by Amber Roerick
Imagine being 12 years old, strapped into an airplane seat listening to a person you have never met talk about things you do not understand. Think if this was your first time flying alone to a country you have never been to before. Sounds like a scary thought, right?
Given the well-known difficulties that come with commercial air travel and the constant changes in security rules and regulations, many parents will not even consider sending their child onto an airplane alone.
Who could trust a complete stranger to look after their pride and joy?
The answer is that many parents do. Children fly alone all the time, especially to visit family and also if there has been a divorce between the parents. The most important thing to do is to know the tips for safe travel.
“Don’t go to the airport and have any surprises,” said Jody Ost, a Cloud Travel travel agent. “Researching the place you are traveling is important and so is being aware of your surroundings.”
Airlines have many rules and procedures regarding unaccompanied minors, and it is extremely important to know and follow them for a safe flight. Also, airline services can be different, so it is also important to know what the policies are with the airline you are using.
Some rules are very standard such as children must be at least 5 years old to fly alone. During one trip, a child is most likely under the responsibility of more than one flight attendant. After the child arrives at his or her destination, photo identification of the person receiving them is often needed to clarify who the child is supposed to go with from the airport.
“Make sure you have the correct documents like passports and if they are leaving the country, they may need a notarized letter from both parents,” Ost said, “Also, booking in advance can often save time and money, and midweek can sometimes be less expensive.”
The important thing is to plan ahead, Ost said. Knowing how long a flight will take, whether your child will have to change flights and what fees apply to luggage are essential to being prepared, she said.
Many flights, to make sure unaccompanied children will not be stranded somewhere, will rarely accept children on the last flight of the day. And some airlines may turn children away if the weather is threatening. Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, most domestic airlines stopped allowing unaccompanied children 8 years old and younger to take connecting flights, and most now continue to allow them only on nonstop or direct flights.
One very helpful resource to aid in preparing a child for flight can be a travel agency. Ost said travel agents are very accommodating and can give even more tips on how to prepare a child for specific flights and airlines.
“Travel agents are here to help and answer any questions people may have about flights,” Ost said.
A few more helpful tips can be used to prepare children for a safe and easy flight. Making sure they have a copy of the itinerary in case something goes awry is important. Knowing what the currency-exchange rate is and where they would need to exchange their money if need be is also helpful. A cellphone or phone card with important phone numbers is essential so your child can easily contact you if problems occur.
And also, being sure to remain at the airport until the flight has departed, not just left the gate, can insure not only your child’s safety, but also reassure you they are on their way. In many airports, most airlines will provide a gate pass to parents so they can accompany their child through security and to the gate.
Traveling can be fun and exciting, especially for young children. Being in a new place can frighten people, but is also a way to learn and see new and exhilarating things. Preparing and planning for a flight is always important, and is essential when children are going alone. Remembering these helpful tips will encourage a safe, fun and amazing trip for your child. And whether they go from Minnesota to New York, or even further, you can feel at ease no matter where your child goes.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.