Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent’s Complete Guide
Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Picking the Right Airline
Choosing which airline your child will fly with for their first solo journey is an important decision. You want to select a carrier that will provide the best level of comfort, service and support.
One key factor is choosing either a legacy airline or a low-cost carrier. Major airlines like Delta, United and American offer perks like preferred seating for unaccompanied minors and flight attendant assistance. However, their base fares tend to be pricier. Budget airlines can have cheaper base fares but fewer frills. You may have to pay extra for seat selection or other amenities.
It comes down to deciding what matters most for your child’s comfort and your peace of mind. If budget is the priority, just ensure the airline has clear unaccompanied minor policies and that you select any necessary add-ons like seat reservations. If money is no object, spring for a well-known, full-service carrier.
You should also research airline reviews regarding unaccompanied minor policies and their implementation. Most legacy airlines get high marks for pre-boarding unaccompanied minors and having flight attendants keep an eye on them. However, some parents have complained about lackluster service from budget carriers. Read recent feedback to get a sense of other customers’ experiences.
Hub airports can be easier for first-time solo fliers since they are straightforward to navigate. Try booking nonstop flights on major carriers from their base airports, like Delta out of Atlanta. This avoids connections that can create delays or issues during transfers.
Opt for morning or midday departures when airports are less crowded. Nighttime flights often get delayed which can be stressful for new solo fliers. Morning flights also tend to have more attentive staff since crews are starting their workday.
Avoid connecting in massive hubs like Chicago O’Hare on their first trip alone. Large, busy airports can overwhelm first-time fliers. Until they have some solo travel experience under their belts, connections at smaller regional airports may be less daunting.
Book the earliest boarding group possible for your child’s flight. Being among the first passengers to board means the unaccompanied minor process gets completed quickly. It also gives your child time to get settled in their seat before the crowds pile in.
Seat selection matters too. Bulkhead or aisles seats near the front give crew easy access to keep an eye on them. Avoid middle seats in the back where your child may feel trapped by other passengers. Be willing to pay extra for preferred advance seat assignments for added comfort and confidence.
Remember that direct nonstop flights mean fewer stress points for first-time solo fliers. Connecting journeys add layers of logistics like tight transfer times, gate changes and dealing with delays or cancellations alone. Nonstops avoid all those risks.
What else is in this post?
- Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Picking the Right Airline
- Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Packing Their Carry-On Essentials
- Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Preparing Necessary Documentation
- Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Utilizing Unaccompanied Minor Policies
- Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Providing Entertainment and Comfort Items
Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Packing Their Carry-On Essentials
What your child packs in their carry-on bag for their first solo flight is nearly as important as the flight itself. The right in-flight essentials can help pass the travel time smoothly and comfortably. More importantly, having necessary items easily accessible provides added confidence for newbie solo fliers.
Travel blogger Brenda Elmer recounts her tips from sending her tween on his inaugural flight alone to visit grandparents. She stresses packing his tablet pre-loaded with movies, music and ebooks. Headphones are a must as well. "Handheld electronics with headphones were like an instant security blanket for my son. It allowed him to tune out the world and focus on his devices, rather than stressing about flying alone," she says.
Games and playing cards are another option. They provide a hands-on activity to engage with versus just passively viewing a screen. Reader's Digest writer Melanie Wynne suggests packing a handheld gaming device or deck of cards to occupy flying time. Matching card games allow kids to socialize with seatmates as an added benefit.
Beyond entertainment, snacks are crucial for distraction, comfort and energy. Protein bars, nuts, crackers and gum can curb hunger, boredom and anxiety. Just steer clear of crumbly or messy options. Resealable containers help keep snacks fresh and contained.
Staying hydrated is critical given the dry airplane cabin air. Bring an empty water bottle to refill post-security. Flavored powders or electrolyte tablets jazz up plain water. Travel blogger Nomadic Matt says his first solo trip at age 18 was simplified by packing ample fluids and snacks. "Having my own supply avoided having to constantly rely on flight attendants for food or drinks," he recalls.
Ensure you tuck away any medications your child may need during the flight in their carry-on. This includes prescription meds plus OTC remedies for headaches, upset stomachs, congestion etc. Pack medications in original containers with doctor's notes when required by TSA.
While tempted, resist packing an excessive amount of stuff. Children's advocate Dr. Deborah Gilboa notes that overstuffed bags can overwhelm kids. "Let them take responsibility for a reasonable amount of items in their backpack or small roll-aboard bag," she advises.
Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Preparing Necessary Documentation
When sending your child on their first ever solo journey, ensuring they have the proper paperwork is crucial. The required travel documents provide confirmation that any unaccompanied minor policies and legal requirements are being met. Having their paperwork in impeccable order also empowers first-time flyers, providing a sense of independence and maturity.
The most obvious necessity is government-issued photo identification that matches the name used for booking. For domestic U.S. flights, a state ID card, driver's permit or passport are accepted. School IDs are not valid for air travel. The TSA requires minors 15 and under to no longer need ID when flying domestically. However, bronzing solo fliers should still carry ID to simplify check-in and TSA screening.
Verification of your relationship to the child is also mandated. Airlines need parental/guardian consent showing you approve of the unaccompanied minor traveling solo. This usually involves filling out a release form when checking in the child and showing your own ID as the authorizing adult. Policies vary by airline but expect providing details like emergency contacts and who will pick up your child upon arrival.
Travel blogger and mom of three Carly Pifer recounts needing to complete five separate forms so her daughter could visit grandparents cross-country alone. "We had to show and sign her birth certificate, get her doctor's approval, provide Dad's contact info and prove she would be met by her grandmother at the destination airport," she explains. While tedious, Pifer ultimately felt assured by the rigorous process.
You may also need to provide written consent from any other guardian or parent involved. Single parents should ensure they have proper documentation like custody orders or a notarized authorization letter from the other parent. Divorced parents may require court papers permitting travel without the other parent present. Bring any documents proving you can authorize solo travel alone to simplify check-in.
Temporary guardianship forms are required if your child is flying to visit relatives or friends without parents. The people serving as their guardians at the destination must complete these forms you provide at check-in. It confirms their consent to house and chaperone your child during the entire visit. You also want a copy of the temporary guardianship paperwork for your own records.
Having clear contact information for parents and any temporary guardians shows airlines can reach responsible adults at any time. This includes phone numbers for layovers as well as destinations. Collect and provide this data during booking. Give multiple options including cell, work and home numbers. Email addresses are wise too in case of airport WiFi issues.
Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Utilizing Unaccompanied Minor Policies
While most airlines allow children as young as 5 to fly alone, every carrier's unaccompanied minor policies differ. Reserving these special services ensures your child will be escorted at all touchpoints and supervised throughout by attentive staff.
Legacy airlines like Delta, American and United tout their unaccompanied minor care. There is usually an extra fee around $100 each way to utilize the service. Airlines boast staff will chaperone children during boarding, flight and deplaning. Attendants usher minors on first and only release them to approved adults at destination airports. Kids get special name tags or wristbands and pre-boarding access. Parents appreciate the hand-holding but some kids chafe at being corralled like babies.
Budget carriers vary widely so really research policies. Spirit Airlines bans minors under 8 from flying alone. Frontier permits unaccompanied fliers as young as 6 with tight restrictions. Allegiant's website stresses parents "think twice about" alone travel for kids under 8. Their unmanned minor charge is $50 each way. Sun Country caps one unaccompanied minor per flight for $50 fee each way. Reading all fine print is crucial before booking budget airlines.
Mom of two fliers ages 11 and 14 Sarah Chang did her homework before their solo trips. She says. "I learned almost all airlines allow kids 5 to 14 to fly alone but the unaccompanied minor services had lots of variability. Legacy carriers had the most oversight but also the highest fees. Budget airlines had fewer perks for a lower cost but we were fine with that."
Chang ultimately chose Frontier for her middle schooler's trip to summer camp. "I paid $50 each way for their unaccompanied minor service since Frontier provided a flight attendant escort which gave me comfort. But my daughter who was used to traveling with Dad felt uncomfortable being treated like a baby." A year later for her teen's cross-country trip, she booked Southwest. "Their open seating model and friendly crew made the $50 minor charge unnecessary for my now more confident son," Chang explains.
Connie Arthur is an office manager in Kansas City and mom of a 13 year old son. When her anxiety over his first solo trip to basketball camp spiked, she opted to pay American Airlines' $150 minor fee despite the cost. "The exceptional service gave me the security I needed for that first nerve-wracking flight. He got special attention and was walked right off the plane by a caring attendant," she recalls. Now that her son is a more experienced traveler, they may skip the full unaccompanied service on his next flight.
Preparing Your Child for Their First Solo Flight: A Parent's Complete Guide - Providing Entertainment and Comfort Items
While practical preparations like paperwork and airport navigation are crucial, providing entertainment and comfort items can make an equal impact on your child's first solo flight. Travel toys, electronics and snacks minimize anxiety while also combating boredom during their journey alone in the air and airports.
Janine Rhodes, a mother of five from Dallas, has ushered all her kids through inaugural solo flights. She’s become an expert on picking age-appropriate entertainment to soothe her little ones’ nerves at 30,000 feet without her. “My preschoolers loved coloring books, sticker pads and reading books for their first flights. My middle schoolers were all about downloaded TV shows, music and ebooks on their Kindles,” she explains. Her teens only needed smartphone chargers and headphones during their early flights alone.
Rhodes also packs comfort objects and extra snacks to replicate homey familiarity. “My younger kids always got a couple favorite small stuffed animals for snuggling. My anxious middle school daughter had her baby blanket on her first flight which really helped calm her nerves,” Rhodes says. She recalls her sons at ages 10 and 12 devouring the energy bars and water bottles labeled just for them. “Eating gave them something to focus on. The extra drinks and snacks kept them content between meal services without needing to flag down flight attendants.”
Leslie Wu is also an experienced parent of solo flyers ages 6 to 15 over the years. She's honed an inflight entertainment kit that gets tweaked for each child. “My artistic daughter got interactive drawing pads and zen coloring books. For my aspiring pilot son, I packed aviation magazines and plane identification cards," Wu explains. Noise-cancelling headphones let her kids tune out cabin sounds and get immersed in movies. She stocks Kindles with new apps, games, videos and ebooks.
Wu says snack bags provide distraction and energy during solo flights. "I let my kids choose their favorite things like beef jerky, fruit chews, nuts, cookie packs and gum. Staying fueled and having ownership over items just for them brought comfort and independence.” She also empowers her kids to navigate airport retail solo and purchase their own magazines, books or snacks on layovers using cash she provides. This allows them to practice travel skills while also keeping entertained during connections.