The decision whether and when to let a child travel alone is a highly personal one. Every child is different, as is every parent. When the time finally comes, though, here are a few things you can do to protect your offspring and give yourself peace of mind.
- Find out your airline’s policy regarding kids flying alone.
This is as easy as typing an airline’s name and the words “unaccompanied minor” into your search engine. Most major airlines offer an unaccompanied-minor service that is mandatory for children aged 5 – 11 (kids younger than 5 are not allowed to fly alone) and is often mandatory for kids through age 14 or 15. The service offers an escort for flight connections, help if there’s a missed connection, and supervision if a cancellation occurs. Usually you can use the service even for children who are older than the mandatory age. The fee varies from airline to airline but is usually about $150. Read the Department of Transportation pamphlet When Kids Fly Alone.
- Avoid the last flight of the day.
If it’s cancelled, your child could be stranded overnight. And many hotels won’t give a room to a young person not accompanied by an adult. Flights early in the day lessen the chance of a missed connection. And nonstop flights eliminate it almost entirely. So favor nonstop flights leaving early.
- Get a gate pass from the airline.
In addition to the unaccompanied-minor service, you can accompany your child through security to the departure gate. If you’re not going to get a gate pass, instruct your child how to go through security. For example, if your son will be emptying his pockets at the security station, advise him to zip his wallet and cell phone into his carry-on bag rather than placing them in one of those TSA bins where valuables are more likely to get left behind.
- Have your child carry a hard copy of his/her airline ticket.
The airline details and boarding pass might be on your child’s phone, but what if he/she loses the phone? Or the phone battery dies because he’s been playing games on it? Have your child carry a paper copy of the boarding pass and paper copies of any other documentation.
- If your child is traveling internationally, check passport requirements.
- Make sure your child’s carry-on contains certain key items.
Essentials include snacks, a sweater, a stuffed comfort toy, a cell phone and charger, a little cash, and a list of emergency phone numbers. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you might want to include written step-by-step instructions for where to go and what to do, from the time your child leaves you at the airport until his/her final destination or guardian is reached.
- Tell your child where to get help, if needed, in an airport.
If you’ve got a teen who is not flying as an unaccompanied minor, instruct him/her to seek help from a uniformed employee of the airline or an airport policeman, not to leave the airport or ask for help from strangers, and not to tell non-uniformed people that you’re traveling by yourself.
- Consider giving your child a debit card.
That way you needn’t worry about your kid losing a lot of cash. You can monitor and control how much your child is spending, you’ll be aware when your child needs more money, and you can fill the debit card from afar.
- Tape a packing list into your child’s luggage.
This note should list all contents of the luggage so that when your child unpacks and repacks in a different location, hopefully nothing will get left behind.
- Consider tracking your child’s whereabouts.
- Program emergency numbers into your child’s phone.
Ensure your child can quickly call home, reach family members, the local police, local emergency medical services, etc. If your child is traveling internationally, see How to Make Your Overseas Trip a Success: An Essential Checklist for advice about a phone plan.
- If your child will be studying abroad, safeguard his/her health.
Check the C.D.C.’s health advice for students overseas. Enroll your child in STEP. Does your family’s regular health insurance extend to where your child is going? If not, get insurance to cover medical emergencies. Travel Insurance Review has compared insurance plans for students abroad and offers this analysis.
You’ll find more advice from Wendy at WendyPerrin.com.