Last week, I took my 15-year-old son to the Atlanta airport to catch a flight to summer camp. Which means, of course, that I now consider myself an expert on taking children – or at least 15-year-old males – to airports to catch flights to summer camps.
Here are some tips:
1. Sunday mornings are a good time to book for a child’s flight.
That’s because there are hardly any business travelers in the airport on Sunday morning. In fact, for the first time in my life, I found an hourly parking spot right near the terminal.
2. You still want to get to the airport about two hours before your flight.
That’s because you’ll need to stand in the special services line to get a gate pass for yourself and, depending on the age of your child, to register him or her as an unaccompanied minor. On the Sunday my son flew, we stood in line behind dozens of campers headed to all corners of the U.S.
3. If your child is required to fly as an unaccompanied minor, be psychologically prepared to pay a hefty fee.
Delta Airlines requires children under the age of 15 who are not accompanied by someone age 18 or up to register as an unaccompanied minor, and their parents to shell out a fee of $150 each way.
Southwest Airlines is easier on the wallet if you’re putting a kid on a plane: no fee or registration is required for children 12 and older, or for children traveling with another child age 12 or older. A fee of $50 each way is required for unaccompanied children under 12.
4. Even if you don’t have to, go ahead and escort your child to the gate, especially if it’s his or her first flight.
My son flew Delta, but thankfully he was 15 and we didn’t have to pay $300 in addition to his airfare. Still, we went ahead and stood in the special services line so I could get a gate pass and walk with him through security. I mean, do you really want to send a 15-year-old boy with a smart mouth and a general skepticism of authority figures – in other words, a 15-year-old boy – by himself for the first time through airport security? (No, you don’t.)
5. Stress that going through airport security is serious business. It’s a good time to follow Jesus’ advice from the Sermon on the Mount and let your yes be yes and your no be no. I told my son the story about a couple of young soldiers in Germany during the Gulf War who were driving through a U.S. Army checkpoint and were asked if they had any bombs under their car. They said they did.
They were just kidding. They have now learned their lesson.
6. Don’t worry, be happy.
First of all, be happy that you don’t have to squeeze into a seat next to a stranger and stay there for two hours while a tiny jet of air blows on your face. Your kid gets to do this, and he’s young and he can handle it.
Also, don’t worry about his safety. I hear it’s more likely to die of a paper cut than in an airline crash, but I’m not sure about that. I do know it’s far safer to travel by plane than by car, train, boat or bicycle.
7. Make sure his cell phone is charged up. Oh, and stress that responding to your texts is serious business.
I failed to do the latter. His mother texted him from church to see if he had landed safely in New York. He responded thus: “I’m in a strange place and frightened …” He was kidding.
He has now learned his lesson.