Earlier this week, my 9-year-old daughters flew halfway across North America, unaccompanied. This was the first time they’d flown without an adult travelling with them, so I was nervous. It went remarkably well.
I’d done my research, but there were a few things that caught me by surprise, so I thought I would share our experience with you.
I printed out Alaska Airlines unaccompanied minor form before I arrived at the airport. It included the children’s information and details for both the adult dropping them off and the adult picking them up.
We arrived at the airport about 2.5 hours before the girls’ flight. We stood in line until a check-in agent was available. When we reached the front of the line, I let the agent, Suzanne, know that the girls would be travelling unaccompanied. She was very sweet.
After she checked their suitcase, Suzanne gave the children stickers indicating their unaccompanied status to wear visibly. Along with the girls’ boarding passes, she issued me a gate pass. I paid $25 per child for the extra attention they would need.
I took the children through security as if I were travelling with them. The one odd moment was with the TSA agent who checked our passes. He asked each child whether I was her mother. They both giggled and informed him that I was.
We filled the girls’ water bottles and stopped for breakfast: some of Austin’s great breakfast tacos. We made our way to the gate and let the agents know that I had two unaccompanied minors. They told us that an airline employee would come and escort from me to their seats. Since we had some time to kill, we sat on the floor and played a game of UNO.
When it was time to pre-board, M and J were called over the speakers by name. We went up front, but there wasn’t enough staff to go around, so the lady who would take them to their seats said she’d come back for them at the end of boarding. At this point, M began to complain that she felt like throwing up. J was still giddy about the whole adventure, so I was able to focus to M. She said she was going to miss me, but just wanted to hold my hand rather than get a hug.
Finally, it was time for them to go. To distract M, I kissed her on the top of her head, something she has recently declared to be yucky. She was so busy scrubbing off her hair that she didn’t even notice that I didn’t follow them to plane. We’d talked about what would happen, so she knew what to expect.
The only people left at the gate were me and a father who had sent his two children off unaccompanied. His kids were experienced unaccompanied travellers, and he helped put my mind at ease. We stayed at the gate until we were informed that the airplane had taken off (both because of mommy worry and because of airline policy).
On the other end, my former mother-in-law got her own gate pass and retrieved the children at the gate. The unaccompanied children were the last to exit and the airline staff confirmed Grandma’s identity by matching her legal ID to the unaccompanied minor form I’d provided them. When they called me, J and M were in high spirits.
I had made sure that the girls had plenty of activities to keep them occupied. We’d loaded up their Kindle with electronic books checked out of the library. I had packed some crayons and a colouring book, and the girls brought some crafts with them. J had her knitting, and M her sewing.
As it turns out, they didn’t need them. Alaska Airlines issued each of the unaccompanied minors on the flight his or her own iPad to watch movies on. As J put it, she had so much fun on the flight that she forgot I’d packed her snacks. M, on the other hand, appreciated the munchies.
Having been through this once, I feel far more confident about my kids flying alone. I can’t wait for them to come back home so I can hear all about the adventure of the flight back. I promise I won’t kiss M goodnight, although she does still like her bedtime snuggles.
I understand that different airlines have different policies, but the general experience I had seems to be typical.