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We live in an age of frequent travel, by land, sea and air. Increasingly, parents are faced with the difficult task of putting their little ones on an airplane alone. Airlines estimate about 8 million children fly unaccompanied each year. But take heart, there are ways to alleviate the fears and ensure a safe, uneventful trip for all involved.

When booking your reservation, inform the travel agent or airline agent that your child will be traveling unaccompanied, and the age of your child. Phone well in advance, several months, if possible, to get a reservation on a non-stop flight.

Throughout the process, take time to reassure your child, calming his/her fears as best you can. Remind them about the thousands of people who fly every day and enjoy the experience. Don't transfer your own apprehensions to them. Show your child you have the utmost confidence in him/her to handle the situation.

Although airline practices vary, most will not accept an unaccompanied child under the age of five. Unaccompanied children will be charged the published adult fare and some airlines charge an additional fee of $30-$120 for escorting children if connecting flights are involved. Since each airline has its own set of rules and regulations, the best strategy is to contact the specific carrier to determine which policies you must follow. When you call to find out the rules regarding children flying alone, call back again an hour later, to be sure you get the same information twice.

A week before the scheduled flight, take your child to the airport for an informal, relaxed tour. Point out the uniformed personnel, gate numbering system, restrooms, and pay phones. If airport personnel will allow it, practice walking through the security clearance. Over a hot dog and soft drink, perhaps, discuss the upcoming trip. This might be a good time to explain inflight manners and the importance of sitting quietly while in the air. Encourage your child to ask questions. Then, let your child watch several planes take off and land. Build on your child's natural curiosity, instead his/her fears.

If your child has had any motion sickness in the past, take precautions. Talk to your family physician or choose an over-the-counter medication.

The airline may require detailed forms be completed about your child. If not, it's a good idea to prepare a travel card with this documentation, as a precaution. The card is simply a concise method of listing all pertinent information specific to your child. An index card would be appropriate. Include the name, address and phone number of your child, then the sender's name and the receiver's name. Note both airport names, as some cities have more than one, specific airline, flight numbers, and seat assignments. Don't forget arrival and departure times and list connecting flights, if necessary. Save room for medical or dietary alerts and any extra phone numbers. If time allows, photocopy the travel card and mail it to the child's destination.

Be sure to double check the flight information on the card when you arrive at the airport, as flight times and numbers may change. Remember too, flights can be delayed, cancelled or re-routed into other cities.

At check-in on the day of the flight, show your child the colored luggage stubs and explain how they match the tags on his/her suitcases. Be sure any carry-on bags have a clearly visible name tag. Jointly decide on a suitable place to keep the travel card and tickets. Remind your child to always return the documents to the same spot.

Inform the adult at the child's destination to bring proper identification. They must provide identification which corresponds to the name on the travel card. Notify the airline immediately if the receiving adult changes.

At departure, remain in the boarding area until the flight has left the ground, not just the gate. That way, you'll still be close at hand if a mechanical problem requires a return to the gate or an airplane switch.

If your child will be making repeated trips alone in the air, it might be a wise idea to invest in a cell phone or beeper. These numbers should then be given on all the necessary forms.

Sending your child on a flight alone will always cause anxiety, but with a solid measure of common sense and thoughtful advance preparation, the journey will be easier and less stressful for everyone.

Tips For A

Smooth Flight

Check with specific airlines for guidelines and attempt to find a non-stop flight.

Take your child to the airport ahead of time for orientation.

Limit your child's carry-on baggage to one small backpack.

Explain to your child where to go and what to do if any problems arise.

Provide entertainment materials such as comic books and non-spill puzzles.

Put favorite snacks in your child's carry-on bag.

Provide a small amount of money for the pay phone or other contingencies.

Arrive early and introduce your child to the gate personnel.

Prepare a detailed travel card and be certain the receiving adult has a copy.

If it's not already arranged, ask if your child can be assigned to a particular flight attendant.