My Unaccompanied Minors

Now that the plane has landed, I can admit it: my three kids flew alone together from Boston to Orlando this morning, and I was petrified. For Christmas last year, my sisters-in-law and their partners gave my children the best present ever: a trip to Disney World. They would fly from Chicago and meet my kids at the Orlando airport. It was a win-win:  the kids would have a blast, and my husband and I would get to avoid Disney while enjoying a week to ourselves. So why couldn’t I sleep at all last night?

It wasn’t the travel itself that worried me; my children are relatively self-sufficient, at least when I’m not around, and I have total faith in their ability to navigate the tribulations of travel. (Plus they have cell phones, and cash.) Three years ago, when my big daughter was 13, I put her on an Amtrak train from Boston to New York, with instructions to transfer at Penn Station to New Jersey Transit to visit one of her childhood friends. She relished the adventure, and felt very grown-up embarking alone. Unfortunately, I was so confident of her competence that I had neglected to check Amtrak’s minimum age for independent travel (which, FYI, is 15). When the conductor asked her how old she was, she told the truth–as taught–and got me in a heap of trouble. I had to talk him down on the phone, and he insisted on calling for a police escort to meet her at Penn Station, an unnecessary precaution that she successfully evaded by making a mad dash from the Acela to her New Jersey Transit train.

Plane travel is different. I don’t mind flying alone, and I rather enjoy flying as a family. But I do get panicky if my husband and I fly somewhere alone together (is wherever we’re going really worth the risk, however minimal, of leaving orphans behind?) and, I know now,  when all three kids are flying without us. I am sure I am not the only parent who has thought about this–though I may be the only one with the need to publicly acknowledge it–but if that plane goes down, my life is over, too.

I’ve heard that nonsense about how planes are a million times safer than cars, and I let my kids drive around in all sorts of carpools that, for all I know, could be commandeered by closet jihadists. But the fact remains, you are considerably more likely to survive a car crash than a plane crash. And what terrifies me most, now that I’m really getting into the morbid nitty-gritty of analyzing it, is not only that all three of my kids might die, but that they would have those last few–four? 10?–minutes of panic, of knowing their fate, without me there to hold and comfort them and remind them one last time how much I love them.  That I cannot abide.

Which is why I sat, glued, to the JetBlue flight tracker on my laptop this morning, watching that plane climb from 3,000 to 12,000 to 33,000 feet. I imagined the kids playing Old Maid, drinking Sprite and enjoying their individual seat-back TVs. I worried that maybe my baby’s ears were hurting as I watched the plane descend–25,000 feet, 9,000…. Then my iPhone bleeped happily with a text from my daughter reporting that they were on the ground–long before JetBlue refreshed the page to say “Landed.” Already I have started checking the weather report for Friday, when they will be flying home.

About Susan H. Greenberg

Susan H. Greenberg spent 22 years as a journalist for Newsweek Magazine. She now works as a writer, editor, teacher, and parent of three children, with whom she strives always to maintain a varnish-free relationship.
This entry was posted in Family life, Kids, Parenting, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to My Unaccompanied Minors

  1. Jo says:

    Now that they have arrived and you can breathe easier, enjoy your week!

  2. Mona Soliman says:

    Thanks so much for your post. I am so happy your children were safe and I completely appreciate your feelings and concerns. I more happy the three kids could fly together and find comfort in one another and look forward to their trip to Disney together!
    I am a single mom and am continually fighting with my child’s father who not only thinks it’s acceptable for him to fly alone at 5 and certainly 7 yrs of age and a court that has caught convenient common sense amnesia not only because of since 9/11, but for all the cases they’ve seen in their courts of the world we live in – you’d think they’d get it. I was recently on a flight after dropping my child off and returned home on the most nightmare flight of my life in a storm and being lost on the radar and then diverted for gas, landing 4 hours later for a one hour flight; and I’m 42! I couldn’t imagine a child alone, let alone having to comfort him and tell him how much I love him in my own panic and his!
    Thank you for your Parenting without pretense and your varnish-free relating, which speaks louder than anything in the world of parenting!! As an aside…if AmTrak won’t allow minors to fly until the age of 15, you’d have to wonder why it would ever be ok for a plane to accept minors as low as 7 yrs. of age (I believe that is the youngest).
    Best to you and your family!

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