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How to Prepare Your Teen For Their First Flight Traveling Alone

Before you know it, your teenager will need to fly somewhere without you. Do they know what to do when they travel on their own? Now’s a great time to start teaching this move out skill.

How to Prepare Your Teen for Solo Travel

1. Let them shadow you

Next time you travel together, make your teenager your apprentice through each part of the process. When they share responsibility for each step as it happens, they’ll build confidence that they will be able travel alone in the future. Shadowing is an easy way for teenagers to learn the ropes of flying.

2. Travel lightly, with minimal luggage

Checked baggage can complicate travel. Not only can it cost big bucks, checked baggage can also cause delays at the airport and slow down your teenager’s navigation through the airport before and after the flight. If your teen is able to travel with carry-on only, check out FTA-approved travel sizes. TSA will confiscate toiletries that exceed the approved size. Furthermore, there is a skill to being able to identify what is needed for the trip.

3. Plan ahead for the actual flight

Your teenager should download music, movies, or books on their phone or tablet ahead of time. Don’t rely on wifi; it may — or more likely be unavailable — during the flight. Fully charge devices in advance and bring charger cords. Finally, they should pack or plan for in-flight food; some airlines have very limited options if the passenger did not order and pay for a meal ahead of time.

4. Reinforce punctuality

Teens should know to arrive at the airport 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time (more if it’s an international flight) to allow time to clear security, check bags, and check in for their flight. Teenagers may not have developed a strong sense of punctuality, but for air travel, timing is crucial. Explain that the first thing they should do is get through security and find the gate. Grab a snack or go to the bathroom after they arrive at the gate so they don’t lose their seat or miss their flight.

5. Memorize basic flight information

Know these details in advance: the airline, gate number, departure time, estimated arrival time, and seat assignment. Encourage your teen to write this down on a card, and stick it in a zipper pocket of a jacket or purse, as their phone may be turned off in flight.

6. Bring identification

Does a teen under 18 need identification? Research reveals some ambiguity. To be safe, call the specific airline for their guidelines.

According to the TSA, passengers under 18 are not required to have identification for most flights within the continental United States (but still check with the specific airline to be sure). We’d recommend that you take extra safety precaution. If your child is old enough to have a driver’s license, bring it along. Even a student ID card is better than no identification at all.

For international flights, every traveler, including minors, must have a passport that does not expire for at least an additional six months from the travel date. Remind your teenager to check the expiration date well in advance.

7. Be efficient at the security checkpoint

Teach your teenager what to expect going through security, so it’s less stressful when they do it alone. They should observe other passengers in front of them and listen to instructions while waiting in line. Teens should know the basics: Remove your shoes and jacket before you get to the conveyor belt in security. Load all belongings into a bin, including any loose change or keys in your pockets, and place the bin on the conveyer belt. Wear clothing and shoes that are easy to get through security: Limit belts, jewelry, and lace-up shoes. Double check when leaving security to ensure nothing is left behind.

8. Prepare for snafus

Delays and cancellations happen, and flights and connections get missed. Discuss ahead of time what your teenager should do in these cases. Usually, they should ask for help from airline employees. Lastly, be prepared with a charged phone, snacks, and a small amount of money.

Jane Parent, former editor at Your Teen, is the parent of three.

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