Last year in March, Hari took his first flight as an unaccompanied minor!
A few weeks before his spring break, on the dinner table when he pressingly told me that we should go to Bangalore where his paternal grandparents stay, I casually told him that I can't come due to work commitments and that he could go alone if he wanted to, not expecting a positive response from him.
A few days later, when he told me to book the tickets, I wondered what I had gotten into! While I had heard about kids taking solo international trips, I wasn't prepared to part with my 8 year old even on a domestic flight.
At the same time, I knew that this experience would be adventurous for him and it would make him more confident.
I went on to the jet airways site and did a quick reasearch on unaccompanied minor travel. And then we went ahead and booked the tickets.
My heart was pounding on DDay when we reached the reservation counter. I was not yet willing to part with the boy who lights up my life in unimaginable ways.
As I filled the unaccompanied minor form at the counter, my eyes filled with tears and I wondered how this baby who was in my womb a few days ago was now embarking on a solo journey.
The staff at the counter assured me that many children fly alone and they are well taken care of. And then two ladies from the ground staff crew came to the counter to take Hari for boarding. As I watched him go away and disappear from my line of sight, I could feel a piece of my heart go away. My bird had begun to flap its wings and for me this was also one of the biggest lessons of motherhood- that of letting go!
For the duration of the stay, we had handed over a phone to Hari and when he landed in Bangalore he took a selfie with the ground staff member to share with me. He was very excited and told me that the cabin crew took extra care of him and gave him sweets and cookies.
After the ground staff helped him with his luggage, he was promptly handed over to my mother in law whose details I had filled up in the unaccompanied minor form. She was also expected to carry a proof of identity for the child to be handed over to her. I must also mention that at no stage of the travel was he left alone and was tended to with great care.
My in-laws and my nephew Abhishek had come to receive Hari at the airport. Hari had a great time with his grandparents in Bengaluru and flew back alone after a week as an unaccompanied minor again.
I was happy and proud of my affectionate boy when he returned back into my fold. I also realised that here is a precious entity who has been handed over to me by the force of the universe to nurture and care for in every possible way which made me more aware of my responsibility as a mother.
Subsequently during his annual break, he took another flight to Hubli, where his maternal grandparents live, this time in Air India. Jet Airways charged us an extra fee for the unaccompanied minor service and the entire experience was amazing for Hari. Air India does not have any extra charges for this service but the form needs to be filled and submitted prior to departure.
If you are on the fence about sending your child alone in a flight, here are a few pointers and thoughts that might help:
1. The unaccompanied minor service is available for children between the ages of 5 to 12.
2. The unaccompanied minor forms (available on the website of the respective airlines or at their respective counters) need to be filled and submitted at the counter of the airline prior to departure.
3. Different airlines have different procedures, so it's better to visit the websites or call customer service for more details.
4. The fare is to be bought at full adult rates and certain airlines charge an additional fare for the service.
5. The staff takes good care of the child and the child is assisted at every stage of the travel.
6. If you are opting for this service make sure that your child is well prepared and emotionally ready to make the trip.
7. You also need to ensure that someone responsible is there on time to pick up your child at the destination airport.
8. Flying as an unaccompanied minor gives an adventurous spirit and instills a sense of confidence in the child.