Letting your kid fly on their own
When I say letting your kid fly on their own, it’s not a metaphor. I’m talking about letting your kid fly on a commercial airline without paying the unaccompanied minor fee, without major assistance from the ticket or gate agent, and letting them fly. My 13 year old did it for the first time this year, but I’ll tell you more about that later.
Before you let your kid fly on their own, there are things you can do to prepare. From the time your child can read, you should let them help you in the airport. They can read the signs to get you to the correct gate. You can have them check the monitors to find your departure or connecting gate. They can also be in charge of their own confirmation number for checking in at the ticket counter. Sending them on flights as an accompanied minor (and paying the fee) is a great way to ease them into the idea of doing it all on their own. Insisting your child carry their own baggage as soon as they are able, is essential for traveling families.
Junior had done all of these things before he flew on his own earlier this year. Here was the situation: Part of his Spring Break involved a 4 day trip to Washington DC with his school group. That trip was chaperoned (as were the flights) and just required us to be at the airport to pick him up. However, Hubby, Duke, Bo, and I had already driven into Telluride and skied a couple of days when he was due home. So in order to let Junior join us for the rest of the trip, he needed to fly from our home, connecting through Denver to Telluride, CO. We had other family pick him up at home after the DC trip, help him repack his suitcase, spend the night, and drop him off the next day at the airport for his flight to Denver and then on to Telluride.
So the first thing I had to do was narrow the choices down. It seems as though every airline has their own rules for the age at which you can send a kid on a commercial flight alone. And there are different rules for connecting flights, connecting in hubs, flying with help by the airline staff,etc. After a quick internet search, here are a few of the ages at which a child can travel alone without paying the unaccompanied minor fee and being escorted.
Southwest – age 12
United – age 13 (now it’s changed to 15)
American – age 15
Delta – age 15
Jet Blue – age 14
Virgin America – age 15
Airline policies change all the time, so be sure to check the specific airline before you start planning.
So, really his only choice was United. I couldn’t get him close enough to Telluride on Southwest. Denver is 354 miles away, so a van shuttle from Denver would not have worked either. I noticed when I bought the one-way ticket that the connecting flight was with Great Lakes Airlines. I didn’t think that Junior would mind the small regional airplane. We’d been to Alaska and flown into the bush on a very small plane, so that was nothing new to our family. I was also calmed by the fact that Junior has been to the Denver airport more times than I can count. He is no stranger to their trains between concourses.
The first sign that things weren’t going to go perfectly for this trip, was that Junior broke his arm about 4 weeks before departure. He had to have a plate screwed into his forearm to get it to heal. Luckily he had a great doctor that made sure his cast was great and he had full use of his fingers and elbow. So the trip would go on! But that meant he got a second look going through security for sure.
The second sign was that Mom didn’t do all of her homework about flying into Telluride. Every time we talked to a local about our son flying into Telluride within the next few days, they gave us this funny look. Apparently, there is another airport in Montrose (about 35 minutes from Telluride) that is much bigger and less likely to get closed or have trouble due to mountain weather. Tellluride airport is convenient, but built on the side of a mountain and notoriously difficult for landings. All we could do was hope that the weather would be a crisp and clear spring day.
Our family at home didn’t just drop him off curbside. They helped him check in, made sure he had cash for emergencies, and watched as he headed through security. He made it to Denver and quickly located and found his connecting gate. I have never been so thankful for cell phones, as I was that day. Hubby and I were on a chair lift getting ready to head down one last run for the day. But my nerves calmed a little after we’d talked to Junior and he was ready at the gate with an on time departure for Telluride. Hubby skied down to pick up Duke and Bo at ski school. By the time I skied down and made it back to the house to change clothes it was time to head to the Telluride Airport. It’s a quick 10 minute drive up the side of a mountain from the town of Telluride.
When I got to the airport I don’t know if I had been inside that small of an airport in a long time. There were a couple of families in the holding area that were waiting to take Junior’s plane back to Denver after he arrived and disembarked. So I thought to myself that I wasn’t totally crazy. Other families thought that flying into Telluride was okay. Although when the airport announced the arrival of Junior’s flight, they told all of the passengers headed back to Denver to make sure to use the facilities because there were none on the plane. Seriously? I didn’t even know that was possible on a commercial flight. No bathroom?
Anyway, his flight arrived safely and I got a big hug when were reunited. But the conversation in the car went something like this:
Me (smiling): You did it! How was it?
Junior (deadpan): Don’t you ever do that to me again.
Me: What? Flying solo? Or flying into Telluride?
Junior: Flying into Telluride on that tiny plane.
Me: You’ve flown on smaller planes than that!?!
Junior: Mother…my seatbelt was broken. We dropped like a rock to get in between the mountains to land. When the plane pitched forward, the guy next to me grabbed the seat back in front of him. Then it folded forward and the little girl sitting in that seat, hit her forehead on the seat in front of her. I was just holding on to my armrest for dear life with the one good arm I have!
Me (smiling): Well, every solo flight from here on out has got to be better than this one. You have nowhere to go from here, but up!
Junior (eyes rolling): Seriously?
So, to wrap this story up..he did it. Everything turned out okay.
But clearly Ive done it.
Mother. Of. The. Year.
It’s in the bag. Don’t even try to take it from me, it’s mine.