Archive for parenthood

Your Kids On An Airliner, Flying Alone? Do It Right.

Posted in air travel, airliner, airlines, airport, flight, flight attendant, flight crew, flight delays, food, jet, parenthood, passenger, travel, travel tips, unaccompanied minors with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2011 by Chris Manno

Little big man standing by the gate, already gone.

Mom’s there, the pain of the thousand miles about to shove themselves between her and the boy draws her eyes into a squint that you know damn well is there for a reason. But he’s already gone, his eyes set elsewhere, the leaving now a mere formality etched in stone beyond his reach or doing. The flight migration of the solo kids: coast to coast, north to south, the sad winds of divorce carry kids aloft.

It’s year round but especially heavy around Memorial Day. Holidays? Summer? Solomon: two halves of one is still less than a whole. But it’s all we got–decreed; so chin up, little nomad.

Way too familiar, and I’m too foolish to pretend I don’t notice. Last minute, before boarding myself and stepping into the cockpit, staying out of everyone’s hair until about ten minutes prior to push, I do what I can. Mom’s there, bereft, dying a little inside, not even hiding her pain. What can I do?

I’ll get to that. But more importantly, what can you do if you’re the parent sending off your child?

According to the Department of Transportation, more than seventy thousand minors will fly unaccompanied this year. Big Fact Two, according to Parenting Magazine, is that parental preparation will make all the difference for those children who do fly solo this year.

There, the authorities have spoken. Now, hear me, the guy standing on the bridge on both ends of the voyage.

First, parents: ante up. All major airlines now have programs to care for kids who fly “Unaccompanied,” or “UM:” Unaccompanied Minor.” They are not not free. But they are essential. Your child will be logged in to the system, your credentials and those of whomever is on the other end will be verified. So whoever picks up your child will be positively identified by official documentation: driver’s license, passport or government issued ID. I watch it every week: our flight attendants will walk your child out and verify that they are delivered to the correct person.

Mid flight? You say you’ve booked them on a thru-flight, meaning no aircraft change enroute? GMAB! I can’t tell you how many times my flight sequence from one coast to the other, same flight number, supposedly same aircraft, gets changed. “Take all of your belongings of the plane,” the agent will say on the P.A., “and proceed from this terminal to the new gate in the other terminal.”

Saved $100 bucks on the U.M. fee, did you, because “TravelSuperDuper.com” promised you a stop but no aircraft change? Don’t even think about it. Because no, the flight attendants won’t take care of the switch because they might not even be scheduled on that next flight. Want to see if your little one can navigate a major airport? Pay the fee.

What you get it this: signatures and verification will follow your child every step of the way. Do I know how many kids are flying alone on my jet? No. Do I know how many officially designated Unaccompanied Minors are on my flight? You bet I do–just as with any special or hazardous cargo or armed individuals, I know who and where they are. And I take it one step further, as I do with armed passengers: I don’t care what I’m “supposed” to be doing, I’ll take the time during boarding to meet eye to eye, say, hello, and tell an Unaccompanied, or “UM” as we call them, by name “we’re glad you’re here. It’s going to be a good flight and if you need anything, you let us know.”

Important to me, hope it is to them. Regardless, when we have the UM vouchers, now my crew knows who they are and where they’re sitting. And someone will hand-carry them to where they need to be.

But even more practical, in my experience, is that the UM process allows you to accompany your child through security and to their boarding gate, as well as permitting someone you designate (have their driver’s license number or other government issued ID info when you check in) meet them at their arrival gate.

Second, send them on board calorized. That is, make sure they’ve eaten recently or have with them some snacks they can manage. Yes, there’s “buy on board” food on many flights–but the transaction is cashless: credit card only. Make sure they have water when they board too–get it on the secure side of the airport because you can’t take it through security.

Pack them sensibly: make sure their bag that they take on board is manageable for them. Don’t count on someone else handling their bag, and make it one that can fit under the seat in front of them, as little ones won’t have much luck with the overhead bins. Anything else you need to send with them–check it at the ticket counter.

Do this: Google “airlines” and “unaccompanied minors,” and be sure to read the airline of your choice’s procedures, plus the many decent parenting articles with tips on UM travel–like this big one I’m going to give you: say your good-byes at home. That’s what the kids are leaving, and that’s where they’ll return. The airport is part of the journey–don’t make it part of the good-bye. Be matter of fact from that point and it will be easier for you and your child.

And finally, show up. I mean on the receiving end, and I mean on time. Flashback, Christmas Eve, a west coast destination, late evening. Our little trooper is standing by the ticket agent as the crew deplanes. The agent has her paperwork, waiting for a late parent. On Christmas Eve. Twenty minutes after our arrival. And we were late.

My crew is tired. Our van is at the curb waiting to take us to the hotel–but nobody’s leaving our little UM. We wait. We hate the parent who didn’t leave two hours early and camp out so as to meet our child at the gate. Be there, whatever it takes.

Back to our departure. Mom ready to crater, her son already on my jet. I approached her from behind.

“We’ll take good care of him. It’ll be all right.” I’m lying. It’s the heart fractured into a thousand shards of smoked glass, hers, that will never be all right ever again. He’ll be okay–the kids usually are once they’re under way. They do their leaving before pushback; the parents are left on the death watch in the terminal. And kids on some level perceive that–so like I said, good-byes are best said at home.

“Look,” I offered, “you want me to call you when we get there? To let you know everything’s fine?’

She put her number into my phone, in tears. I walked onto my jet fighting mine. Parents everywhere get to do this, as some court decreed, over and over till the kids are old enough to decide travel and visitation details for themselves. It’ll never be easy–but make it the best it can be: set them up to be cared for enroute.

I texted the woman after we arrived, watching her little guy walk away with his “other family,” and I imagine she breathed a little easier. Not sure, but I know I did.

Reality, childhood, and Orion waves.

Posted in air travel, airlines, flight crew, parenthood, pilot, travel with tags , , , , on January 25, 2010 by Chris Manno

The intersection of my laziness as a person and my seniority as a pilot is this: I seldom fly early mornings, which means I often fly at night. Since our flight schedules are based on seniority and I’m not a morning person, that’s usually my preference.

In all my years of flying, staring at a night sky like black velvet strewn with jewels of varying sizes and colors, I’ve come to find what seem like old friends in the simpler constellations (remember, I’m lazy) like The Dippers, the “W” of Cassiopea, and on most nights Orion. No matter what’s going on in the cockpit, no matter what’s transpired that day, there they are every night, brighter than ever once you’re at cruising altitude and above most of the atmosphere tainted with smoke and smog and the detritus of civilization as well as nature’s continuous slop of fires and volcanoes and disastrous what not.

It’s a touchstone of distance, too, the way they lay out in the sky depending on how far and wide you’ve flown. Down in the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and below the equator, the stars are all up there but at impossible angles and positions, not because they’ve moved, but because you have, having flown so many thousands of miles past your usual perspective on Earth.

I was telling this to my sweet third grader last year, describing how no matter what, when I’m flying in the northern hemisphere, I can eventually find my old friend Orion, “The Hunter,” usually over my left shoulder in the eyebrow window of the cockpit, steady as a faithful old friend. Then I know where I am in the world, in the sky, in reference to my celestial compadre.

Without a heartbeat’s pause, she asked in wide-eyed wonder, “does he ever wave to you?”

And I hated myself as a parent the very instant my mouth spoke the words, “Uh, no, honey; it’s just a group of stars in a pattern.” Because without meaning to, I’d done the adult thing, contributing unwittingly to the piece by piece dismantling of the childhood wonder I’d just been blessed to wander into. Like any imaginative child, she knew nothing of impossibility, rather, only what she could dream based on what she could see.

Me, on the other hand, after a thousand views of that night sky could only see what is, or at least what I know after childhood dominated by dreams gives way to reality dictated by fact over years and years of making a living in flight. I couldn’t see anything anymore with a perspective given over to knowledge of the impossible rather than the childhood belief in all possibility.

Maybe that shift in belief versus reality is inevitable, so maybe what I’d said was merely a part of the necessary exit from childhood, softened perhaps because it came from a parent who cherished her and her precious grade school years.

But more likely, I’m afraid, this whole incident highlights the coldness of adult-based reality: you give up your sense of wonder and with it, claim a heartless confidence in what you know, period. Then rather than living life as a dream of wide-open possibilities, time becomes a painless yet numb sleep walk from work to days off to work; lather, rinse, repeat.

I don’t really have an answer for this conundrum, and maybe there isn’t one. Clearly, the whole notion of constellations was born of some ancient but adult imagination and endures in modern times despite a millennium of science that proves all of it to be groundless in fact. Maybe that’s the whole point: it’s not that facts don’t matter because really, they do. But perhaps they coexist because there’s value in dreams, maybe even more so for the soul, than in reality.

That’s the lesson I’ve learned: my parenthood can be a bridge between the two for my precious child. I’ll strive to listen carefully and answer more slowly, with careful regard for what’s possible rather than the adult eye for what isn’t. I’ll try that perspective, too, at night at high altitude, stargazing during cruise. Not so much looking for Orion to wave at me, but grateful for the knowledge that in a child’s mind, he just might. Anything beyond that is really not important.

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