Putting kids on a plane alone is a stress-inducing experience for most parents. If you’re making plans to let your kids fly solo, here are a few tips to follow:
Check out airline report cards.
Research airlines’ complaint and unaccompanied minor records carefully and avoid airlines that have had problems in the past.
Stay away from small regional jets whenever possible.
Regional jets use shared airport facilities that can contribute to mix-ups. Department of Transportation statistics also show these jets have a higher tendency to be late and lose more luggage. Larger aircraft generally experience less turbulence in flight and have more flight crew available to assist your child if needed.
Choose direct flights.
Direct flights may be more expensive, but they minimize the risk of problems making connections. If you must purchase flights with connections, try to schedule them through a smaller airport for easier navigation. Allow plenty of time (at least 90 minutes) between flights in case of delays.
Book an early departure.
Early flights aren’t delayed as frequently and there’s less of a chance that your child will be stranded due to flight cancellations. Check FlightStats to see whether the flight you’ve chosen tends to be on time.
Review unaccompanied minor policies carefully.
Airline rules and policies for unaccompanied minors vary substantially. Honestly evaluate what your child is capable of and what you’re comfortable with and move forward with the appropriate airline and flight plan.
Let the airline reservations department know that your child will be traveling alone. Review all available itinerary options and charges. Call a day before departure to make sure your child is listed as an unaccompanied minor.
Review the plan.
Go over the flight itinerary with your children and have them practice saying their airport destination and who’s meeting them. Tell them to ask the flight attendant where the plane is going when they get onboard to make sure the destination matches. Talk about what will happen during the flight, how long the flight will be, and procedures for changing planes. Choose a safe place for your child’s travel documents and review them together.
Be ready for problems.
Think about everything that could happen and coordinate with the person who will be picking up your child. Make sure that individual has a cell phone and picture ID and have 24-hour numbers for that person. In addition, show your child how to make a collect call or provide a calling card or cell phone.
Discuss unaccompanied minor rules in advance.
Make sure your child understands what is expected of an unaccompanied minor. If you have a teen traveling alone and connections are involved, tell them to call you immediately if there’s a problem so you can review the situation together with an airline representative. Also inform them about Travelers Aid stations at the airport.
Carry the card.
Make sure your child carries a card listing:
- Child’s name, age, flight destination and flight itinerary
- Name of the person bringing the child to the airport along with all available phone numbers
- Name and phone number of the person meeting the child, along with a picture
- An emergency contact name and phone number in case of flight cancellations or problems
Stash some cash.
Send your child off with some extra money. If your child is old enough, have them carry a temporary credit card so they’ll have funds in case of an emergency. In addition, pack a travel backpack with snacks and activities to keep your child entertained in flight.
Get to the airport early and stay late.
To make check-ins less stressful, arrive at the terminal at least 90 minutes in advance for domestic flights and point out help desks and uniformed airline employees as you move through the airport. Remain at the gate until the plane is in flight.
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