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Away From Home - Alone

These days it is increasingly common for young children to fly unaccompanied. Whether it is to visit a parent or grandparent, children as young as 5 are flying solo. But before you arrange for your children's flight, here are some things to consider.

Eileen Ogintz, who writes "Taking The Kids," a nationally syndicated column on kid travel, shared her advice with CBS News.

While every airline has different rules, according to Ogintz, the industry seems to follow this standard:

Kids should be 5 years old to fly.

If the children are between 5 and 8, they have to be on nonstop or direct flights. A direct flight means that even though the plane may stop at another airport, the children do not have to change planes.

Children can even fly alone on international flights. But they should not have to get off the plane.

If the kids are 8 to 12 years old, they can fly alone on a flight involving a change in planes. At 12, they don't need to be registered as an unaccompanied minor unless their parents want them to be.

Ogintz has these tips for parents:

  • Do a dry run.
    Take children to the airport before they are scheduled for a flight. Show them around and make them feel comfortable.
  • Pack them a backpack.
    It should include their favorite things so they can amuse themselves on the flight. This could include art supplies, plastic characters, dolls, electronic games, a CD player or tape player. Try to stash a surprise in the bag.
  • Make sure they have essential items.
    Give them money in case there is movie on the plane. Include a sweatshirt if it gets cold and a T-shirt in case there are spills.
  • Pack a lunch.
    Include a water bottle and extra treats like lollipops or gum for those ear-popping moments. Remind the child to chew gum or suck a lollipop when the airplane descends.
  • Register the child as an unaccompanied minor.
    If the children are 12 or under and the flight is diverted, the airline will take care of them.
  • Include a list of phone numbers.
    Provide an index card with all appropriate numbers along with money or a phone card to make a call. Make sure the children have the name, phone number and address of whoever is picking them up at their destination.
When older kids or teens travel alone, the rules are a little different. Do a dry run and have them answer some important questions like: What if the plane is diverted and there's a layover? What if the flight is late and there's a chance they may miss their connection?

In these cases, they should go up to someone and identify themselves to a flight attendant or agent that they are traveling alone and need help.

Teens need to know not to leave the airport with strangers - no matter how nice they seem - and that the airline agents will help them. It is good to have an alternative meeting plan.

More on kid travel can be found i Ogintz's column "Taking the Kids."

For more information on kids flying solo go to the AAA Web site.

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