Kids On Board!
Writer Mary Pat Mahoney offers some tips to preparing your child for flying solo!
An adventure to remember
But before packing up a child and heading to the airport, parents should do their homework. Most of the time, the flight will go smoothly, but even when the skies are clear at home, mechanical break downs and sudden bad weather can disrupt travel plans. A well-prepared child and well-informed parent will be prepared for clear or stormy skies.
The unaccompanied child
Southwest Airlines, United and US Airways allow children between five and 11 to fly unaccompanied. American and Delta want kids up to age fourteen to fly as a UM's. On some airlines a 13 year old is considered an adult and could fly with a child under five. Other airlines use the restrictions that apply to the younger child when two or more UM's travel together.
Once the child boards the plane, he is in the care of a flight attendant. If it is a non-stop flight, the flight attendant will transfer the child to the adult waiting at the arrival city. If the child will be making a connection to another flight, the flight attendant will accompany the child to the gate agent or airport employee who will then take the child to the appropriate gate. There should be an adult airline or airport employee with the child at all times. Depending on the number of legs on the trip, the child may be under the care of several different adults.
If the child will be spending some time in the airport, the airline may have special kid-friendly lounges for UM's. These may not be in every airport or available from every airline. The reservation agent will know if there is one in the airport a child is traveling through.
The flight plan
Parents can help alleviate some anxiety by preparing the child ahead of time. Like so many other parenting situations, children pick up on their parents' feelings. "My two boys have been flying alone for seven years," says Jill C of Colleyville, Texas. "They didn't give fear any thought because I didn't."
The child should know what will happen at the airport, through security, on the plane and at the destination. If he'll be changing planes, parents need to stress that he follows the directions of the flight attendant or gate agent.
Linda Hochester of Southwest Airlines recommends parents role play with their child before the flight, "A lot of times kids won't ask a question once they're around someone they don't know." Especially when it is the child's first flight, role playing helps kids know what to expect before they begin their adventure," she says.
On the day of travel, parents should allow extra time at the airport to fill out paperwork and pass through security. Some airlines ask parents and UM's to arrive three hours ahead of time. The reservation agent can provide that information. Parents can go through security to the gate with their child but won't be able to board the plane with them.
Peggy Estes, spokeswoman for Delta, reminds parents to be sure to have proper identification for their children if they're traveling internationally. "Some countries require special documentation, such as a notarized letter, stating that the child has permission to fly alone," she says. The reservations agent will know what special documents are needed when the flight is booked.
Fee to fly
There should have a back up plan (or two) for picking up the child at the destination. The child should have names and phone numbers of the persons he may need to call. "Include a cell phone number in the passenger record," says Estes, "for contacts at the departing city and the arrival city."
Likewise, the person picking up the child at the arrival city should allow plenty of time to get through security and to the gate.
When your child is ready to fly alone, you have every reason to expect it will be a positive experience. A little bit of preparation and careful planning can make it an opportunity for your child to spread his wings and fly!
Airline web sites