My kids Sarah and Thomas spent six summers each flying to Adventure Treks. It can be nerve-racking to drop your child off at the airport, but one thing I have learned is 1) they can do it and 2) it makes them (and you!) feel great to know they can handle themselves. Here are a few tips that might help you stay relaxed until you receive the “Hi mom/dad, I am with Adventure Treks!” phone call.
First, be prepared. If you’ll be flying as a family on any trips before Adventure Treks, let your child take the lead, figuring out the flight monitors and finding the gate. This boosts confidence in navigating terminals while still having the support of parents nearby. You can also print out and go over the layout of the airport your student will be arriving in; this is especially helpful if there’s a layover, and if the connecting airport has trains running to and from terminals, like Atlanta or Denver.
It’s crucial to keep your child’s cell phone and charger easily accessible and in the carry-on bag. Remind them that not only will you be available should they need to call you, but they can always call the Adventure Treks office as well (and kids do call us on airport day!). Also, we highly recommend providing spending money for food or a book in case of delays or cancellations.
Second, rehearse asking for help with your child. I make my kids practice saying, “Excuse me, I am flying by myself,” at the beginning of any conversation with airline staff. As a parent, when you hear those words, it changes the way you listen and engage with teenagers. I also tell my kids to look for another mom traveling with her children when they need help and have trouble finding airline staff. Moms always stop and take the time to help your child get to where he or she needs to be.
Third, request a gate pass when you drop your student off at security. (This is different from purchasing the extra unaccompanied minor service, and is free.) A gate pass allows you to walk to the gate with your child and watch the plane depart. Getting a gate pass depends entirely on the security staff working that morning, but I’ve never been denied the privilege, and we’ve flown multiple airlines. Remember, you will go through security as well, so keep it simple: I bring just my car keys, ID, and a credit card.
Here’s the million-dollar question: What do you do when a flight is delayed or canceled? First, take a breath! It will be OK.
One year, my daughter’s itinerary to Anchorage, AK, was Asheville > Charlotte > Chicago > Anchorage. After arriving in Charlotte, Sarah found out her next leg to Chicago was canceled (the first time that has happened to us in a total of 30+ Adventure Treks flight segments). She stood in multiple lines and talked to several airline staff, but the information she received from staff and what I found online back in Asheville was conflicting. Sarah and I were in constant contact, and she did a great job at finding the right airport staff to clarify what was happening with her flight. Still, she really got the run around for a while, and we both started to get a bit unraveled—it was nearing midnight, and the airport was virtually shutting down. Being that my daughter had just turned 16, she could not get a voucher for a hotel.
I did learn that many airports have an unaccompanied minor lounge. Even if you have not paid the UM fee, your child can still access the lounge and sleep, watch movies, and eat until their rescheduled flight boards.
I called our marketing director, Amanda, who was our on-call Adventure Treks emergency after-hours contact that evening (even though I do this very job myself). It helped just to hear her calming voice and be reassured that she was also trying to sort things out, just as I was doing for my daughter. Rest assured, you and your child will always be able to speak with our staff, at any time, on airport arrival and departure days.
After a long evening, Sarah boarded her new flight and made her connection to Anchorage. The airlines had lost her luggage, but she had her carry-on backpack to get her by, and our director, Dave (aka Dmac, as students call him), was standing by to greet her as she landed. He figured out her luggage dilemma and quickly connected her with the rest of the group.
Once she was on the ground in Alaska, and we had a chance to talk, it was clear that she felt pretty good about figuring it all out. Yes, she was tired, and yes, it was inconvenient—to say the least—but she did it by herself, and she never felt unsafe. In hindsight, I’m glad she had this experience. It was an opportunity to learn resilience and think on her feet. (And it added a little excitement to an already-extremely-high point in her life!) As a parent, I was so appreciative of Amanda and Dmac that day; although they would say they were just doing their job, it was how they did it.
The best thing we can do as parents is prepare our kids and remind them that they can figure out these logistics and overcome any hurdles that come their way. And not only can they do it, but they are better for it. Chances are that everything will go just as planned. Direct, early-morning flights are recommended. Should a flight get delayed or cancelled, no matter what time your child arrives, we will be there to greet him or her—even if it is 3 a.m.! So take a deep breath and know your child can do it—and you can too!