Once a month, my two daughters hop on a plane without me and fly from Northern California down to Southern California to visit their father. I was nervous about this arrangement at first, as my girls have always flown under my protective wing. But since I make sure they get on the plane and the flights are always nonstop, there’s very little chance that they will get lost 10,000 or so feet up in the air. It’s a short flight, too. A little more than an hour, which sure beats the eight-hour car drive any day.
I consider my kids, who are 16 and 12, “unaccompanied minors” because they aren’t traveling with me, a card-carrying adult. But most airlines view my teenager as being old enough to travel alone, so technically, the 12-year-old is with an adult. A flighty, easily distracted one with an iPod permanently stuck in her ear, but an adult traveler, nevertheless.
A few years ago, I probably would have been very nervous about my unaccompanied minors traveling all by themselves. But it happens all the time. According to an MSNBC report, millions of children between the ages of 5 and 14 fly alone every year on major airlines. Most of these “unaccompanied minors (UMs)” are the fallout from shared custody issues. Kyle McCarthy, founder of the Family Travel Forum, calls UM travel “a necessary evil.”
One authority at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, says it’s heartbreaking to watch these young, frightened children board the plane alone, crying the whole time because they’re scared to fly without mom or dad.
But when long-distance visitation is court-ordered, what choice do you have? If you’re in a shared-custody arrangement that requires your minor children to fly by themselves, the U.S. Department of Transportation offers an online guide to help make the trip safer. Shirley Cress Dudley, blended family expert, has tips to reduce stress, especially around holiday travel.
Here are a few highlights:
Other than that, just give them a big hug and a kiss, and wish them a happy, safe trip. Tell them you can’t wait to see them again, which is oh-so-true. I breathe HUGE sighs of relief when I see my daughters walking out of the gangway toward me, laughing and giggling, usually. The iPod still stuck in my teenager’s ear.