The Lowdown on Kids Flying Solo and Accompanied in Canada
If you share custody with a parent in another part of Canada, then no-doubt you find the process of arranging those visits tricky. Kids flying solo is fine on all airlines by the time they hit 12, but before that, getting your kids from A to B for custody visits can be costly and stressful. As a parent who sends her kid on twice-yearly visits to Vancouver from Halifax for the past seven years, I’d like to consider myself a seasoned pro at this, so here are some of the tips and tricks I’d like to share from my experiences.
I only found out about Westjet’s brilliant Guardian Fare Program a couple of years ago, and wish I’d known sooner. This enables you deliver your child to a destination and then fly home again at a 50% reduction – so basically you get to drop them off and fly home again for the cost of a one way ticket. The rules state that you need fly back home within 24 hours, which is fair enough, but gives you time to go meet someone for lunch in the destination city or whatever before turning around and going back home. I have done this turnaround to deliver to to Vancouver and then flown back to Halifax in 24 hours and it was hellish, but so much better than having to be in Vancouver for the length of her stay there. I imagine that if your ex only lives an hour or two away by airplane this is even more awesome.
I’m just about to use Westjet’s Unaccompanied Minor Program for the first time, meaning that my daughter will fly solo but escorted by airline employees onto the plane, looked out for by flight attendants on the plane, and then escorted through security to meet her dad at the other end by airline staff. This service costs an additional $100 on top of the ticket price, and can be done only once your child turns eight. You can only use this service for direct flights though, so you’ll need to fly them to wherever you can pick up a direct flight if there are none from your home to the final destination (another time that the Guardian Fare Program comes in useful). Both Porter and Air Canada offer the same program, but there are restrictions with regard to allowing kids with medical issues etc to be part of this program on all airlines, so check the fine print.
Once your kid hits age 12, they can fly solo without you needing to pay extra or make special arrangements (I cannot wait for this day!). You can however opt to still pay the extra and have the airline oversee everything from the ages of 12 to 17, so if you are nervous about them making the trip unsupervised there are always those services to fall back on.
If your child is still too young to fly solo or unaccompanied, then yes, the burden is on you to keep making those trips. Or not you. For probably half of the custody visits I’ve organized, I’ve offered up a “free” flight to whoever wants to deliver my daughter then bring her back again. Luckily, I have some fantastic friends who have family in Vancouver and jumped at the opportunity – and know my daughter well – so that has made my life a lot easier over the years. Reach out to your friends, and you might be surprised at who would love to take the free trip, and do you a massive favour by taking that responsibility off your plate.