Before you know it, your teenager will need to fly somewhere on their own. Do they know what to do? Now’s a great time to start teaching this move out skill.
8 steps to fostering your teen’s travel independence:
1. Let them shadow you.
Next time you travel together, make your teenager your apprentice through each part of the process. Letting them share responsibility for each step as it happens is an easy way for teenagers to learn the ropes of flying and to build confidence that they’ll be able to do it alone in the future.
2. Travel lightly, with minimal luggage.
Not only can extra baggage cost big bucks, it can cause delays at the airport and slow down your teenager’s navigation through the airport before and after the flight. Make sure toiletries are appropriate size if you’re not checking bags. 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. They may not realize that Wi-Fi may cost money—or be unavailable—during the flight. And they should charge their devices fully and bring a charger cord. 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 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.
This includes the airline, gate number, departure time, estimated arrival time, and seat assignment. Encourage them 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.
According to the TSA, passengers under 18 are not required to have identification for most flights within the continental United States (check with the specific airline to be sure), but it’s good to have as an 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.