Sending young travelers soaring on their own

by Lynn O'Rourke Hayes
The Dallas Morning News

School breaks mean more kids are on the move. Often, solo flights become part of a family’s travel plans. Here are five things to consider when putting your child on a plane:

Is your child ready to fly solo?
Consider your youngster’s maturity, travel experience and ability to handle new situations. Will he or she be comfortable taking direction from airline representatives? How will he or she manage during takeoff, landing and downtime while in the air? Should weather or other unpredictable events cause a delay, will your child be able to cope? Consider a practice trip to the airport if your child has little or no air travel experience.

Airlines and age restrictions
When checking flight options, know that policies, prices and possibilities vary by carrier. Children as young as 5 typically can fly as unaccompanied minors on direct flights. Those 8 to 14, depending on the carrier, can fly on connecting flights. Again, depending on the airline, young people 12 to 17 need not fly with assistance, although it is available upon request.

Some carriers will not allow an unaccompanied minor to travel with a connection on the last flight of the day, in an effort to avoid issues should delays occur.

At the airport
Bring proper ID for you and your child as well as information about who will meet the solo traveler at the destination. Most airlines will provide a form requesting all necessary information. You’ll be able to get a gate pass to accompany your child through security, into the gate area and even onto the plane. Arrive with plenty of time to solve last-minute problems and provide reassurance before departure.

On the flight
Before departure day, spend time explaining what to expect on the aircraft. Talk about seating and bathroom breaks and how to ask for assistance. Explain that a flight attendant will check in, but will not be a designated travel companion.

Send snacks, a sweater or jacket and in-flight entertainment tucked in an easy-to-access carry-on. If possible, include a cellphone loaded with the appropriate contact numbers.

At your child’s destination
A flight attendant will accompany your young traveler off the plane and make the connection with your designated family member or guardian in the gate area. A photo ID will be required and matched with the information provided on the unaccompanied minor form.

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