Tips for Children Traveling Alone

Published by Rick Seaney at June 30, 2009

You've seen the stories: airlines "misplacing" children traveling solo (I mentioned this myself in a column for Clearly, it's past time for some tips. Let's not lose anymore kids.

Listen as air travel expert (and veteran dad) Rick Seaney offers advice to nervous parents.

Most important tip: If you or a family member can't travel with a child under 12 – maybe the child shouldn't fly. Overly cautious? Perhaps – but I'm a parent – and I get very disturbed when I hear about children as young as five flying all by themselves. However, sometimes it can't be helped – so here are some safety tips:

1. Cell Phone: Make sure your child has a charged up cell phone (and charger in luggage) and make sure the child knows how to use it (go ahead and practice with him). Preprogram all important numbers in the phone.

2. Write a Note: Make sure your child has a note from you – on his person – stating your child's name and your phone numbers, the airline being flown along with flight numbers and times, and his confirmation number. Teach the child to hand it to any airline/airport employee if he (or she) is confused about anything. Often children are too shy to question authority; handing over a note could be much less traumatic. With little ones, you might want to pin a note to their shirt that says, "Hi, I'm flying to Hartford" or wherever (and if the child rips this off, you know they were too old for this).

NOTE: Be sure to tell the child to explicitly name the city and state of his/her travel destination – horror stories abound of children heading to Maine, and being routed to Portland, Oregon instead.

3. Ask THE Question: Train your child to memorize a question: "Is this the flight to Hartford?" or whatever city the child is heading to – and have the child ask this of his airline escort before boarding the plane. Once onboard, have him repeat it to the flight attendant or whoever greets the passengers. Then ask his seatmates. Overkill? Not if it's your child.

4. Don't Wander: When you take your child to the gate (where presumably you'll meet up with a sharp, on-the-ball airline escort) point out the gate agents at their podiums, and tell the child to go to one of those in case Grandma isn't waiting for him at his destination. Explain in no uncertain terms, he is not to wander.

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