The holidays are coming–sooner than you think. It’s a time of year when the skies are full of kids. Kids and their parents flying to spend Thanksgiving at Grandma’s, kids and their parents flying south to spend Christmas at a warm-climate resort (or a ski resort), kids and their families flying to spend the vacation at the home of old family friends.
And then there are the kids who are flying alone.
Most of these are children of divorce. If you have moved out of area since the divorce, and your ex still lives in your old town, or if your ex has moved out of area, while you remained behind, your kids may be among the traveling legion of solo flyers. Whether they live with Mom and are visiting Dad or live with Dad and are visiting Mom, chances are they’ll be flying as “unaccompanieds” (unaccompanied minors) this holiday.
Once upon a time, the old airline slogan of “Fly the friendly skies” was very applicable to kids flying alone. They were treated extra-nice by the airplane personnel and even, in those pre-9/11 days, sometimes permitted to go up to the cockpit and watch the pilot fly the plane.
Those days are gone…presumably forever. No visits to the cockpit, no extra-special fun. But airline personnel do still watch out for “unaccompanieds,” and if your child is flying alone for the first time, he or she need have nothing to fear. But he does need a bit of preparation.
Julie Andrews, as Maria in The Sound of Music, sings of “a few of my favorite things.” If your child is little, a favorite thing or two—a teddy bear or other “special” toy—can bring a strong measure of comfort to him as he is propelled through the skies on his own with a cabin full of strangers.
At any age, he needs something to do to beat off boredom during the journey. Depending on his age and interests, handheld video games, comic books or regular books, puzzle books, small toys, or other amusements will help pass the hours in the sky. If there’s an inflight movie, and if it’s suitable for his age, that can be a big help.
Do send him with some chewing gum in his pockets, and explain to him that if his ears “pop” or clog, chewing the gum can help alleviate the condition.
Don’t keep reassuring him that he’s going to be fine and nothing will be wrong…unless he expresses fear himself first. Otherwise your repeated remonstrations that there’s nothing to worry about may make him wonder just what can go wrong anyhow and may lead him to conjure up scary possibilities.
Under the newest rules for pre-boarding security scanning, he is liable to get a pat-down, and the pat-downs can be pretty invasive, despite the TSA’s recent statement that they are trying to be sensitive to children. If you can opt for him to go through the scanners in lieu of a pat-down, by all means do. Standing in an enclosure with his hands raised is not a scary experience; having a gloved hand touch all of his body including his private area and probe within his waistband can feel very invasive, and if he’s learned about “good touch, bad touch” (which I certainly hope he has!), he may react strongly to this intrusion. Try explaining that this is a time when it’s necessary for an adult to touch him in a way that may feel invasive or “bad” but that, just as when he visits the doctor’s office, it may be necessary.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the flight is the idea of spending some two or six hours in the air without Mom or Dad, or at least Teacher, or the babysitter…someone familiar. A common fear is expressed in the question, “What if Daddy isn’t there when I get off the plane?” Explain that a flight attendant or airline ground personnel will be with him from the minute you kiss him goodbye at the gate till the minute Daddy meets him at his destination, and that the airline’s workers will not leave his side till he is safely in Daddy’s hands…and that the same is true in reverse when Daddy sends him home to your waiting hug.
If a plane change is required, explain to him that he needs to get on a different plane at such-and-such a city, but that, once again, the flight attendant will hand him off to a ground personnel member, who will personally escort him to the next plane and hand him off to a flight crew member on that plane.
The fear factor
Of course it goes without saying that you should not let him watch any airplane disaster movies, news reports of airline accidents or “incidents,” or anything else that might instill fear in him prior to the trip. And you can make much of the fact that he’s going to be flying alone like a “big boy”…though of course with the airline personnel keeping close watch over him.
Pack snacks—nothing that risks upsetting his stomach, and nothing that’s problematic to eat on a plane, but certainly celery sticks, carrot pieces, and chunks of cheese, or bagsful of dry Cheerios are among the suitable choices.
Explain to him where to find the bathrooms on the plane, and that an on board bathroom is called the “lavatory” or “lav.” Explain to him how to lock (and unlock!) the lav door. Suggest that, in case the ride gets a little bumpy “just like a bumpy road in a car,” he might do better to sit down in the lav, even if he only has to pee.
And speaking of bumpy rides, do tell him to keep his seat belt on between takeoff and landing unless he gets up to go to the lav.
If you are sending two kids on an unaccompanied flight, they’ll have each other for companionship, diversion, and reassurance.
Present the flight as a fun adventure, with the promise of Daddy (or Mommy, as the case may be) waiting at the other end. You’ll soon have a seasoned traveler on your hands!
~ ~ ~
Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
- Solo Parenting: Precious Time (dangerouslee.biz)
- Solo Parenting: Pick Yourself Up on Those “Down” Days (dangerouslee.biz)
- Solo Parenting: Package Deal (dangerouslee.biz)
- Solo Parenting: Does Your Life Revolve Around Your Children? (dangerouslee.biz)
- Solo Parenting: Change – It’s Not What You Get From a Dollar (dangerouslee.biz)