I recently came across a story in the Washington Post about a child who appeared to be 3 or 4 traveling alone. I was actually very surprised after reading the story because as a kid who grew up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I flew many times by myself or with my sister to go visit my grandmother.
I was always watched over like a hawk by the flight attendants. Sometimes annoyingly so. I couldn’t get away with anything. I can’t imagine that this has changed much over the years. The airlines are responsible for the kids and indeed all of the passengers flying on their planes.
I spoke with Jennifer*, an 18-year veteran flight attendant for a major airline, who read the article and then shared it with several of her colleagues. She said: “First there are many flaws in that story. A child that young is NEVER allowed to fly alone under any circumstances. The parent is always issued a pass to get through security and get their child to the gate. They simply aren’t allowed to drop them off.”
For Delta Air Lines and several others, the minimum age that you are allowed to fly alone is 8, and although this might vary from airline to airline, the procedures are generally the same. Kids don’t get to walk around alone before or after the flight, and if by chance there is a layover, they are assigned to an airline employee the entire time. It is their job to care for that child.
Jennifer also says that unaccompanied minors are given some perks for traveling alone. They are given one free meal or snack depending on what is provided on the plane. They also get a free headset to keep if a movie is being shown. And contrary to the article referenced above, they are ALWAYS checked on by the other flight attendants during the flight.
Here are a few tips to help make travel much easier for you and your child:
1. Get a cellphone for your child. My youngest was 4 when she learned how to use a cellphone. She would use my cellphone on a daily basis to call her dad. Get a throwaway cellphone and show your kids how to contact you. School them in the rules for when they need to turn it off on the plane.
2. Load them up on activities and snacks. Let the kids bring something comforting from home in case they get scared (especially the little ones) but also give them something to keep them entertained along with a few of their favorite snacks. Nintendo DS. A book to read. Puzzles. Whatever your child likes to do, make certain that they have it with them. I usually pack a small backpack for each child and remind them to put everything in it before exiting the plane.
Jennifer says, “Give them something to do while on the plane. Not all planes have video systems for them to watch, and if they do, we cannot control what they are selecting on their individual monitors.”
She also suggests not giving kids gum and giving them lollipops or hard candy instead for that pesky ear-popping. “You would not believe how many times a child has spit gum out and put it on a seat only for the next passenger to sit on it. There is no place to throw it away so they try to hide it. I avoid gum for kids on planes.”
3. Know the info, share the info, and label your child. To get out of kindergarten, my children had to know their entire address and phone number. They also had to know both mine and my husband’s full names. Making sure that your young traveler knows their information as well is important. The airline also needs to know if they have any issues, specifically medical problems, allergies, when they need to take medications, etc.
My girls love to use these 411 labels from Mabel’s Labels whenever we go any where: airport, amusement park, and on every vacation. The label has my name and address on it. Put one on your child and tell them not to remove it until they reach their destination. We don’t take chances. When flying, make certain to add the information of the person at their destination, as well.
4. Give them cash. There are things available on the plane, and many airlines only take cash so making certain that your kid has a small stash is always a good practice. Jennifer shared: “My 12-year-old also likes to have a pre-paid credit card or gift card to carry with him. He feels like a big guy and loves having a little spending money.”
Jennifer also noted: “There are times that we have food for sale, and in that case, we give children traveling alone free food, and of course they get the usual peanuts/pretzels/cookies for free and a drink. But not all airlines allow free items to be given to kids travelling alone.”
5. Go over the plan. Let your child know exactly what is going to happen. Whether it is their first trip or they have flown 10 times, going over the plan keeps it fresh in their mind. Make certain they know who is picking them up and that they have all of the contact info for that person.
6. Bring ID. “Your children should travel with a copy of their birth certificate. Although this is not required, it does make things easier. My 12-year-old has traveled a few times, and he likes to bring his school ID with his picture on it. Makes him feel grown up as he presents it to TSA or the gate agent.”
7. Listen and behave but also speak up when necessary. Your child should understand that those airline employees are helping them get to their destination. They should be treated with respect and listened to at all times.
“The kids need to let the people around them know if they need to get up. A lot of times little kids are afraid to tell especially adults that they need to get up to use the bathroom so they just hold it.”
Jennifer also cautions: “Explain that the call bells are not toys — they are for necessity only. If they continually ring them, then we will tend to tune them out. And they may need something at some point, but we will assume they are just messing around.”
And most importantly, Jennifer said: “They must drill into kids to not get off the airplane without a flight attendant. Kids think they can all the time, even though we 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.”
The one thing that I did find incredibly useful from the Washington Post article was this advice: “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.” That is definitely worth a read.
HAS YOUR CHILD FLOWN ALONE?
Good Read by Casey Mullins on child flying alone: C’est La Vie 548 mph Addie!
*Jennifer asked that we only use her first name due to company guidelines.
Read more from Stacie on her blog: The Divine Miss Mommy
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