By Brian Coatney
They’ve seen planes land at welcome home ceremonies, and they’ve played airplanes with their friends, but your child may not know what it’s like to actually ride in one.
It’s a bit unnerving for adults to fly when they’ve never been on a plane before, so it’s no surprise that preparing children and teens for their first flight takes careful prep.
Angel Faulkner remembers when she sent her boys, Michael and Steven, who were 8 and 10 at the time, unaccompanied on a plane because she was on active duty. Fortunately, Angel had accompanied them on flights before, but that still didn’t settle all of their nerves.
“This is not an experience you want for your child the first time without you,” she says.
Whether they are flying with or without you, Angel and a few other Fort Campbell parents recommend ways to ease your concerns and make your child’s first flight a great experience.
- Attach bright ribbons to their luggage – Angel tied blue and red ribbons on each of her son’s bags, so they would be easily recognizable by their guardian at the next airport. Also, dress your child in a bright color.
- Pack activities to do on the plane – Angel’s list includes coloring books and Mad Libs, which provides word lists to make up funny stories, handheld video games (with extra AA batteries), Etch A Sketch and card games.
- Pack a new toy or stuffed animal – A feeling of security is crucial, Angel says, so special toys or stuffed animals are a good idea on a child’s first flight without the parent to help with fear of the unknown and separation anxiety.
- Book a nonstop flight and gate pass – A gate pass allows a parent to accompany the child past security. Angel adds, “There is less chance of errors by the airline, delays, layovers, the wrong flight or getting lost.” HCC student Haley Somers agrees with nonstop flights. “Avoid connecting flights,” she said. “Don’t put your child through that.”
- Use electronic ticketing – Use electronic ticketing to avoid tickets that are lost or forgotten. Angel adds, “When you receive the ticket or itinerary, check to make sure that all dates, times and cities are correct, as well as your child’s name.”
- Talk to your child about being cautious – Sylvester Hall remembers how he and his wife, Sharon, felt two summers ago when they put their 15-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, on a plane to Germany to visit Sylvester’s mother-in-law. The night before, Sylvester talked to his daughter about watching her bags and keeping her money and military ID in her front pockets to avoid pickpockets. On this trip, Cheyenne would have a layover in Atlanta, so he told her to find the USO (United Service Organization) if she encountered any problems. Hire an escort through the airline – A flight attendant will stay with the child at all times until the “receiving person” with approved ID meets the child at the destination. The $100 escort fee was a lot more than Sylvester had expected, but he paid it anyway. Cheyenne arrived safely and said the flight attendants took great care of her.
- Get a good night’s sleep before the flight – Being well rested will help your child stay alert and be less stressed during the flight. Plan ahead, be very meticulous, and trust your child to do the right thing while traveling.
- Stash a light blanket in their carry-on bag – Krista Smee says, “Temperatures on planes are always unpredictable.” She also says to pack chewing gum. “Nobody enjoys getting plugged up ears,” Krista says. “If children aren’t old enough to know how to pop their ears, they can be very uncomfortable and get irritable.” For packing snacks, she says, “Avoid sticky and messy foods.” Even at that, it’s a good idea to “pack baby wipes and hand sanitizer.”
Is your child mature enough to fly alone?
Anne Stahl, psychology professor at Hopkinsville Community College, makes the point that it is important to determine if a child has the maturity for flying unaccompanied.
Teaching children to think “open-endedly” means giving them opportunities to learn how to be comfortable with themselves and how to be resourceful. Parents must learn when not to be overprotective in order to teach self-reliance. Signs that a child is learning independence include:
- Ability to cut up food
- Reading an itinerary
- Telephone skills
- Cognitive money and arithmetic skills
- Temper and impulse control
- Common sense
*Children not meeting all of these milestones are probably too young to fly solo. Most experts agree that readiness to fly alone is less about chronological age and more about maturational age.