It's important to mention that the child will be unaccompanied already when you book the ticket. The airline will then give you instructions and information about available options. Tickets for an children travelling unaccompanied cannot be bought online.
The rules and age limits differ between airlines and countries, and another important factor is the country whose passport your child holds.
In Finland, you can escort a child travelling on their own through the security check all the way to the boarding gate if the ticket or boarding pass mentions the child is travelling on their own.
If the flight is to a non-Schengen country, the person escorting the child to the gate must also carry a passport.
Some airlines offer an unaccompanied minor (UM) service for children travelling without parents. It must be ordered when booking the ticket.
It is meant for kids from 5 to 11 years of age, and the airline assumes the responsibility for the child from the departure airport to the destination airport.
Finnair, for instance, offers a free UM service but it's not available for all ticket types. When booking, you have to give the contact details for both the person who will see off the child and the person who will receive him/her. Both must be able to provide proof of identity at the airport.
Tickets for children travelling unaccompanied cannot be bought online.
Children can also fly without using the UM service as long as they are accompanied by an older family member. The rules for this vary between airlines.
Usually the UM service is available for young persons from 12 to 17 years travelling on their own as well but it's not obligatory. However, there are country-specific exceptions. When flying to the US, for instance, UM service is obligatory for all unaccompanied minors under 16 years of age.
Get to the airport well in time
You should aim to get to the airport well in time as you have to fill in the UM Handling Advice forms. Many airports have a dedicated service point for anybody needing help at the check-in.
At the check-in desk, the child will be given a bag to hang around his/her neck for all travel documents needed during the trip.
Certain countries require that all unaccompanied minors carry a written travel authorisation letter signed by both parents. This document could be needed as the child enters or leaves a country.
Good care during the flight and all the way to the arrivals hall
Children will be boarded on the aeroplane before other passengers, and they will not be left on their own if the flight is delayed.
During the flight, crew members pay special attention to any child travelling on their own. However, depending on the airline, the child may have to be prepared to cope even if the airport or aeroplane staff don't speak the same language than the child.
After landing, members of ground staff come to take the child from the aeroplane to the arrivals hall. Even if the child and airline staff don't have a language in common, the staff are experienced in dealing with unaccompanied children. Lufthansa, for instance, flies some 70,000 unaccompanied children every year.
Once in the arrivals hall, the child is handed over to the person specified in the documents, who will have to be able to provide proof of identity.