When I was 9 years old, I took a train from Kingston, Ontario to Montreal, Quebec by myself. I went to visit my grandparents for my birthday and to attend my first NHL hockey game.
The two cities are just 3 hours apart, and while the conductor kept an eye on me while he made his rounds, I was still on my own as strangers sat next to me and got on and off over the course of the multiple stops en route.
Nothing bad happened.
A few years later, my sister would make a journey to visit our grandparents for a visit by herself too. This time she’d fly on a plane from Vancouver to Montreal. She was 6.
Nothing bad happened.
So why was I shocked the this week when my parents sent me a last minute email wondering if Zacharie would like to go and visit them next week on a flight by himself?
Zacharie is 8, he’s been flying since he was 8 months old, and is well versed in the protocol and routine that is involved in flying. My parents live in Vancouver, the flight would be an hour. And still, I was taken aback.
The more I thought about it, the more I questioned my questioning . I asked a Facebook group of Dad Bloggers, and my circle of friends, and virtually all had no problem with it. “It depends on the child”, “they get treated like princes”, and “I went by myself when I was 4”, were some of the comments.
So I popped over to Westjet’s website to see what their Unaccompanied Minor policies were and the general rules around when kids fly alone.
The policy is in place for kids at least 8 and younger than 12. I’d have to arrive 90 minutes before his flight, and I would be required to walk him directly to the gate. From there, an agent would help him board. I’d then have to stay in the airport until the plane was in the air.
All no big deal.
At the other end, the agent would walk my son off the plane and to the luggage carousel to meet my parents. Strict ID requirements would need to be met, a ream of paperwork would need to be completed, but the whole process seemed pretty painless.
My wife, who I thought might balk, didn’t have a problem. Zacharie was eager to go. All I needed was a ticket.
Now this is where it gets tricky. Westjet charges a $100 plus tax fee EACH WAY for an Unaccompanied Minor on their flights. They do this because they can.
While there is a few minutes of extra work required by an attendant during the flight to watch Zacharie, they don’t actually hire any extra staff to do any of the extra work. Someone just takes him under their wing. For this 1 hour of ‘babysitting,’ I’m charged $100. It’s a little disappointing. But, just like the baggage fees airlines have become addicted to, auxiliary revenue streams are all bottom line gravy in this industry, so I’m not surprised to see them add an expensive user fee.
Even with a 20% seat sale discount on the airfare, Zacharie’s ticket to Vancouver for 4 days would be a few loonies short of $600.
So the question changes from “would you let your 8 yr old fly on a plane alone?” to “can you afford to let your 8 yr old fly on a plane alone?”
We found a way to make it work for us, but I can see how most families couldn’t swing that extra $100 each way Unaccompanied Minor surcharge.
There might be a cheaper way for you to get your kids on a plane, by using a Companion Fare. For kids younger than 8, you can fly them to their destination and then turn around and return almost immediately and pay just a one way fare. That’s one way to get a half price ticket on Westjet, but more expensive than packing your child on the plane alone.
In an age where Orthodox Jews balk at sitting next to women on planes, and some people want to ban children from sitting next to men on planes, I’m not worried one bit about my son flying off on his own. I just wish it was cheaper so we could do it more often!