Recently I was traveling back to Atlanta from Miami. As I found my seat I discovered that I was sitting next to a young man, about 11 years old. This is not the first time that I have found myself seated next to a young solo traveler. In fact, I apparently have an uncanny ability for the airlines to select a seat for me next to young solos. The youngest I have ever traveled with was five.
There was a woman and two children in the seats behind me so I assumed that the young man seated next to me was a part of the family seated behind me. I could not have been more wrong. As it often happens at this time of year, its summer visitation time, when children travel between one parent and the other for an extended visit. This can mean that the child travels alone, via air.
No big deal, you think… the airlines have it covered. Not according to my seat mate…. He described being transferred from person to person in the Miami airport.... often sitting alone with no one to look out for him. I asked him if he was scared. He said, “Yes, sometimes”. If you have been Miami, you know how confusing it can be for an adult. For that matter, the Atlanta airport has confused many an adult who has never been there and is unfamiliar the airport layout. I was able to watch my young seat mate call both parents on his cell phone when he landed. I also saw him run to his dad and grab him tight when he finally got to baggage claim.
The point is really simple. When parents involved in a divorce are drafting settlement agreement, parenting plan or visitation agreement that involves children, vacations and travel, it is really important to think about visitation from the child’s perspective. Parents often want “equal” time with their children, which is commendable…but the children are the ones having to sit in seats with strangers and depend on them or the occasional airline representative, who are usually overworked with little time to spare. Think about it…. Have you been comfortable with everyone you have sat next to on an airline? Remember, it can be a scary and unpredictable travel world for adults, much less 6, 8 or 12 years olds. Yes, they are mature for their age, but they are still kids.
If you have to create a settlement or visitation agreement, sit back a minute and be a child…. See it from their perspective and make sure you have really thought through all of the things your child is going to experience while traveling alone. Make sure that you and your attorney are specific about the details, as well as the backup arrangements. It is not only important for your peace of mind, but it is important for the peace of mind of your child.