It's one thing when you're flying solo--actually it can be fun--but not when it's your kid. Your heart suffers more turbulence than a plane caught in a Colorado snowstorm. But for divorced moms or dads, sending their little ones off alone on a plane to meet the other parent for the annual holiday vacation or scheduled visit is a reality they must face.
And millions of parents ranging from Madonna to Reese Witherspoon will be facing this challenge in the coming weeks.
Here are some strategies that I found as essential as safety belts and more healthy than drinking too much wine.
With the increase of divorced kids flying alone, airlines now make provisions for them. UM's--as in unaccompanied minor - is what kids are called. Instead of making their airline reservation via internet, call the airlines, since they require information on who will deliver the child and who will pick them up at the destination. Both people must have photo ID and cell phones.
The parent will be given a pass to accompany the child to the departure gate and must stay until the flight takes off. Kids 5-7 can fly only non-stop.
UM's require an extra payment - usually around $25 - and this will include the cost of the airline staff watching over them on the flight and ushering them to meet the other parent at arrival gate. But if there are two kids flying solo, it will be only one fee.
Prepare your child that he/she is going to fly alone by calling it an adventure and spell out all the procedures so they know what to expect.
Don't rely on Jetblue's TV channels to occupy them the whole time. Just in case, send them off with coloring books, cards and a few games. And if they're older, a cellphone, book and computer.
Pack an extra snack because just like you, they may gag at airline food. And hungry kids are cranky kids. You don't want passengers to howl in protest.
Kids feel safe and secure when there is something familiar with them. Make sure they have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal or doll with them. Or a cozy sweater or shawl. I admit that I even sprayed a little of my perfume on the blanket as a remembrance. Another time I even wrote a letter about what I love about my child that he read on the plane.
Dress them in bright colors so they are noticeable. And that includes shoes. Even with sneakers, buy orange or cobalt blue laces so your kid stand out. Or put a special baseball cap or necklace around them to separate them from the pack, in case that actually happens - which it rarely does.
Make sure that you have contact numbers and medical information in their pocket or backpack. Remind them that they are carrying this information and where it is as well as that they are loved and will have a great time on this adventure.
Work out in advance when you will be calling them or when they should call you and how often. This is tricky territory. Sometimes your ex may find it intrusive on his or her time with your child if you call too much. Has that ever happened to you? Eye rolling and body language that conveys annoyance is as upseting to a child as bad mouthing the other parent. (Being an adult requires stamina and sucking it up for the greater good). But if you both agree on when those times are that they contact the other parent - either via telephone, cell phone or email - everyone can manage expectations and have a good time.
Now all you have to do is go home and wait for the phone call that they are safely with your ex- and now it's time for you to have fun too. So put on those stretchy pants, pop in a movie and some popcorn in the microwave and enjoy uninterupted free time. You deserve it. Now what do you plan on doing with all that alone time?