Kids Flying Unaccompanied? After Delta Mix-Up, As Scary As Handing Them The Keys To The Car

7 years ago

It's one thing for airlines to send your luggage to the wrong destination, but sending two kids to the wrong destination? Some mistakes are simply not acceptable. That's exactly the mistake that was made in Minneapolis yesterday when Delta airlines mixed up the travel papers for two unaccompanied minors, sending the Cleveland-bound child to Boston and the Boston-bound child to Cleveland.

My kids are grown now, but my daughter Berit was around nine years old the first time I put her on a plane by herself (around 1998). She was fine. I was terrified. I worried about everything. I worried about turbulence - would she be scared? She assured me that she loved turbulence and was looking forward to it because it was like a roller coaster.

Girl looking out window of airplane

From ABC:

I was worried about creepy people sitting next to her. We had a plan. If someone was not nice she was to get up and go tell the flight attendant.

Since Berit had to change planes in Detroit, I worried about delays and canceled flights in a strange city. Fortunately, I have a college friend in Detroit, and I asked her to go to the airport to guide Berit from her connection to the plane taking her to Richmond. This was pre 9/11 when people could come to the gate ,and even though Libby was an unofficial person on Berit's travel itinerary, she was there  to make sure everything went smoothly. And if there were a delay, Libby would have stayed at the airport until Berit got on the flight. I needed that. I didn't want my nine-year-old stuck with a flight attendant who may resent taking care of a nine-year-old.

Even at nine, I made sure Berit had a cell phone, and the instructions were clear: Call me the moment the plane landed in Detroit and Richmond. We rehearsed and we rehearsed, planning for worst case scenarios. In those days, there was a book about worst-case scenarios that Berit loved, so we made this a game.

But mostly I worried about something I couldn't talk to Berit about. I worried about the plane crashing and of Berit being all alone at a very scary time. I was consumed with worry the entire time her plane was in the air. The rational me knew that the chances of the plane crashing were remote. But, I have a good friend whose older sister died in a commercial plane crash, and another acquaintance's parents died in a commercial plane crash as well.

My nerves were raw but I also knew that I needed to let her get on that plane by herself. I was so proud of me. I don't think I had time to think if I were proud of Berit for flying alone.  By the time she flew by herself at age nine, she had been on many trips. Her biggest complaint about flying as an unaccompanied minor was that she couldn't fly first class.

In those days, I traveled a lot for business and had a ton of first class upgrades. Both my kids really loved flying first class. She found it outrageous that she couldn't use one of my upgrades as an unaccompanied minor.

I'd like to think that I spent so much time prepping my daughter for all the problems that could have occurred, that she would have realized she was on the wrong plane. Maybe I'm looking back and giving her too much credit, but I think  that was one of the things we rehearsed. We rehearsed a lot of things.

I'd also like to think that if Berit did land in the wrong place that she would treat it as an adventure, and my hunch is the moment she realized what happened, she would be plotting to make sure Delta allowed her to fly first class for a very long time. That's the kind of kid she was/is.

As awful as this situation is, and it is awful,  there is a bright spot. It's the perfect opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about Plan B's in travel. Planes get delayed. Planes get rerouted. And sometimes planes land in the wrong city. Talking to your kids about what to do, and having that cell phone charged at all times, can make a terrifying situation, one that can have a somewhat happy ending.

Related Reading on Kids Flying Alone:

  • Selfish Mom writes:
    The fact is, if something truly bad happened on the flight I would just die on the spot from guilt. I would simply cease to exist. But actually taking something like that into account when making plans seems silly to me. The same parents who would think nothing of putting their kids in a car, where statistically it’s much more likely that something bad would happen, dwell on the possibility of a tragedy happening while flying. To me this is like buying a lottery ticket and then spending your 401k because, you know, you’re not going to need it once the lottery money starts flowing in.
  • Harriet at Stuck at the Airport lists how much each airport will charge you for an unaccompanied minor, and it isn't cheap.

Would you let your child fly unaccompanied?

BlogHer Contributing Editor: Business & Career

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