Flying with Kids: Can You Fly in Separate Cabins?

In my last post, we looked at the factors you may want to consider when deciding what class of service to book with your hard-earned points when traveling with family.

For those of us who enjoy flying in business class, the decision often boils down to this: how much do we value those comforts and perks of flying in business versus the state of our mileage account balances, finding seat availability, and our general perception of whether kids should be in business class altogether?

But perhaps flying in business versus economy doesn’t always have to be an either/or decision. What if parents could enjoy their business class seats while the kids chilled out in economy?

It may seem like a crazy thought at first, but under certain conditions, kids can be seated in a different cabin than their parents or guardians. It’s something that families who feel comfortable travelling this way can explore further.

Why Fly Together?

Most of us wouldn’t even think twice about being seated together with our kids on a plane. It’s just the natural thing to do when you’re travelling as a family. 

Parents need to be around to care for their kids. For example, parents need to:

  • Make sure their kids stay hydrated and eat at the appropriate times (or not overeat on junk – leave my son with a Costco-size bag of popcorn, and he’ll finish it in one go)
  • Police screen time, especially when it’s time to nap or sleep on a red-eye flight
  • Take them for washroom breaks
  • Make sure they’re not bothering other passengers around them
  • Play referee in breaking up sibling squabbles
  • Take care of any unforeseeable emergencies that may arise

Parents need to be around to protect their kids. Most parents wouldn’t be comfortable leaving their kids with strangers in any setting, let alone a plane.

It’s true that when it comes to travelling on a plane, there is no fear of your child getting lost or being abducted. Most adults are decent people, but you never really know what the passenger next to your child may say or do when you’re not actually around.    

Kids with separation anxiety. Some kids just don’t do well apart from their parents. The fear of being apart from them would drive them up the wall, which is neither good news for you, the parent, nor the other passengers sitting next to your kids.

Young children will always need to be accompanied by their parents at all times.

Why Fly in Separate Cabins?  

For all the reasons mentioned above, it can be easy to see why parents should sit with their kids, especially if they are young.

But what if your kids are beyond that stage where they need constant supervision? If that’s the case, then perhaps you have found yourself wondering if they could stay in economy while you, the parent(s), slip into business class.

Consider the benefits:

  • Cost savings. Economy class award tickets can save you up to 50% when compared to a business class redemption.
  • Kids are happy. They have their screen. They have their food. On top of that, they have their own space and a chance to exercise their independence.
  • Parents are happy. They have their free alcohol, better food, more space, a lie-flat bed, and perhaps a bit of much needed peace and tranquility – which is what makes for a true vacation for some parents.

The Unaccompanied Minor Service

Let’s get into the finer details here. My children are still young, so I’ve never sat in a separate cabin from them; thus, the information below is strictly from what I have gathered from reviewing the policies of different airlines, and they do vary across the board.

Most airlines do not have a policy that explicitly covers the topic of travelling in separate cabins. Instead, most airlines would treat kids sitting in separate cabins as unaccompanied minors, for which they do have a policy and provide an unaccompanied minor service (UMS). 

Consider this a chaperone service. For most airlines, it is not a one-on-one babysitting service where a flight attendant is constantly monitoring your child during the flight.

My understanding is that they will check-in on your child every so often and provide assistance as needed. Some will provide a kids’ snack or meal as part of the service. Some airlines offer this service for free, while others will charge a fee. 

child looking out an air plane window
Older kids can travel as unaccompanied minors and exercise their independence.

Restrictions

Each airline has their own eligibility requirements, so be sure to check on their respective websites for further details.

In general, the service is not offered to children who have severe disabilities or substantial medical conditions, who require the administration of regular essential medications, or who have severe allergies.

Most airlines only offer these services on their own direct flights (i.e., not available on partner, codeshare, or connecting flights). Now of course, there are exceptions and some airlines are more lenient than others. Because of the pandemic, there may also be additional restrictions.

Booking

Keep in mind that this service must be pre-booked. Some airlines require it to be arranged at the time of booking the ticket. Most do not permit the service to be booked online, so you will have to contact the airline’s reservations office.

Below are the policies of some common airlines families may fly. The details are not exhaustive, so feel free to follow the link to each airline’s webpage for further information.

Airline

Age of Child

Policy

Cost of UMS
(per segment)

<8

Must be accompanied by 16+

$100–118 (CAD)

8–11

UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by 16+

$100 (CAD)

Only available for flights within Canada

5–7

Must be accompanied by 12+

8–11

Must be accompanied by 12+; otherwise UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by 12+

Complimentary

5–11

Must be accompanied by 12+; otherwise UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<6

Must be accompanied by 18+

$60–135 (USD)

6+

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by parent/guardian

Complimentary for age 5–11

$50 (USD) for age 12–15

5–7

UMS mandatory

8+

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by parent/guardian

Complimentary for age 5–11

$100 (USD) for age 12+

5–11

UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<6

Must be accompanied by 12+

Complimentary

6–7

UMS mandatory

8+

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by parent/guardian

$135–230 (CAD)

5–11

Must be accompanied by 12+; otherwise UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by 18+

$50 (USD)

5–11

UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<2

Must be accompanied by 18+

$135–230 (CAD)

2–4

Must be accompanied by 16+ (18+ if not sibling or guardian)

5–11

Must be accompanied by 12+; otherwise UMS mandatory

12+

UMS optional

<2

Must be accompanied by 18+

Complimentary

2–6

UMS mandatory

7–11

UMS optional

<5

Must be accompanied by parent/guardian

$150 (USD) for every two children

5–14

UMS mandatory

15+

UMS optional

For most intents and purposes, the policies can be summarized as below:

  • Children under the age of 5 must fly accompanied by a parent, guardian or another passenger who is at least 16-18 years old, but sometimes as young as 12 years old.
  • Children aged 5–11 travelling without a parent in the same cabin must arrange a UMS, unless travelling with a sibling who is at least 12 years old, and in some cases, older.
  • Children over the age of 12 may travel unaccompanied without the need for a UMS.

Would I Fly with Kids in Separate Cabins?

At this point, my kids are too young for me to feel comfortable being seated apart from them. However, once my kids are older, more independent and responsible, this is something I would consider.

In a few short years, my eldest will be an adolescent, and my younger kids will also be old enough that they could be accompanied by him in economy.

At that point, I’ll also take comfort knowing that they can keep each other company and look out for each other – and if they really do need me, I’m only a cabin away!

Conclusion

Parents can travel in a separate cabin from their children, but not without restrictions.

Your child will have to be at least five years old before this to be an option. I imagine most parents with very young children would never consider sitting separately from them anyway, so I don’t see the minimum age as being very restrictive for most travelling families.

It’s reassuring to know that those who have young children and want to explore this option will not be leaving their kids entirely unattended, as they will be required to book an unaccompanied minor service. This service is also an option for older children if parents feel they may need the extra assistance or supervision. 

If you enjoy flying business class or First Class, and you feel comfortable travelling in separate cabins from your kids, then this may be a good solution for you. It will save some you points on your bookings, help you find seat availability for aspirational flights that may only release two premium seats at a time, and allow the whole family to fly happy.