How to Book the Best Flights for Your Teen’s Summer Hiking Trip

The prospect of having a minor fly on their own can be intimidating, and nerve-wracking, for parents and children alike. With some careful planning, however, traveling alone can be a fantastic opportunity to gain confidence and independence.

After nearly 40 summers of running summer hiking trips for over 40,000 kids and teens all over the world, Overland has helped tens of thousands of families prepare for their children’s flights. Read on to learn how to book the best flights for your child’s summer hiking camp far from home.

Sometimes, the planning that goes into attending an Overland summer hiking trip are simple. For example, many families with students on our trips that begin and end in Williamstown, Massachusetts, choose to drive their students to the start of the trip, and to pick them up at trip end. Taking your student to the start of their trip can be a lot of fun (and it is nice to meet their Overland leaders), and picking them up allows you to hear stories from your child’s trip firsthand, right away.

While in-person drop-off and pick-up is convenient, the majority of Overland families need to book flights for their children. Whether you’re joining Overland for your child’s first time away from home on Berkshire Adventure or for 100+ miles of hiking in Spain on Pyrenees Expedition, every Overland family has to plan their child’s flights. We’ve coordinated over 30,000 flights for our campers traveling all over the world. The Overland team knows how to help families book the flights they need to send their children off on an exciting summer hiking adventure.

Confirm Travel Detail

At Overland, we specify specific arrival and departure windows on the Overland Family Portal – click on “Trip Info”, and then select “Arrival & Departure”.

Search for Flights

Once you’ve confirmed the appropriate airport and arrival and departure time for your trip, Overland has found Google Flights to be the best place to look for flights for your teen’s summer hiking trip. In addition to allowing you to search for flights to a specific location (e.g., Denver), it also allows you to filter your results. For example, you can filter to flights from a specific airline you prefer (e.g., United), and/or filter to flights that land within a specific time frame (e.g., 9 AM MT to 1 PM MT).

An important consideration at this point is whether or not your child will be able to reach hiking trip via a nonstop flight, or if they will need to have a connection. Sometimes, driving to an airport a little farther from home can be worth the time if it means your child can fly on a direct flight. If you live in Hartford, Connecticut, for example, you may want to consider driving to an airport in New York City so your child can fly nonstop. This is often a good tradeoff rather than choosing an itinerary for your child that starts at a smaller, closer-to-home airport, but includes a connection.

After finding an option that works well for your destination, and for the specific times that your teen’s hiking trip begins and ends, it’s time to book the flight! Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, you may wonder how to book a flight for your minor child, especially if your child is traveling abroad.

1. Welcome to the world of Unaccompanied Minor (UAM) Programs

Major airlines offer a paid supervision service for younger travelers called Unaccompanied Minor (UAM) service. While the details of this service, and eligibility for it, varies by airline, the basic details are the same. Purchasing Unaccompanied Minor service offers many benefits, including:

  • Your child can be dropped off at the gate (rather than outside of security) by a specified adult escort,
  • Your child will be supervised by an airline representative throughout their travel, and
  • They can be picked up at their arrival gate (rather than at baggage claim) by another specified escort.

We recommend families consult airlines’ websites directly to understand the details of each airline’s Unaccompanied Minor service.

2. Learn more about your chosen airline’s policies for minors traveling alone

While the general structure of Unaccompanied Minor programs is the same for all airlines, age-eligibility and other details vary. The table below includes links to airline policy pages, and a snapshot of eligibility as of April, 2023.

Link to information about Minor TravelerUAM Service Required UAM Service AvailableNotes about Unaccompanied Minor Service
Alaska Airlines Policies for Minors5 – 12 Years Old13 – 17 Years Old– Travelers enrolled in Alaska’s UAM service may not fly on flights that depart between 9 PM and 5 AM
– Travelers enrolled in Alaska’ UAM service may fly on itineraries that include connections to other Alaska flights that are not the last flight of the day to a destination
American Airlines Policies for Minors5 – 14 Years Old15 – 17 Years Old– Travelers between 5 and 7 years old may only fly on nonstop flights
– Travelers between 8 and 14 years old may fly on itineraries that include connections to other American flights, provided that connection takes place at a specified American hub airport
Delta Airlines Policies for Minors5 – 14 Years Old15 – 17 Years Old– Travelers between 5 and 7 years old may only fly on nonstop flights
– Travelers between 8 and 14 years old may fly on itineraries that include connections to other Delta flights that are not the last flight of the day to a destination
– Travelers between 15 and 17 years old who are not enrolled in Delta’s UAM service must be able to show a valid, government-issued ID
– UAM travel must be booked over the phone (1.800.325.8847)
JetBlue Policies for Minors5 – 13 Years Old14 – 17 Years Old– Travelers enrolled in the UAM service may only fly on nonstop flights
– UAM service charges are automatically applied when booking flights for children younger than 14
Southwest Policies for Minors5 – 11 Years OldN/A– Travelers enrolled in the UAM service may not fly on an itinerary that involves a plane change
– Travelers 12 and above may not enroll in Southwest’s Unaccompanied Minor Program
United Airlines Policies for Minors5 – 14 Years Old15 – 17 Years Old– Travelers enrolled in the UAM service may only fly on nonstop flights
– Travelers can enroll in the UAM service online, when booking

3. Prepare your child for the flights

Whether your child is going to be enrolled in their airline’s Unaccompanied Minor program or not, planning ahead for flight day can also help put nerves at ease. Before your child departs, take the following steps to make sure they are prepared, and feel confident for the trip ahead.

  • Review your itinerary, and the plan for the day: Print out a copy of your child’s itinerary, and review it together. Even if your child is enrolled in an airline’s unaccompanied minor program, it will be helpful for your child to know where they are headed, and what they will have to do at each airport they travel through.
  • Confirm contact information and communication plans: Even if your child is familiar with using their cellphone, you should still review who they can call if they want some help while traveling – yourself, Overland, and maybe the airline. Write these contacts down on a piece of paper for your child in case their phone dies during their trip.
  • Pack carefully: Charge your child’s phone, confirm they have important paperwork (include their itinerary you reviewed together, and their list of contacts), and add anything else that might make their trip more comfortable (a book, a warm sweater or jacket, a water bottle, and of course some snacks!).

With these tips, and a carefully crafted itinerary, your child’s experience flying alone to and from their Overland hiking trip can be a great chance for them to gain independence and build confidence.

We are happy to connect families that are flying to and from the same airports on the same days, as long as both families agree to it. While it can be helpful to be connected with other families after booking flights, some families prefer to coordinate with other families before booking their students’ travel. If you’d like to be in touch with another family (or families!) from your area traveling to a given destination, please email [email protected].

No matter where your child is headed this summer, and no matter if you’re dropping them off or booking a flight for them, your child’s travel plans are the first part of their Overland adventure– and we’re happy to help. If you’d like to learn more about this, or about Overland’s trips, please set up a time to talk with our team.

Cheers to a summer of adventure… no matter where you’re headed!

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How To Choose A Summer Adventure For Your Child

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    Meg Pandiscio

    As an Overland Leader for four summers, Meg has led over 100 students on fulfilling summer experiences. Now, as part of the trip planning team, she makes sure each trip is carefully designed for fun and appropriate challenges.

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