Jean Prockish is packing luggage in preparation for holiday travel. But it's Prockish's 13 year-old daughter who will be taking the flight, joining the growing number of children who are flying solo.
Unaccompanied minors are steadily becoming one of the airline industry's growing markets as divorce, job changes and other issues continue to separate families by state lines.
American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith said the phenomenon of children traveling alone spiked in the '90s and has continued to grow.
"Our number of unaccompanied minors a year is in the six-figure range," Smith said.
Along with ticket fares, most airlines also charge an extra fee for supervision. The fee can range from $60 to $99.
Southwest Airlines does not charge an extra fee for children flying alone.
"We don't believe in nickel-and-diming our customers," Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said. "We don't charge you for your pillow, your blanket or your minor child."
Prockish said she chooses which airline to fly based on the cheapest seats rather than the cheapest attendant fee. Her daughter has flown solo on various carriers and Prockish has been happy with the service each time.
"I'm very please at the fact that the airlines definitely take care of our children and make sure they get from point A to point B," Prockish said.
An increase in children flying alone can often lead to an increase in fear and worry throughout the entire family.
Prockish said although her daughter has been flying alone for almost three years now, the teen was hesitant about her first solo flight.
"I think it was the fear of the unknown," Prockish said. Her daughter flies to Maine to visit a relative three times a year.
"She's getting more and more comfortable now," Prockish said.
Lynn Hayes, editor of FamilyTravel.com, said parents can ease their children's fears as well as their own by talking about the flight ahead of time. Parents should write out the instructions so the children should know what to expect from the time they leave the airport to the time they arrive at their final destination, she said.
"This way they don't have this fear of wandering lost through the airport," Hayes said.
Prockish said talking to her travel agent calmed any fears she had about sending her youngster on the plane alone.
"They told me what to do and what to expect," Prockish said.
Barbara Lester, travel consultant at Nichols Travel in Edmond, said the number of children traveling alone has increased more than 30 percent in the last 13 years.
"Kids get around nowadays," she said. But it's important parents understand the rules and regulations, such as whether the airline permits a child to travel alone if a connecting flight is involved, she said. It's also important that the child ? no matter how small ? is comfortable on the flight.
"They are customers too," she said.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Arrive at the airport early to fill out unaccompanied minor form.
Give your child a backpack filled with items to keep him or her entertained during the flights. Include snacks as well.
Anticipate fears at the gate.
Make sure the adult dropping the child off and picking the child up from the airport has appropriate identification.
Contact your travel agent and/or the airline if you have any questions.
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