Growing up, I had family in Oregon and in Florida. My parents put me on a flight alone starting at 6 years old from Portland to Pensacola. I vividly remember running through airports with a flight attendant to make my connecting flight. As I got older, I realized how these solo flights actually helped my independence as a traveler. Now my kids are holding up the family tradition of solo kid travelers.
Fly The Friendly Skies
This summer my kids will board their fourth solo flight to the west coast; they will be flying from New Orleans to Alaska first to visit my in-laws, then from Alaska to Seattle to visit our friends. Although they (and I) have done the solo flights before, there is always a feeling of anxiety when I put my kids on the plane, and it doesn’t really let up until they’re in my arms again at the end of the trip. We have always had great experiences with unaccompanied minor flights, the attendants take very good care of them and make sure they are settled and have the things they need for a safe and comfortable flight.
Before You Go
When booking an unaccompanied minor flight, you will pay an extra fee for the ticket: this price includes flight attendant supervision to the pickup area or their connecting flights, and they will be seated in a designated area while waiting on their flight.
Be sure to pack all the things your child may need in flight, such as snacks, headphones, a fully charged phone/tablet, a debit card (my kids use a Greenlight card), medications they may need (and teach them how/when to take it themselves if needed). We also make sure to download movies/TV shows/music before the trip. I make sure my kids have had a meal prior to boarding as well.
Off We Go
When you get to the airport to board the flight, your child will be given a lanyard or some other identifier so the crew knows they are an unaccompanied minor. You will be able to walk your child to the gate and are required to wait until the plane has departed before you can leave. I always ask my kids to text me a picture once they’re in their seats and at any layover they may have.
You will fill out a form with specifics on who will be meeting your child at their destination, this person will be required to have ID in order to gain custody of your child. We did have an issue one year when there was a miscommunication at the arrival airport, even when my kids said yes this was the person designated to pick them up, the airline wouldn’t release them. Thankfully I was able to FaceTime with my ID visible and giving the okay for them to go with my friend picking them.
As scary as it was to put my kids on a flight alone the first time, I know that in the future these experiences will help them to be confident in traveling alone. Navigating an airport and flights can be intimidating even as an adult. When we traveled with them as little kids we would have them participate in finding gates, navigating the signs to concourses and how to get from one to another, where baggage claim was, now as teens they are pretty confident in their airport skills.