Having just sent my daughter off to Spain without me for the first time, I have new-found sympathy for parents who regularly put their children on planes alone. The news this week that United Airlines lost a 10-year-old girl does nothing to assuage parents’ fears as they send their most precious cargo alone into the not-so-friendly skies.
TravelingMom partner Eileen Ogintz, long-time family travel writer and author of the Taking the Kids syndicated column, wrote about the latest snafu and offered the following advice to panicked parents:
1. Send them nonstop. This is great advice, however it wouldn’t have worked for 10-year-old Phoebe Klebahn who, according to NBC News, needed to get from San Fransisco to Traverse City, Michigan. Unfortunately, that necessitated she change planes in Chicago. Presumably (since it isn’t stated in the initial mention of the incident or in the letter the parents sent to United), that meant changing planes at O’Hare International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports and a place that can be intimidating to all but the most frequent (and jaded) travelers.
2. Give the kid a cell phone. A big part of the parent heartstrings pulled by this story came from the plaintive cries of a scared little girl who kept asking to use a phone to call her mom. I am stunned to think that any parent would send a kid off on a cross-country adventure without a cell phone these days, but maybe these parents did.
3. Give the kid the skills he or she needs to get through this alone. These skills will come in handy in the event the plane is diverted or there is some other unforeseen event.
4. Empower your kid to advocate for him or herself. This can be a challenge for a 10-year-old. I have a friend whose college-age daughter spent more than 24 hours at an airport waiting to get home for the holidays after missing her flight. Why did she miss the flight? Simply because she didn’t ask to be let to the front of a slow-moving security line even though her flight was about to board.
Eileen has other tips in her blog post that are worth reading. There’s plenty of good parental advice such as: Stay at the airport until you see the plane take off, pack a lunch and some entertainment to keep your child happy and occupied during the flight and tuck into the backpack all of the information about who will be meeting the flight and who to call (on the cell phone you send along) in the event anything goes wrong.
There is one tip missing from her long and helpful list: Don’t send your kid on United.
The airline simply does not take care of its passengers, whether they are 1, 10, 100 or some age in between. I finally broke up with United two years ago after suffering many years of abuse. Now I fly United only when I have no choice and I arrive at O’Hare fortified for the challenge.
I would never send a poor, innocent 10-year-old to tackle that.