I used to fly with my younger brother to my grandparents’ home in Florida when I was a kid, and I have pretty powerful memories of being treated like royalty by the airline staff. We were unaccompanied minors, and the flights always went off without a hitch…except the time my brother got steak instead of a burger as his in-flight meal. Yes, he cried pitiably. An unwanted meal pales in comparison to a few recent incidences involving unaccompanied minors, though. Continental Airlines has put children on the wrong planes, to the wrong destinations. Worse, a 13-yr old unaccompanied minor was actually molested by a pastor on a flight from Philadelphia to Oakland. This absolutely sickens me, and the fact that the US Attorney’s office declined to bring charges against the alleged molester – despite that the girl’s testimony was deemed much more credible than his – is revolting.
As a parent of a elementary school-age children myself, I would do some planning prior to them flying as unaccompanied minors. Besides teaching daughters to be assertive if strangers are touching them (which is a good idea in general), this is what I recommend:
- Talk with your child, even if she’s flown solo before, to ensure that she understands the process from beginning to end.
- Get a prepaid calling card for your kid, just in case (unless said kid has her own cell phone).
- Print out an e-ticket the night before, and make certain that all the information on it is correct.
- Make sure that the airport personnel know that you are supposed to take your child right up to the gate, not just the security line.
- Introduce her, and yourself, to the flight crew if you can (this isn’t always feasible or convenient).
- While waiting to board, talk with your child about how she can request a seat change if she feels uncomfortable with her row mate. Flight attendants will always honor these requests.
- The airline staff will probably give your kid some sort of wearable identification that indicates she’s an unaccompanied minor – make sure it’s securely on, and remind your child not to tell any strangers personal information.
- In case the flight is delayed horribly, don’t leave the gate area until the plane has taken off.
- Last, make sure that whoever is meeting your kid (grandparent, etc) knows to call you as soon as your child has arrived.
Children have been flying alone for decades, of course, but it’s probably never the first choice for parents who would rather keep close eyes on their kids. These days, with divorced parents often living far from each other, it’s just not economically feasible for parents to fly with their children to drop them off at their exes’ homes. Visiting grandparents while parents must be at work also means older children flying as unaccompanied minors. These recommendations aren’t only a good idea for the security of your child, they should also go a long way towards easing your own understandable anxiety.
Editor’s note: This post won an “Award of Merit” in the “Consumer Tips & Advice” category for the 2009 North American Travel Journalists Association annual awards.