If your divorce has you remaining in the Sonoma area and your co-parent moving to Southern California or across the country, the most convenient way for your child to visit them during vacations may be by airplane. If they’re old enough and mature enough, you can use airlines’ “unaccompanied minors” (UM) programs.
All major U.S. airlines have UM programs, although the requirements and prices vary. Typically, the programs are for children between 5 and 15. However, only you know if your child is ready for this experience.
What to look for in a program
You’ll want to look at the programs for the airline(s) that can get your child between you and your co-parent the most directly. Some airlines only allow UM passengers on non-stop routes. Even if that’s not a requirement, you significantly minimize the chance of problems if your child doesn’t have to change planes.
Airlines offer varying levels of attention to their UM passengers. If your child is on the younger side or hasn’t flown before, you probably want a program where an airline employee will be with them from your hand-off until they’re secured in their seat and as they get off the plane and meet their other parent.
While they’re supposed to keep an eye on them during the flight, they aren’t babysitters. However, getting them a seat near the front of the plane can help ensure the cabin crew regularly sees them. It’s still wise to make sure they bring plenty to keep them occupied.
The airline’s UM program site will tell you what documents to bring to the airport for your child and other details like how close you can get to the gate with them. The same is true for the pick-up on the other end.
Planning for your child’s air travel in your divorce agreements
If solo airline travel is going to be part of your child’s life, it’s wise to come to some agreements with your co-parent on how often it will occur, what each of your responsibilities will be and how expenses will be shared. If you can work these things out as part of your child custody and support agreements or make modifications to your current agreements, you’ll reduce the chances of confusion and conflict later.