We’ve all noticed the kids with an unaccompanied minor badge escorted by the flight attendants on our flights. Peak travel times for unaccompanied minors are major holidays, three day weekends, and summer. Parents are encountering more situations requiring children to travel alone. Most frequently, children fly alone to comply with divorce custody agreements. Whether the unaccompanied minor is visiting a non-custodial parent, or simply a relative in another state, here are tips to make a smooth travel experience for your child.
If possible, fly the child with a parent or other close adult the first time. Children like to know what to expect; unaccompanied minors in busy airports need to know what to expect. Break down the unaccompanied minor flying process into major sections: checking in, security, waiting to board the airplane, take off, landing. Point out emergency personnel unaccompanied minor children can seek help from if they encounter a problem.
Ensure your unaccompanied minor child can read his or her ticket and the arrival and departure board. This will help your child feel calmer as he or she knows the seat to sit in, what time take offs and landings are, and the gate his or her planes are leaving from. While it is highly unlikely, this information could help your unaccompanied minor child in the event of separation from airline personnel, or simply alerting the airline staff responsible if he or she sees a problem. Children are very observant, and let’s face it, we all see airline staff have their hands full just handling regular travelers.
Pack unaccompanied minor children lightly and smartly. Each unaccompanied minor child should have an age-appropriate back pack. Inside, the unaccompanied minor should carry:
* a cell phone (even a prepaid one with programmed numbers will work)
* a sturdy copy of each parent’s contact information (do not rely on airline paperwork alone)
* light snacks that travel well, single serving packs work best
* chewing gum for altitude changes
* small toys for amusement, books, or electronic entertainment for older children
* paper and pen for writing anything important down
Teach your unaccompanied minor to write down any problems he or she encounters, or the names of unhelpful airline staff. Most airlines use their best kid-friendly staff especially for children traveling alone. Instruct your child to follow directions and be respectful of the airline staff at all times, but to write down anything they are upset about. Reassure your unaccompanied minor child that you will take care of any issues with the airline itself. This reinforces the idea that although the parents are not there, the parental protection is.
Address your unaccompanied minor child’s fears and questions prior to the flight. All airlines have a toll-free customer service number where you can get more information on specific policies and procedures for unaccompanied minors. This includes where the child goes during long lay-overs and what amenities are there. What does the child do if he or she needs to use the restroom? How will good behavior/poor behavior on the plane be handled at home? Try your best to not project your fears on the child, but make sure your son or daughter is as confident as possible in making the unaccompanied minor trip.
Finally, remember airline staff are experts in unaccompanied minor travel. They have seen the issues, complications, and successes over many years serving children traveling alone. Every airline is going to do the absolute most to protect your child from any adverse situations–anything less is really not worth the negative press! In truth, unaccompanied minors get the best service in the airport and on the airplane. After the first trip, your child will likely love traveling without Mom or Dad and may even ask why he or she can’t fly alone the next time you go on vacation!