Cape Town - With just over five weeks until the end of the year and less than two official weeks of school before the December holidays, families are prepping for a nice, long end-of-year break.
However, working parents who cannot take off are preparing to have the kids jet off to their life-saving grandparents or cool aunts and uncles (These kin are loved beyond measure for the way they help out).
But for parents, it can be a minefield of admin stress when children are travelling on their own or with a designated legal guardian for the duration of the holiday travel period.
Would-be travellers can now quickly and accurately determine which documents they’ll need when travelling in and out of South Africa with children, thanks to the Child VISA Checklist App created by local travel company Drive South Africa.
According to South Africa's laws, which saw a revision of child visa regulations back in 2014, there are “15 different documents and 37 unique scenarios for children travelling in and out of South Africa” that may arise. That's a lot.
How the South African Child VISA Checklist App works
The tool really is very simple to use though - check it out here. It removes the fear and uncertainty faced by parents trying to work out exactly which documents they need when travelling with their youngsters.
According to Andre Van Kets, creator of the Child VISA Checklist App simplifies the process of determining which documents are needed, by asking users of the Child visa app two or three simple, multiple-choice questions.
The questions cover for example: Who the child is travelling with?
- Parental status (married, divorced, legally separated etc.)
- Any other special circumstances (adoption, foster care, whether both parents are still alive, etc.)
Once the user has selected the relevant options, a list of required documents for that traveller’s specific scenario is displayed on screen.
The interactive tool - which works on desktop and mobile -also provides links to official documents from the Department of Home Affairs and answers frequently asked questions in layman's terms.
- Travelling with both parents
A child travelling with both parents requires valid passports of both parents and child as well as an unabridged Birth Certificate (UBC). Adoptive parents require valid passports of both parents and child require the UBC, as well as Court order confirming the adoption of the minor by the adoptive parent(s)and the adoption certificate.
- Travelling with one parent
Even this requires careful consideration, as to whether you are divorced, the one parent has died or you're simply just travelling separately.
For married parents travelling separately the following is required: a valid passport of travelling parent and child, the UBC, as well as Parental Consent Affidavit (PCA) not older than 6 months and a letter of Special Circumstances issued by Director-General of Home Affairs in the event that a parent or parents are incapacitated or deceased and no legal guardian has been appointed as yet.
- Travelling with a grandparent or assigned legal guardian
A common scenario is when you child flies with a grandparent, in this instance you need a the valid passport of child, UBC, as well as Parental Consent Affidavit (PCA) not older than 6 months, Letter of Special Circumstances issued by Director-General of Home Affairs in the event that a parent or parents are incapacitated or deceased and no legal guardian has been appointed as yet.
"The stringent requirements for travelling with minors in terms of the unabridged birth certificates, is a unique requirement in South Africa. SA is the only country in the world where it is a requirement for children under the age of 18 to carry with them above and beyond a passport and a visa, should they be required, an unabridged birth certificate, which adds to the frustration," says Otto de Vries CEO of Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA).
"There are also different requirements depending on the circumstances under which you are travelling with children, such as the case of single parents or guardians, which takes the matter beyond that of only carrying an unabridged birth certificate.
"When travelling with minors travellers should do their homework thoroughly in cross checking all the required documentation needed at all entry and departing destinations. Also, rather than going about the task alone, consider consulting with a registered ASATA approved travel professional who would be able to guide you through the necessary processes,"says De Vries.
Are we there yet!?
NB: Flight attendants are not babysitters
Parents put children on planes by themselves for many reasons including traveling to visit a divorced parent, to see grandparents, or to attend a summer camps.
Flight attendants know when there is an unaccompanied minor on board, but airlines don't add an extra attendant to watch children. Flight attendants still have to attend to other passengers and serve drinks and snacks during flights.
SEE: SA can do much to make travel easier for families - Jo-Ann Strauss
You really cannot be too careful in doing all the checks and balances when your children are travelling without you.
Did you know that some of South Africa's domestic carriers say they do not offer special assistance for children below a certain age?
Here's what you need to know when it comes to minors on board SA's regional carriers:
Unaccompanied minors for SAA:
SAA recognises an unaccompanied minor as a child between 5-11 years old who is travelling without the supervision of a parent or guardian who is 16-years or older on an SAA flight.
It says children, under the age of five, are not accepted for the Unaccompanied Minors service, if they are accompanied by a guardian who is 16 years or older. A young passenger is a child who is at least 12 years old, but under 16.
For the purpose of fares, any passenger between the ages of 12-16 is considered an adult says the airline; therefore, no special handling is required unless requested by the parent. For safety and security reasons, SAA says it has the right to refuse travel if the child is not booked as an unaccompanied minor. Contact their call centre here 0861 606 606.
Unaccompanied minors for FlySafair:
FlySafair says it does not provide unaccompanied minor assistance for children younger than 12-years. It offers a special Meet and Assist policy for passengers older than 12 years stating the service is for passengers requiring assistance to and from the aircraft, but no wheelchair is required. Its policy states that this facility will only be available from the FlySafair check-in counters and from the aircraft to the arrival hall. To ensure the efficient handling of the passenger's travel requirements, FlySafair centralises all passenger communications to its call centre special needs department - Monday – Friday – 08:00 – 17:00 by contacting the FlySafair call centre on 087 135 1351.
Unaccompanied minors for kulula:
kulula states that infants and children must be accompanied by an adult aged 16-years or older. For every 5 kids (under the age of 12 years) travelling, they require at least one adult to accompany them and they allow kids over the age of 12 years to travel unaccompanied.
Unaccompanied minors for Mango:
Mango says it allows child between the age of 12 and under 16 years of age to travel alone, but they cannot stand in as an adult companion for another child who has not yet reached the age of 12. Its policy also does not allow for them to be seated in emergency rows/seats.
Advice for parent:
- Even with older children who are allowed to take connecting flights, book a nonstop flight if available.
- Pick flights early in the day. Delays tend to build during the day, so flying in the morning will reduce the risk of the child being stranded overnight.
- When you take your child to the gate, ask who will accompany them on and off the plane and whether another passenger will sit next to them.
- Don't leave the airport until the plane takes off.
Top Tips for long-haul travel with kids
Be proactive with your booking - Keep in mind your kids' needs when making flight bookings
In theory most things work like a dream, but just picture rushing through the airport with your little ones in tow trying to make a connecting flight. If you can’t book a direct flight, factor in more time for your connection flights just in case and if you can book with one airline or within an alliance, it really does make things easier in terms of check-in baggage, says British Airways.
These facilities were created with convenience and fluidity in mind. Make use of them. Most airlines allow you to check in at least 24hrs before your departure time.
Pre-book the extras
If you need a baby seat or bassinet, make sure you do it with the initial booking as these are often in limited numbers and can be allocated on a first come first serve basis.
Dock the documents in one place
Even though you may have kitted each kid out with their own snack pack, make sure you keep all the tickets, passports and necessary paper work in one handy spot and when booking, make sure you know if the country you’re visiting requires any additional paper work – like South Africa’s unabridged birth certificate requirement that kicks in at the beginning of June.
Put a separation plan in place
When you’re on your flight there is less need to worry but moving through busy airports is an entirely different matter. Formulate a plan with your little ones if they do get separated from you. Also, writing your mobile number on their hand or arm in indelible ink is a great idea, especially if they are too young to memorise it. Or make like Paddington and write your contact details on a small card and tag them with a neck-lanyard.
Toys and tablets are for the win!
While it is a good idea to keep things simple and the less you have to lug around the better, engaged, entertained children are happy children.
Don’t forget a change of clothes for you and the kids
Preparing for any eventuality will go a long way to maintaining composure when a mishap does occur. The last thing either of you want is to be a few thousand feet in the air and stuck in soiled garments.
Sure, the air hostess should have a stash, but these little ingenious pockets of moisture can be a real lifesaver whether your children are still in nappies or not. Adding in a stash of plastic bags won’t hurt either.
Blankets or a warm jacket
Even though the cabins air pressure is regulated and controlled, things can get pretty cold up there. So it doesn’t hurt to pack a small blanket or throw for each of your kids. And if they’re still young and of the day-time nap age, the warmth may just lull them to sleep. For long-haul flights you’d be wise to book an evening flight so your kids have a better chance of falling asleep
There can be nothing worse than forgetting to pack a spare snack or drink and your little one decides to throw a tantrum of note because of it. The air hostess cannot skip the aisle when handing out airline meals, even if you can pre-book something for them. So prepare ahead so your hungry kids are not forced to wait. If you kids are old enough, pack one for each of them – makes it a little bit easier on your, just keep in mind the rules around liquids under 100ml and needing to be in a sealed plastic bag when travelling internationally.
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