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What to do if your child is traveling unaccompanied for the first time

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  • Parents and caregivers should make sure they understand what to expect when their child flies alone for the first time.
  • Give them cell phones, snacks, iPads and keep them entertained.
  • For added peace of mind, consider using our travel companion service.

About 7 million children travel each year using airlines’ unaccompanied minor programs, according to the latest estimates from the Department of Transportation.

Most of these flights will continue without interruption. But amid the turmoil of travel this summer, many issues related to caring for unaccompanied minors have emerged.

This summer, American Airlines initially did not allow mothers to pick up unaccompanied minors as young as 10 from the airport due to problems with the information in their systems.

The airline also canceled the 10-year-old’s flight, but didn’t tell her parents. On another occasion, an American was traveling alone with her 12-year-old.

Insider has put together these tips for parents and caregivers whose children are flying alone for the first time. The suggestion comes from former flight attendant Sherry Ann Corey, who founded Travelers Care to help vulnerable passengers reach their destinations safely.

Read Terms of Service

The first thing to do before booking a flight for your child is to read the terms and conditions and bylaws, says Cawley. They posted it somewhere on the airline’s website. Parents can decide whether to allow their child to fly solo based on the information provided.

Make sure your child is mature enough

Most airlines allow children up to the age of 5 to travel alone. Make sure your child is mature enough to handle and adapt to changes and unexpected events.

Delays, cancellations and itinerary changes, including connecting flights, can cause problems, says Cawley. “For example, information can be lost during transit. There are many children in the world who cannot adapt to change.”

give them a cell phone

Flight attendant gate agents are good at minimizing errors. Their priority is ensuring the safety of their children, but they are often busy with other tasks.

“If something doesn’t feel right on the plane, your child should be able to answer the phone. They can use the phone to communicate when they land or in case of an emergency,” says Cawley.

So they must be mature enough or have the ability to take action when these situations arise.

Preparing your child for flight

Talk to your children and tell them what to expect. Show them a video of what it’s like and tell them to tell a flight attendant if something doesn’t feel right.

Give me a snack and an iPad

Some kids don’t eat much when they’re on the plane, so pack snacks, an iPad, or some form of entertainment.

Use a flight tracking app

You can use flight tracking sites such as FlightAware and FlightRadar.

“These are very helpful in providing step-by-step flight updates. It gives me peace of mind knowing exactly where the plane is,” says Cawley.

do not leave the gate immediately

According to Cawley, people who leave the gated area may return to the stands for one reason or another.

It is also important that you arrive at the airport at least 30 minutes before your scheduled arrival time so that your child is not sitting there if your flight arrives early.

It’s also essential to make sure your child has the correct contact information on the lanyard as to who is collecting them.

Consider using a travel companion service

Not everyone trusts airlines’ unaccompanied minor programs because airlines lose children all the time. Companies such as Travelers Care can provide additional protection and safety, but it comes at a cost.