When children from blended families have to travel alone as Unaccompanied Minors to visit other birth family members, the experience can seem overwhelming for both children and parents. Not only can the trip itself be expensive when air travel is necessary, but also the idea of children traveling alone can be stressful.
Plan ahead for children’s travel
Planning ahead always helps, especially when children will travel alone. Making a packing list; having packing completed the night before travel; and using bathroom items, like medicines, toothbrush, and toothpaste, right out of the luggage, as if they were already away, helps children to not forget anything. It also helps to ease the stress of an early morning flight and helps to get out of the house on time.
Often, airline policy requires Unaccompanied Minors to arrive at the gate early, even as much as 45 minutes before the flight takes off. Therefore, it’s important to plan ahead and account for not only last-minute packing, general road travel time, and (rush-hour) traffic, but also airport parking, check-in, and security issues, as well.
Practice with a “dry run”
It’s recommended to purchase plane tickets ahead of time, to be able to take advantage of reductions in airfare. In order to help children travel unaccompanied with less stress, it can be a good idea to do a “dry run”, as far as possible.
During the dry run, parents can take a back-seat to their children’s journey, by following the children as they make their way into the airport to the ticketing area and through the airport to the concourses and security areas. Parents might be pleasantly surprised to see how well their children read the various signs and follow directions, even consult each other to achieve their goal of the correct concourse.
Virginia Beach’s local airports are laid out in a straightforward manner. For both arrivals and departures for Unaccompanied Minors, a parent or guardian will have to go through check-in; but it helps to park near baggage claim when picking up an arriving child. A terminal map of Norfolk shows the first-level ticketing with escalator/stairs or elevator to the second-level concourses, including security and gates. The layout of Newport News-Williamsburg shows concourses immediately past ticketing/check-in. The terminal map for Richmond shows the new, two-level terminal with upper level ticketing and departure and lower level arrival and baggage claim.
Resources for younger children
Parents can talk with the children about flying, read books, such as Going on a Plane, or Airport, about airports and flying to younger children, and, if feasible, fly with them either before they travel as Unaccompanied Minors, or perhaps even during their initial flight, over the route they’ll often travel alone. There’s even a Junior Field Trip video/game with Buzzy the Knowledge Bug which teaches children what goes on at an airport.
Communication before and during children’s travel
Ahead of time, questions and possible fears can be addressed, and, more importantly, a plan of action for different situations can be created. This helps children feel more in control and confident during their unaccompanied travel. Offering a calling card, a pay-as-you-go cell phone, or even a family or friend’s cell phone during children’s travel (which can be shipped back upon arrival at their destination)can go a long way to easing concerns, for both children and parents. It also helps to talk about how the airline will take care of the children.
Many airlines offer online tracking of flights, which can be reassuring for parents unused to having their children far away from them. It also helps to stay on top of the flights in case of the often inevitable delays in order to make informed decisions about arrival and pick-up arrangements and/or changes.
Preparing children before travel, packing ahead of time, and practicing a dry run can help make Unaccompanied Minor travel for both children and parents a more comfortable, and even positive, experience.