For the well-traveled — the unending check-in lines, ever-changing security rules and locating the gate over-the-ramp and through the airport is no big deal. Been there, done that. But for a first-time passenger, it all can get quite overwhelming, especially if that traveler is a child traveling alone.
From booking airline tickets to air travel, we’ve put together a list of tips to help your unaccompanied minor get from gate to gate, fret-free! Read on to see what you can do to prep your child for their first solo flight!
Let’s Talk About Booking, Baby!
While your heart maybe palpitating from boarding to landing, the most crucial part of your unaccompanied minor’s journey is right at the start — booking those airline tickets. Here are a few crucial tips on what to do when you’re booking your child’s flight:
Research, Research, Research
When it comes to unaccompanied minors, every airline has its own rules and regulations. Age limits, assistance-level, amenities…everything varies from carrier to carrier. So, the first thing you need to do once you’re ready to book your airline tickets is to do some thorough due diligence on what flying solo looks like for your child/children on the airline you’re putting her/him/them on.
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Choose a Nonstop Flight
When it comes to flight itineraries for unaccompanied minors, the simpler, the better! Flight connections are confusing and stressful for even the avid air traveler. So, just imagine how perplexing it might be for your young one. Not to mention, many airlines don’t even allow children under eight years of age to take connecting flights if they are traveling alone. Try to book a nonstop, direct flight for your child, especially if this is their first time flying solo and/or if they are under the age of twelve. The easier the itinerary, the fewer opportunities there are for missed flights or other mishaps.
Pro-tip: Choose a flight earlier in the day for your kiddo and try to avoid booking the last flight of the day. Early flights are less susceptible to delays than later flights and if the last flight of the day gets canceled, opportunities for rerouting will likely be limited.
Call the Airlines
In an age where we can order everything from toilet paper to Thai food with just a few taps on a screen, the thought of booking a flight over the phone might sound absurd. But trust us; when it comes to your little one’s safety, pick up the phone and book those airline tickets with someone at the other end of the line. When you book online, you’ll often find that airlines have minimal options and instructions for booking an unaccompanied minor’s ticket. In fact, if your child is under the age of ten, you might even find that you can’t book through the website. Not to mention, you probably have a dozen questions regarding the services offered for your child flying solo that you might not find answers to immediately.
By calling directly, not only are you able to relay all the details about your tiny traveler (age, experience with flights, dietary restrictions, etc.), but you’ll also be able to ask and clarify any of the questions you have with an employee in real-time.
Ask for a “Gate Pass”
Also referred to at times as an “escort pass” when booking your airline tickets, ask the customer service representative about getting a “gate pass”. This pass allows you to accompany your child through the security check and all the way to the departure gate. You’ll likely have to pick this up at the airport, but you’ll save yourself a ton of time (and a headache) by reserving this pass ahead of time.
Similarly, some airports and airlines also issue these passes for arrival, which allow you or another family member to meet your incoming petite passenger at their arrival gate.
3, 2, 1…Prepare for Takeoff!
Take a Field Trip to the Airport
If your little one’s never flown before or hasn’t flown in a while, take a mini-field-trip to the airport! Show them around the airport, speak to a few airport employees, try and spot some departing planes outside and help them get a bit more comfortable (and maybe even excited) about the idea of coming back there in a few weeks to take a flight. This can turn a daunting experience into a fun adventure for them from the start, which might help to eliminate some of the fears they might have about flying alone.
Write a Detailed Letter for the Flight Attendants
You’ve already given your kiddo all the emergency contact information he needs and told him to keep it on him at all times. Great! Now jot down that same information and any other special requests (like no soda, one snack only, cries during turbulence, allergies, etc.) on to a note for the flight attendant. If you have a gate pass, you can hand this to a gate agent who will pass it on, or if you think your kid can handle it, have them hand it to the flight staff as soon as he boards. This is an essential step to prepping for your child’s solo trip! Not only will the attendants know who to contact in case of an emergency, but they will also know your child’s specific needs.
Talk About Their Fears of Flying…
…and make sure they know you hear them! If your child has any fears when it comes to flying, remember that you won’t be on the plane with them to help calm them down. Leaving home and parents behind is sometimes tough enough for a little one, but if that is combined with other airborne anxieties, it could make for a nightmarish experience for your child. Take lots of time to talk to them about their fears and do your best to ease their worries ahead of the flight. Once you know which of their fears are a bit too serious to alleviate, take note of them and add these to the letter (mentioned above) for the flight attendant.
You may also like: Tips to Conquer Your Fear of Flying
Stuff Their Bags with Treats and Toys
We get it, you’re not one to spoil your kids. But, that kid of yours is about to take a solo flight — something many adults are afraid to do! Snacks, digital devices, toys, books, games…pack anything that you think would keep your child occupied through their flight. Remember, not all airlines offer in-flight entertainment or meals, so they’re going to need something to do and something to eat! While most airlines offer small snacks to passengers for free, you don’t want to risk them eating too much, too little, or, if they have any allergies, something that would make them ill. Additionally, many airlines don’t take cash anymore, so purchasing food onboard would be another struggle. So, go ahead and load up their bags with some of their favorites to make sure that they’re not just eating but eating well (allergy-free!).
Remind them of the Importance of Following Rules
We’ve saved the most important tip for last because while small hiccups in booking airline tickets and packing for the trip can eventually be resolved, making sure your child’s plane ride is comfortable and safe starts and ends here. If Bobby and Sally are fidgeting around and taking off their seatbelts when they’re not supposed to when you’re sitting right next to them, it’s a quick fix. If they’re alone…not so much. Making sure your kid understands the importance of listening to the flight attendants and following the rules is not just going to ensure that they have a comfortable flight, but it can also be a measure to make sure they stay safe while in the air. Play a game by simulating a flight where you’re the flight attendant, show them air travel safety videos online, take some time to repeat and memorize some of the key rules (like stay seated when you’re told to) the way they do rhymes and multiplication tables — there are tons of ways to help your child know, understand and remember the rules and how to follow them on their flight.
And there you have it! From airline tickets to air-travel essentials, your kiddo is ready for takeoff! If you have any tips on how to prep unaccompanied minors for their first solo flights, let us know in the comments below!