Turning 5 is a big deal in the travel world because it means that you can fly all by yourself as an unaccompanied minor on direct flights. Naturally, Annika's Poppy & Noni in Florida were all over that rule when they found out. They planned a trip for Ani to come visit them immediately and bought her ticket shortly after finding a direct flight from Indianapolis to Tampa. I had to make them promise not to take her to Disney by begging them saying, "but WE want to take her the first time." They relented begrudgingly, empathetic to our parental wishes if only a little bit.
We talked up the trip for months. She was soo excited to go by herself. She knew all the fun stuff that waited for her at Poppy and Noni's house, and couldn't wait to get there. We talked all about what it would be like to travel alone and reminded her what it's like to fly on an airplane. (The girl is a seasoned traveler already though with her first flight at 2 months old and more stamps in her passport than most will ever get.)
Doesn't she already look like a seasoned traveler?
We were new to the whole flying as an unaccompanied minor schtick, and definitely learned a few things in the send-off process. Here's a short list:
1. The child doesn't need any kind of identification, other than a birth certificate if they don't look like they're 5 yet. This was surprising to me, but totally makes sense in hindsight. I had to sign an envelope with my name, address, and phone number and the same information for my father who was picking her up at the other end. We both had to show our ID to send and receive her.
2. You get to take your kid all the way to the gate, and get to wait with them until they get on the airplane. You are actually then asked to stay in the gate area until the plane is in the air, as it could turn around at any point to bring them back if they start freaking out and wanting to come back. This was the worst part of the process, and I ended up just staring at the plane and crossing my fingers hoping she was doing fine.
3. The person picking up the minor also gets to come all the way to the gate to pick up the minor. As soon as Annika got off the plane my dad was there waiting for her. So basically, the only time she was alone was when she was actually on the airplane.
4. Make sure to pack a fun bag for them to explore on the airplane. I filled Annika's with snacks, a new coloring book, new crayons, a favorite book, and a new fluffy rubbery chick that lights up when you squeeze it. She loved it, and it kept her busy while on the flight (as far as I know).
5. Even the most seasoned child traveler can get stage-fright when faced with the actual prospect of getting on a plane by herself. As we were sitting at the gate Annika started to get a little scared about going. She turned to me and said, "Mama, I decided that I just want to stay here with you ok?" I gave her a big squeeze and proceeded to talk to her about all the fun stuff that she was going to get to do with Poppy and Noni in Florida. That almost calmed her fears, but the thing that put her back in the mindset to travel was seeing two other boys traveling by themselves on the same flight. Surely she was more brave than they are. That did the trick.
Here is our sweet girl waiting at the gate.
So the mystery of traveling as an unaccompanied minor, at least for our big girl, is solved. When my dad asked her what her favorite part of the trip was, she promptly announced, "I got to drink soda on the airplane." She is having the time of her life in Florida this week, and I'm sure we'll spend all of next week reprogramming her to remember that she isn't actually the center of the universe. I'm so very proud of how brave she was, and I hope she knows how lucky she is to have such generous grandparents.