We may start by pointing out that almost an infinite number of kids fly unaccompanied every year without facing any problems. Nevertheless, the entire experience may be STRESSFUL for both the parents as well as the kids. This is why it is paramount to prepare your kid for the flight by teaching him or her what there is to know about his future flying experience.
Most of the airports have an AREA specifically used for checking in children traveling alone or any other passengers with reduced mobility and who need special assistance. These areas are usually marked accordingly and any airline representative will be able to give to directions. So, before standing in the common check-in line, search these specific signs.
As soon as you arrive at check-in, the airport personnel will ask you to give them DETAILS referring to the child who’s going to travel alone. Carriers usually have specific forms such is the one published by American Airlines on its website, i.e. Unaccompanied Minor Service form.
These forms usually include the CHILD’S DETAILS, the FLIGHT ITINERARY alongside with the AGREEMENT of the parent of guardian dropping the kid off at the airport. The forms also includes the details of the person meeting the child at the destination. Nevertheless, in case he person picking up the kid at the destination somehow changes, you have to call the airline to provide the new information.
The person dropping off the kid at the airport is obliged to provide the ticket counter agent data such as his or her name, address and phone numbers. The same details will be provided at check-in for the person meeting the child at the destination. It is important to arrive at the airport early so that you have time to complete all the paperwork required for boarding. Carriers suggest arriving one and a half before departure in case of domestic flights and at least two hours in advance for international flights.
Carriers usually make use of different items that help them identify the unaccompanied minors easily. Your kid may be given a CAP or a LANYARD so that he or she may stand out from the rest of the passengers.
For instance, if your child travels as an UM with Delta Airlines, he or she will have a Delta agent who will “place a wristband around the wrist of the child for identification purposes and create a package that will be used during the trip to include all travel documents (boarding cards, unaccompanied minor forms, etc.) and any additional documents (passport, receipts, baggage claim tickets, etc.)”.
Moreover, the person taking the child to the airport is, as a general rule, asked to remain at the airport until the plane takes off. The majority of the carriers provide gate passes which allow you to accompany your kid through security to the departure gate. The issuance of these passes differs from one carrier to another. US Airways issues these “gate access passes” only for domestic flights. You’ll obviously need to arrive early as this pass will be obtained from the airport ticket counter. Nevertheless, you’ll be less worried once you know that your kid is really going towards his or her destination.
Your child will be kept UNDER SURVEILLANCE by the plane crew. So, do not forget to advise your kid to speak only to the uniformed crew members if he or she needs help or has questions
When the plane will reach its destination, your child will have to wait until all the passengers who do not need the assistance of the flight crew have deboarded. The carrier staff will be thus able to hand the kid over to a member of the airline’s airport staff. Your child will therefore be accompanied until picked up by the person you nominated at check-in.
Remember to inform the airline in case you decided to change the pickup person. The latter will have to get a gate pass to be able to meet your kid at the gate. Of course, the parent or the guardian nominated to pick the kid has to wait at the destination at the scheduled arrival time. After the airport personnel has verified the documents, the unaccompanied minor is given over to the person who was designated to meet the child at the destination.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has compiled a brochure entitled “When Kids Fly Alone” which includes a checklist that may be successfully used by the person picking up the child:
- Be accessible by phone on the day of the flight.
- If your community has more than one airport, know which one the child is going to.
- Don’t send someone else at the last minute; the airline will only release the child to the person named on the Unaccompanied Minor form.
- Bring government-issued photo ID when picking up the child.
- Bring a copy of the child’s itinerary (flight numbers, etc.).
- Flights sometimes arrive early; get to the gate in plenty of time. Check the monitor at the airport—gate assignments often change.
- Airlines typically will give gate passes to clear security to persons meeting unaccompanied minors. (This may require additional time.)
- You may want to call the parent in the origin city after you have picked up the child.
Last but not least, let us just point out that if you organize everything rigorously enough you’ll certainly succeed in offering yourself the PEACE OF MIND which you need in such circumstances. Besides, you’ll also manage to offer your kid an awesome adventure.