Many children fly alone especially during the holiday season and other school breaks. I have grandchildren that fly across the country twice a year to stay with their mother (winter and summer breaks.) A child flying alone can be scary not only for the child but for the parent as well.
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Here are a few tips to help make travel much easier when kids fly alone:
Book the most direct route. Your first choice she be to try to book a nonstop flight. Second choice should be a direct or ‘through’ flight (may have a stop, but no change of planes.) Third, an online connection (change of planes on the same airline), or lastly, an interline connection (a change of planes from one airline to another). Remember that most airlines will not allow kids under 8 to take connecting flights when traveling alone. If your child’s trip involves more than one airline, call each carrier to find out about its policies and requirements for unaccompanied minors.
Spend extra time at the airport.
You should plan on coming to the airport early and staying for a while after departure. If there are last minute changes before the flight’s scheduled departure, getting there early gives you a better opportunity for dealing with the situation.
Coordinate with the person picking up the child.
Make sure that whoever is picking up the child knows all the relevant details of the child’s trip and is able to contact either you or the airline to confirm the arrival time of the flight. The person picking up the child should also have identification that exactly matches the information that you supplied the airline. You should have the pickup person arrive early at the airport and contact you when they arrive.
Pack a carry-on with activities and snacks. Pack a few of their favorite snacks along something to keep them entertained. Not all planes have video systems for them to watch, and if they do, you cannot control what they are selecting on their individual monitors. These are some of the things we send—electronics and a headphone, a book to or two, and puzzles—whatever your child likes to do. Pack things that can fit in a small backpack and remind your child to put everything back in it before exiting the plane. Pack any essentials in the same carry-on. Any that your child will need in the first 24 hours in case his or her checked bag is delayed (e.g., medicine, eyeglasses, a change of underwear)
Don’t send gum. Give the child lollipops or hard candy instead for the ear-popping on take-off and landing. A small (and sometimes even an older one) has been known to spit gum out or put it on a seat only for the next passenger to sit on it. If there’s no place to throw it away they will try to hide it.
Label your child. We use the Kids’ Safety Bracelets from Mabel’s Labels whenever we go anywhere: the airport, an amusement park, and on every vacation. The label contains the contact name and address on it. Put it on your child and tell them not to remove it until they reach their destination. When flying, make certain to add the name and contact information of the person who will meet the child at the destination. The airline also needs to know if they have any issues, specifically medical problems, allergies, when they need to take medications, etc.
Know the info. Make sure that your child knows their information. Children should know their entire address and phone number (including their area code.) They also should know both parent’s full names. Make certain they know who is picking them up and that they have all of the contact info for that person.
Drill into kids to not get off the airplane without a flight attendant. Kids think they can all the time, even though the flight attendants tell them to wait until the plane is empty. It’s hard to always recognize them as they are deplaning as they just look like a part of a family, so telling your child to only get on and off with a flight attendant is critical.
Bring ID. Children should travel with a copy of their birth certificate. Although it’s not required, it does make things easier. My grandchildren always carry their school IDs with a picture on it. My granddaughter liked to have it to present to the TSA or gate agent. She said it made her feel grown-up.
Listen and behave. Make sure you take the time to discuss appropriate behavior with your child. That includes the behavior of other passengers and the child’s behavior. Your child should also understand that those airline employees are helping them get to their destination. They should be treated with respect and listened to at all times. (And remind your child that the call bells are not toys.)
For more hints, download the When Kids Fly Alone publication from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov.