak but feed my 12yo a hot dog. I also would never put him in coach while I flew in first.
I can understand fears of “spoiling” but might it be a teaching opportunity? Every trip we take, I talk to our son about how we pay for it.
I’d say it’s more about what’s appreciated. 12-year-old me didn’t appreciate a filet mignon like my parents, so my parents wouldn’t feed it to me if they were partaking themselves. Likewise, 12-year-old me didn’t need as much room as provided in F or really have any understanding of what F was compared to Y. My parents flew frequently up front but with me in Y nearby and I was happy as a clam. They were adults, appreciated “better” food, and were of age to consume (better?) alcohol in F. It never struck me then – and still not now – that there was any disparity. Parents have earned certain comforts that are either unearned or unappreciated by their children.
Fly up front with him. It’s a lot more fun
That’s what we’ve almost always done with our daughter. She is four years old now, and just traveled with us around the world for the last seven months. Mostly in Business class. I don’t see the point of developing miles utilization expertise if I can’t take advantage of it
Last year I flew unaccompanied and it was lovely leaving children by themselves is fine as long as they are mature enough and the airline allows it and this year I booked our family’s summer vacation keping booking the most affordable for our family and not to book business.
I think it all depends upon the travel maturity of the child. At 10, my older son flew in the first row of economy on an AA flight from CDG-DFW, while I sat in the last row of business class. Of course, my son was seasoned traveler, had an iPad to keep him entertained, knew the drill on ordering food and using the lav, and knows not to disturb his fellow passengers.
Less mature children who kick seats, talk loudly, bother passengers nearby, and can’t take care of themselves without parental assistance on a flight shouldn’t wind up by themselves on a flight.
Why are you avoiding the primary point in this debate? It is unsafe due to potential sexual predators. The age at which a parent believes the child is safe from becoming the victim, that is the correct age to start considering your idea.
I think it’s perfectly appropriate once a child is old enough to let them sit in coach alone while the parents sit up front. When that happens at is certainly going to be influenced by the child’s age, comfort level with traveling and maturity. Once a child reaches that level It’s perfectly appropriate to put them in coach when the parents sit up front. There are good arguments for and against doing so and every parents circumstances are going to be different.
That being said parents must absolutely comply with airline rules. If that means making your kid an UM then that’s what needs to happen until they are old enough.
Matthew asked for an age so with all the caveats I mentioned above I wouldn’t let a child under 12 set alone regardless personally.
Do you honestly not approve any comment that slightly challenges a post? I’m disappointed, Matthew.
I approve all comments unless they are vulgar. I have been traveling today…
I’m stunned that there are parents who do this. I flew a lot with my children and not even once considered dumping them in economy while I fly in business class. What is wrong with people? This is not about spoiling, this is about abandoning your child while you enjoy yourself and get pampered.
Personally, I’m not comfortable with the concept of ditching my son in coach while I and/or my wife fly in F/J. I don’t know, that just seems selfish of the parents to me. If we’re traveling as a family, I think it’s important we spend the time together, so I’d book us all in the same class of service. If we’re able to afford all three of us flying in a premium cabin, great – and perhaps we can even spin in a “see, because we watched what we spent on other things, we can treat ourselves” lesson out of it. If not, we’ll fly coach.
That being said, to answer your question, I’d say somewhere between 10 and 13 is an appropriate age for a child to fly alone, depending on the individual child of course.
“WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE AGE FOR DITCHING KIDS ON AIRPLANES?”
I’d say my early 30s.
I have certainly have no problem putting my family in coach when I pay for the trip. For example, when I pay for my elderly parents to come with us on a trip, I put them in coach while my wife and I fly in business. I don’t feel bad about this and don’t see how this is different than putting my kids back in steerage
Family travel is meant to be about traveling together, not a forced separation for the flight part of it. Either cough up for business class for the kid or ‘slum it’ down the back . Either/Or, preferably the latter if we are serious about teaching kids about privilege and the value of money.