Yesterday we crossed over into a new realm of parenting. We sent our three (young) teenagers alone and unaccompanied on a flight to see their grandparents in Phoenix. They were officially unaccompanied minors for the first time in their lives. Even though the kids have flown with us several times in the past, our love for family road trips means that they haven’t flown in quite a few years.
The whole thing went quite well. I had imagined they might be a bit nervous at the prospect of navigating themselves through the airport but instead they acted as though they have been traveling alone all of their lives.
Rumor has it that not only did they land safely at their destination, where grandma and grandpa met them with a fully decorated vehicle that said, “The Party is HERE!” but that they also didn’t have any disagreements to speak of while in transit. In short, they can’t wait to do this again.
A few things to keep in mind if your kids will be traveling alone…
- I didn’t realize they had no understanding of how the 3oz liquid restriction worked. Although common to most adults these days, I guess the last time they flew they were too young to have liquids of their own.
- Quite a few things can fit in a carry-on. We didn’t pack any suitcases, but instead each kid had a small carry-on and a personal item. Kids rarely need (or want) to change outfits and they are fine wearing things more than once. Besides, grandma has no problem letting the kids do laundry while they’re at her house. Not having to worry about baggage saved everyone stress (and money). For tips on packing light, you may want to visit another post I did recently called Packing by Color.
- Packing small snack boxes at home can be just as much fun, but a whole lot cheaper, than the ones sold on the plane. We’ve always let our kids spend their budgeted categories as they see fit. And on past flights, they’ve splurged on the in-flight snack boxes because they were fun and full of things they don’t get at home. So this time I packed reusable plastic containers with a few of their favorite treats. Before I gave them out, I told them they could look if they wanted, but if they wanted to be surprised, they could wait until they were on the plane. One kid decided to look, just to make sure I hadn’t snuck anything in that would have caused a security concern!
- Light beach-reads are just as much fun for kids as they are for adults. Before they left, Bret and I went to a real bookstore with real books and bought each kid a completely fluffy book to read. Nothing that they needed to read for school, but something they would enjoy. Even though two of the kids have e-readers, my thought was that if this particular “real” book got lost, left on a plane or dropped in the water, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. We gave the kids the books the night before they left so they could decide if they wanted to lug their electronic devices with them. They didn’t.
- Pay the extra money to have their seats assigned if your kids get along. It is no longer a given that family members will be allowed to sit together once they board. If they don’t get a long, you can put them in various parts of the plane, but then again, why are kids who don’t get along traveling on their own anyway?
- When you check them in at the airport, ask if you can accompany them to the gate. Many times there is a fee to do so ($60), but depending on the airport, and airline, you may be allowed to go through security with them and wait at the gate. Even though I knew they could handle it by themselves, it made me feel better to see them actually get on the plane. Strangely enough, when we arrived at the gate area, the flight ahead of them was still boarding. It was headed to Cancun. Without reading anything, the kids jumped in line to board. Now, I do realize they likely would have been stopped, but I had a family member just a few years ago (post 2001) actually board the wrong plane and wind up in the wrong city. He didn’t realize it until he landed. Apparently, he was reading a really good book and wasn’t paying attention. So it can happen. Another thing I wouldn’t have thought to mention to the kids if I hadn’t seen it myself.
- Chemicals in new, unwashed clothing can set off the sensors when going through security. My sons were wearing new pants and the chemicals in them got picked up. My clear plastic sequins (sound lovely, don’t they?) also were a threat to the sensors. Just the fact I was wearing them meant automatically going through the full body scanner.
- Make sure they have their own headsets so they can watch the onboard entertainment if it is offered. Apparently on Sun Country, dvd players were also available for rent for $6. Each kid decided it was well worth the cost.
Those are a few of the things we learned on our first “unaccompanied minors trip.” What tips do you have for making airline travel easier for unaccompanied minors?