Flying alone

With planning, preteens can fly alone happily and safely

You may have read about an incident last December in which a five-year-old girl flying as an unaccompanied minor was reportedly “ignored” by airline staff; she was helped to get off the plane and meet her father — by her seatmate — without the staff noticing.

That story may give parents second thoughts when it comes to putting their children — even older preteen children — on an airplane. Yet many of us do it: On Air Canada alone, more than 45,000 unaccompanied children aged five to 11 fly each year. Is it really OK for kids to fly alone?

Yes, it is, says travel agent Monte Elniski-Aguilar, of Travel by Design in Vancouver, as long as precautions are taken and “the child is confident about travelling alone.”

Check airline protocol

First off, ensure that the airline’s protocol for unaccompanied children is thorough and safe. “Make sure the program includes ‘meet and greet,’” advises Elniski-Aguilar. “That means a representative will come out when you show up at the counter with your child. That same representative does not leave your child until he gets on the plane. It needs to be the same person who takes him through security, down to the gate and puts him in the hands of one of the flight attendants. And then when they get off the plane, another representative will come to the door of the plane to take the child through baggage claim and to the designated person (who will have to show identification) meeting him on the other side.”

Tips for solo travelling

• If possible, take a flight with your child beforehand. Knowing what to expect will make the experience less daunting.

• Book your child as an unaccompanied minor. There will be a charge for this service. Make sure you understand what will be provided, and what procedures you must follow (in terms of providing ID at drop-off and pickup, for example).

• Review with your child what she should do if she gets separated from her escort. Make sure she has phone numbers for both you and the person meeting her.

• Stress to your child that it’s important not to remove the neck badge or cap the airline will provide to alert their staff that she is flying alone.

• Pack snacks and big-kid travel toys to help pass the time.