Military and Divorce: Travel Discounts Offered for Kids of Military Personnel

The holiday season is the perfect opportunity for family to get together, enjoy good food and quality time. However, for many, it is also the most hectic time of the year. While the holidays can be stressful for anyone, they can be especially complicated for divorced military personnel and their former spouses when it comes to visitation rights with their children.

In the case of children of military divorce (where at least one party is active duty military, reserve or guard, or retired military), the parents most likely live in different states and frequently on different continents. This makes holiday visitation especially difficult.

According to the American Bar Association, the non-custodial parent is responsible for the child’s travel arrangements.In most cases, this is good news since the non-custodial parent is usually also the service member and is eligible for military travel discounts. The non-custodial parent also has the right to deduct up to 42.75 percent of the cost of travel from spousal or child support, so any discount actually benefits both parents.

If flying is a part of the travel itinerary, transporting a child or children can be especially complex. Fortunately, the policies and procedures from one airline to another are very similar. For example, no child under the age of can travel without a guardian, and no unaccompanied minor can take the last connecting flight of the evening to avoid the possibility of an overnight stay at the airport if there are cancellations.

“I experienced first-hand what happens when you don’t book a nonstop flight and the connection is missed or canceled. A friend of my daughter was stranded in Atlanta overnight when her connecting flight was canceled due to weather – she came up to visit with my daughter, but I didn’t make her arrangements – otherwise she would have made it home – incidentally, my daughter made it home fine,” said Sonny McKinney, director of Global Finance for Planet Payment, Inc.

The rules are also consistent for children five years or older who will be flying alone. A parent or responsible adult is expected to bring the children to a ticketing agent at the airport two hours before a domestic flight or three hours for an international flight. Parents should be prepared to show proof of a child’s age, as there are different rules for each age range. The adult will fill out an unaccompanied minor form, which includes contact information for an adult in the city of departure and the destination.

The parent will also get a pass to go through security checkpoints with the children in order to accompany them to the gate where the parent is expected to wait for the child or children to board the plane and the plane to depart from the gate. Gary Clarke, a divorced, single father said, “My son first flew by himself at 6. I gave him a cell phone, $20 and a laminated card with contact information. He hugged me, headed down that jet way and never looked back. And sure enough, the flight was diverted because of weather. He called, told me that there was a flight attendant with him all the time and he’d call back when they left. No big deal.”

A flight attendant will hold any travel documents for your child throughout the flight, but policies prohibit airline employees from administering any medications. If your child has to take any type of medication, someone should fly with him he should know how much to take and when. The only person who will be allowed to pick up the child is the responsible party listed on the unaccompanied minor form. If a flight is delayed, the airline will make every effort to contact the adult that will be picking the child up.

“If an international flight is delayed, the airline will try to contact adults on both ends. When picking up a little one, you can go to the counter and get a gate pass so you can be at the gate when the plane arrives. Most airlines will accommodate – you may have to be a bit insistent with some, but they will issue the pass,” McKinney said, based on his experience with his own two daughters.

Children between the ages of five and seven can travel as unaccompanied minors on non-stop and direct flights but are not allowed to travel without a responsible adult if they will have to take a connecting flight. Children ages eight to14 can travel on Delta or American Airlines as unaccompanied minors on non-stop, direct or connecting flights. In many cities, Delta has a room called Dusty’s Den to keep children entertained during layovers.

American Airlines and Delta both consider passengers between 15 and 17 young adults but offers the same unaccompanied minor assistance to them upon request. Here are a few tips for transporting your kids:

1. Book through airlines.

When planning a flight for a child, book directly through the airline. It is much less complicated than booking through a travel agent or a discount travel website, and most airlines require it anyway.

2. Gather travel documents.

Keep all your child’s travel documents including tickets for connecting flights and documentation of age in one envelope so you have it ready to hand over to the flight attendant and everything makes it to your child’s destination.

3. Pack medication.

If your child is taking medication make sure they know when and how much to take. Also be sure he has it in his carry-on luggage.

4. Get the discount.

Remember to mention that the child is a military dependent so you can get a discount.

5. Shop around to get the best deal.

Depending on how many children will be traveling, one airline may be cheaper than another. For example, Delta charges $50 per unaccompanied minor in addition to the ticket price where American Airlines charges an additional $75 regardless of the number of children, so if you only have one child Delta is cheaper, but for two or more you will get a better deal through American Airlines.

About the author: Stephanie Baker is a writer of fashion, travel and lifestyles writer for McClatchy newspapers and magazines in Georgia.