It’s not easy to put a child on a plane solo whether they’re five or 15, whether this is their first flight or 50th. Thousands of kids as young as five routinely fly on Southwest every year and especially in summer. Parents pay $50 each way to make sure they are taken care of and supervised.
But on Southwest, once kids are 12, they are no longer considered “unaccompanied minors.” Airline personnel won’t even know the kids are alone unless the kids tell them. That’s why you should have a “what if” conversation beforehand.
What if your teen misses her connection or gets stranded? Tell them they must immediately tell the flight attendants or gate agents that they are traveling alone and call you (make sure they have a working cell phone with the numbers where you can be reached ) so you can discuss the options with an airline representative. They shouldn’t leave the airport with a stranger. And they should have money or a cash card.
If you don’t think you—or your young teen--can handle that situation, send them with another family member or make the trip with them.
Here are 10 tips to make it easier sending any child on a plane by themselves this summer:
Carefully check the website for the rules and fees.
Book the earliest flight of the day. On Southwest, unaccompanied minors ages five to 11 may only travel on nonstop or direct flights which don’t require a change of planes.
If your teen is old enough to fly without supervision but looks young, bring along a copy of her birth certificate or passport. Otherwise, children under 18 are not required to show photo ID.
Make sure your child has a copy of his itinerary and knows where he's supposed to be going and who is picking him up.
Make sure your child has a card in his backpack with the numbers for you and your backups, in case you are momentarily unavailable, and for those charged with meeting them.
Pack plenty of food, entertainment (include something new), a sweatshirt and a clean tee shirt (in case of spills) in their backpacks.
Request a "gate pass" to go through security with your kids so you can stay with them until they board.
Reassure them if their flight is diverted or grandpa is delayed meeting them, Southwest personnel will take care of them.
Stay at the airport until your child’s flight is airborne -- in the event of a mechanical problem that brings the plane back to the gate.
Relax! The calmer you are, the calmer the kids.
Just don't count on a goodbye kiss
Copyright 2011 Eileen Ogintz
Eileen Ogintz writes the widely syndicated column TakingtheKids and offers family travel tips on Southwest.com Chapters from her family travel books are now available for NOOK and Kindle for as little as 99 cents.