In these days of “helicopter parenting”, many of us won’t allow our kids to walk to their bus stop by themselves, let alone put them on a whole airplane by themselves! I get it, the world seems far crazier than it was when we were kids, but I also kind of feel like kids are way more savvy than we were as well, mostly because they have more exposure than we did.
With so many children in split households, it may sometimes be necessary to send a child to visit another parent or family member and an adult isn’t always around to play escort – enter the unaccompanied minor.
My daughter, Zian, has been flying solo since she turned five years old. We live in Atlanta and as soon as she was old enough to meet the requirements, I was sending her to Fort Lauderdale to visit her dad any time she had a school break. I rarely had the money or the time off work to fly with her and her dad was in the same boat.
After reviewing the unaccompanied minor process and discussing it with her father, we were both very comfortable with our daughter flying alone. Of course, I had questions and doubts. My best friend actually begged me not to let her fly alone. But I wanted her to spend time with her father MORE than I wanted to give in to fear of the unknown.
The truth is, the decision is totally up to you and if you don’t feel comfortable after reviewing airline processes and discussing it with your family and child, don’t do it.
I’m not here to talk you into doing things you don’t want to do. What I am here to do, is give you the information you need to get comfortable with it, if you choose to.
Here’s what you should consider:
Is your child mature enough to speak up if things go wrong?
Don’t panic. The probability of things going awry are pretty low. But in the off chance something happens, like a flight attendant giving your child a bag of peanuts and they have an allergy, are they going to speak up?
If your child is the type of kid who doesn’t mind letting the adult in line at Publix know they broke in front of you, is the one who explains their pains to their doctor, or always raised their hand in class, chances are, they’ll find their voice if things aren’t quite right during their flight.
Does your child require a lot of hands on guidance throughout the day?
Some kids are pretty independent. I’ve found myself deep into a book or work session only to realize I haven’t heard or seen my daughter in almost an hour. I’ll go to her room and she’s concentrating hard on some origami or in the kitchen making herself an omelet.
Some children enjoy the company and guidance of their parents much more throughout the day. If you’re a very hands on parent, it’s likely you’ll worry more about your child’s needs while she’s on the flight and not under your watchful eye.
The flight attendants are quite attentive to unaccompanied minors, but they are not babysitters. They will take extra care to check on your little ones but they won’t be by their side entertaining them the entire flight.
Does your child have a cell phone? Are you ok with getting them one?
Knowing that if the plane lands early or if the person designated to pick-up your child is running late, your child can pick up the phone and call goes a long way. It also helps make moms more comfortable when their child can text immediately after landing and again after being picked up.
I’ve actually run late to pick my daughter up from the airport twice (blame Atlanta traffic). She called to let me know that she had landed and would be headed to the airline’s waiting room (with all the other forgotten children). The airlines have a room that they will take your child to so they can color, draw, watch television, and be entertained while they wait for you to pick them up. It’s like a mini daycare in the airport.
Is the person dropping off and picking up your child trustworthy and reliable?
The airlines will not let your child leave unless the person you designated to pick him up is there with I.D. Also, when your child is dropped off at the airport, the person must walk them to the gate and wait until the plane takes off before they leave. It’s important to know that the person designated to do either of those will follow the rules of drop-off and be on time for pick-up.
This person should have some flexibility in the case of flight delays. It’s hugely important they be willing to and available to stay in contact with you. One of the biggest frustrations most moms have when their children are with other people is being able to contact those other people. Make sure they are the type of person who will pick up the phone, call you back, and keep you updated.
What will you do if something goes wrong?
In the event the flight is cancelled, what will you and the other designated person do? If the flight ends up being delayed, redirected, they have to change planes, what would be your plan?
Understand that the airline is responsible for getting your child back to you or to your designated pick-up person. They should also keep you in the loop. However, you may have to call the airline. This is not the time to panic or berate the airlines. Whatever delays are likely outside of their control. My hope is that any airline agents you speak with will handle you with care understanding that the thing you value most is in their possession.
Is the savings on an extra flight worth your peace of mind?
If you’re on the fence about making the decision, I say look at the numbers. I’m a numbers gal myself. Here’s an example of when I just didn’t think it was worth it:
I needed to get my daughter from Jacksonville to Miami and I couldn’t go with her. The cost of the ticket was, let’s say $170. The cost of the unaccompanied minor fee was $150. For just $20 more, I could buy another ticket for someone to fly with her. Now, despite her being a seasoned flier, I figured for a $20 difference, I might as well just buy another flight and allow someone to benefit from the spending. I end up buying a ticket for my cousin down with her and my cousin got to enjoy a fun weekend with her best friend who lives in Miami!
In my case it was less about my piece of mind and more about not feeling like I just paid the price of two tickets for one person to fly.
But if you find yourself in a similar situation – you’re considering sending your kiddo on a solo flight and the difference between the flight + fee vs 2 flights is $100, $50, $20 – you should decide whether that savings is worth your comfort.
If you think you’d just be more comfortable with someone flying along and you really can’t go, you could gift someone in your circle a flight. I’m betting you’d have folks lining up to volunteer as tribute. You may also consider asking them to just pay 50% of the flight cost.
Either way, your comfort is THE most important factor in deciding whether or not to let your child fly solo. Only do it if it feels right to you.
I know some of your hands got sweaty and your hearts just started beating rapidly while reading this. It’s ok, your child is safe and sound at the moment and not on anyone’s plane…yet.
Don’t fret. Most fear comes from a lack of knowledge. A lot of us have no idea about the Unaccompanied Minor processes at airports. Check out our blog post breaking down the process step by step.
Do you think you would let your child fly solo?
Libryia is the Co-Founder of Wandering Moms but also known on as Wander Woman Inc. Libryia is the mother of a teenage daughter who she took around the world for an entire year! On her own personal blog she writes about travel, parenting, finance, self-improvement, and working remotely.