Booking an unaccompanied minor onto a British Airways service is a little different than it would seem and is somewhat different to other major airlines.
For starters, they scrapped their formal offering “Skyflyer Solo” in 2016 meaning parents and guardians alike of having been using a patchwork of different offerings to get their children abroad.
To help with the confusion, here is a helpful guide for parents and guardians using British Airways.
That being said, if you are looking for a more structured offering, Virgin Atlantic, BA’s main competitor out of the UK does offer a service which you can find using this link.
Breaking Down Terminology
As a start, it is good to break down the key terminology that will be used as there is nothing more gut-wrenching that sending your children into the open world without fully understanding the ramifications of doing so.
What is an Unaccompanied Minor?
For people who don’t use the service often or do not fly a lot, the definition of what constitutes being a “minor” is usually different to what the airline industry defines a minor as.
The airline you choose for example will define these differently, but the rough consensus among established airlines is that anyone travelling under the age of 16 will be classed as a minor, although these do vary.
Understanding Passenger Type Codes
While mainly used to verify the booking, by default, airfare systems assume that all passengers are Adults. But in this article, we know that this is not the case. The common PTCs to look out for after you have made the booking are:
- ADT: adult
- CHD: child
- INF: infant without a seat
- INS: infant with a seat
- UNN: unaccompanied child
If you are booking with a travel agent, you need to ensure they add the keyword YPTA to bookings so British Airlines can identify solo young flyers under 16 years travelling with them
What Is The British Airways Unaccompanied Minor Policy?
To date, British Airways does not have an unaccompanied minor service although they do allow children 14 years or older to fly alone.
Specifically, If the child is 14 or 15 years old and travelling alone a parental/guardian consent form must be completed before travel. The form is available to download here.
Importantly, British Airway’s franchise agreements with Comair and SUN-AIR are not part of the guidance and have their own set of rules. The Rules do apply to BA CityFlyer
The Decline Of Skyflyer Solo
As mentioned, Skyflyer Solo ended in 2016 due to decreased uptake of the service even though passenger numbers were up over the last decade preceding the cut.
BA has a long history with offering the possibility to travel as an Unaccompanied Minor, dating back to more than 40 years with the airline charging $125 (£90) for a “flying nanny” on a European or domestic flight, and $150 (£108) for a long-haul trip, on top of the ticket price.
However, BA justified the move by saying that while the Unaccompanied Minor service was available to children aged between 12 and 18, only one in 10 in this age category travelling alone made use of it.
That said, British Airways never shies away from controversy, and the Unaccompanied Minor program was no different. The carrier in 2010 was embroiled in a sex discrimination case when the carrier policy of not allowing men to sit next to unaccompanied minors which actually enforced.
What Are The British Airways Unaccompanied Minor Fees?
As the carrier does not provide an unaccompanied minor service there are no fees involved.
Supplementary Services As An Alternative
But that is not to say there are no other supplementary services that could be used as a somewhat replacement for Skyflyer Solo.
For example, as it is the passenger’s responsibility to make it to the gate on time, you are entrusting a minor to be trusted enough to navigate an airport and make it onto the plane. While the carrier might not provide the service, a larger airport may have its own meet-and-greet team that can assist.
London Heathrow and Hong Kong International, for example, have their own meet-and-greet operation while other airports have turned to the free-market which has created its own mini-industry with companies like Allways (part of Plaza Premium Group) existing.
British Airways Unaccompanied Minor Rules
The rules are published on British Airways Children Travelling Alone page.
British Airway’s franchise agreements with Comair and SUN-AIR are not part of the guidance and have their own set of rules.
The minimum age of a person permitted to travel alone on British Airways is 14 years of age.
If young flyers are accompanied by someone who is aged 16 or over (on the same or a linked booking), British Airways will allow them to travel.
All young flyers aged under 16 and travelling alone must complete a parental/guardian consent form before travel, regardless of when the booking was made.
The form is available to download here.
A copy of the parent/guardian’s current passport (or another form of photographic identification showing a signature) must also be attached to this form.
Disruptive behaviour, either on the ground or on board, is not acceptable to the airline
If a child has been disruptive, the parent or guardian collecting the child on arrival will be informed that the child misbehaved during the flight and their future travel with the carrier will be reviewed by BA Security.
The parent or guardian will be notified by letter if the child is banned from flying unaccompanied until their 16th birthday. This ban does not prohibit the child from travelling when accompanied by an adult.
How To Make A British Airways Unaccompanied Minor Reservation
Unlike many airlines that allow you to book special bookings for children, you cannot do this with British Airways online.
If you need to make a booking for someone under the age of 16 who is travelling solo, you will need to contact British Airways to make the booking.
General Guidance to Parents
Here are some general good practise tips for parents and children
1. Ensure That The Child Knows Basic Airport Lingo
Make Sure The Child Knows That Gates Close Upto 40 Minutes Before Departure
One of the things children may not know is that the gates close sometime before the actual departure time.
As such it may be worth keeping them on the phone and ensuring they avoid any kids’ areas and go straight to the gate.
Airlines these days will send you gate information so it may be a good idea to have a map in front of you and pull up the information to guide them through the airport
Make Sure The Child Knows Their PNR
The PNR or the passenger Name Record is the 6 digit alphanumerical code that is usually called the booking reference.
If the child gets lost – the PNR should be an easy way to identify the child and get them on their way if they get lost.
2. Verify Travel Documents
You’ll want to make sure that the child has any necessary travel documents such as a valid passport, any visas, and proof of return travel in a safe folder in their bag.
If you think the minor might lose the passport or travel documents, consider attaching them to a minor’s neck lanyard or something similar.
3. Try to Always Book A Non-Stop Flight
While it is not always possible if say you are not in a big city, however booking non-stop flights significantly reduced the stress placed on both the parent and child.
This is for two reasons.
First, dealing with connections can be stressful and difficult especially if there is a limited time window and the airport is particularly large or confusing to navigate.
Also, if there happens to be a delay and the child is forced to stay overnight they would have to check into a hotel which would almost be a new and foreign concept. Some children may not be aware of Airside hotels and therefore would have to go through immigration to get to a Landside hotel. This naturally dials up the risks involved.
You might also think about using something like Apple’s Airtags to monitor the child on their trip
4. Make Sure They Have Emergency Money
In case of any unforeseen issues, it is good to give the child some emergency money in case anything does happen but also make them aware not to spend the money in the Airport Starbucks.
A prepaid Visa or Mastercard card can come in handy if there are unlikely to be bottlenecks for using it. For example, if they need to make a WhatsApp call/message using the onboard Wi-Fi system then cash wouldn’t be a good option.
5. Phones and Power
Depending on the child’s age, they may not be glued to the phones just yet – it is good practice to make them aware of where the phone charger is in the bag.
Also, provide them with a power bank should they need it so their phone has battery to make calls.
That said, it is important to also ensure international calling is set up on the phone plan and roaming is enabled on the phone itself.
6. Don’t Leave The Airport Until The Plane Takes Off
while any multitude of issues can arise when the little one goes through the airport, should they miss their flight, it is good to still be at the airport to collect them and work out an alternative.