If your child is traveling alone for the first time, how do you prepare for their trip?
As parents, there are many steps you can take to make sure you child has a safe and enjoyable flight and you have peace of mind while they are away from home.
Children and Travel
When considering your child’s first solo trip, think about their maturity and age. How do they handle being away from you? Are they comfortable being with strangers for an extended period of time? How do they usually react to traveling long distances? Have they ever been away from home without you? Have they ever ridden a bus or train alone?
Although each airline has different requirements for unaccompanied minors, generally:
- Children under 5 are not allowed to travel alone.
- Children ages 5-14 can travel solo under the airline’s unaccompanied minor service.
- Minors who are 15-17 can travel unaccompanied, with some airlines allowing this for children as young as 12.
Check with airlines to see what their policies are for minors traveling alone and if their regulations vary by length of flight (non-stop vs. one or two stops).
Once you know the procedures, you can evaluate your own child’s maturity against the airline’s procedures and determine whether your child is capable of flying alone.
Planning Your Child’s Trip
The key to smooth travel is planning ahead. Collect information about your child’s travel times, accommodations, and the destination in advance, as well as any paperwork that your child will need with them when they travel.
Keep copies of their travel itinerary, airline and accommodations information, and any other important material pertaining to their travel.
Confer with the relative or individual who is picking up your child at the airport and provide them with your child’s travel itinerary, flight number, and other details of their arrival.
Your child will need:
- A passport or birth certificate, depending on the type of travel (domestic/international)
- A child consent letter granting them permission to travel, signed by both parents and notarized if possible
- Travel itinerary, airline, and flight number
- Your contact information
- Contact information for their accommodations, relatives, or airline
- List of allergies, medications, or medical conditions the child may have
It’s best to put these documents in a safe place, such as in your child’s backpack or in a wallet that can be attached to them, so if they were to ever get lost, they would have identification with them at all times.
Your Child’s Safety
Walk your child through their travel plan, and go over the following:
Schedule and directions
Explain how their day is going to go, starting from when you drop them off until they have safely landed at their destination.
This may include:
- A prior tour of the airport, pointing out gates, escalators, washrooms, and other points of interest
- Explaining how to get their boarding pass, check in luggage, walk through security, and go through customs if necessary, as well as how to board the plane, and how to find their seat.
- If they have a connecting flight, you may wish to instruct them on how to find their connection, and procedures for when they land, pick up their luggage, and where to go once they have arrived (whether they continue to travel or if they are being picked up by someone).
As mentioned, some airlines require children of a certain age to have unaccompanied minor service. For a fee, the airline will provide special supervision to help your child navigate the airport, reach their gates, and make connecting flights. This service can be incredibly reassuring if you are worried that your child may get lost or is too young to travel by his or herself.
An unaccompanied minor service may also ensure whoever picks up your child at their destination has been properly authorized to travel with them by asking for their photo identification before leaving the child in their care.
Behavior, safety, and emergencies
Inform your child that they will need to follow all the procedures of the plane and listen to the flight attendant’s instructions for on-board safety. This can include how to fasten their seatbelt, safely enter and exit the aircraft, the concept of turbulence, and most importantly, who to ask for help when they are unsure where to go or what to do.
Discuss appropriate behaviors with them prior to leaving, such as how to act when on-board and what to do if someone does or says something inappropriate to them. You may have discussed “strangers” before, but it doesn’t hurt to tell them again that they shouldn’t give out personal information to anyone, except for airline or government officials.
You may also wish to instruct them on what to do in the event of an emergency, including if a flight is cancelled or delayed, their luggage is lost or stolen, or their pickup person is not there when they arrive.
Preparing Your Child for Their Trip
After you have your child’s travel documentation in place, and your child knows their schedule and how their travel experience is expected to go, it’s time to pack and get them ready for their trip.
- Tag your child’s luggage with their information and keep their carry-on baggage to a minimum. Include items that will keep them preoccupied during the flight, such as small toys. Avoid packing any expensive items in their carry-on bag.
- Make sure your child has some spare change to use for a pay phone, or give them their own cell phone for emergency purposes.
- Dress your child in comfortable clothing and shoes.
The Day of Their Departure
Arrive hours before your child is expected to leave. This will give you lots of time for your child to find their way or to get them set up with an unaccompanied minor service.
Ask the airline officials if you can accompany your child most of the way, or as far as you are permitted. Some airlines will allow you to walk your child to the gate, if not all the way to their seat on the aircraft. Let airline officials know that this your child’s first time flying alone, and introduce your child to the airline representatives.
Once they have gone, follow up with the proper personnel to ensure they have reached their destination, whether that’s the relative picking them up or the accommodations where they are staying. Keep tabs on their flight to ensure it has left and arrived on time. Ask to speak to your child once they arrive for extra reassurance.
A Successful Trip
By planning ahead, you can alleviate your own worries and give your child the skills they need to arrive safely at their destination.
Has your child ever traveled alone? How did you prepare?