Flying Solo, Part 2

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Micki: Thank you for contacting Economy Air. My name is Micki. How may I assist you today?

Tanya: I have downloaded the unaccompanied minor form for my two children, ages 13 and 15. My question is if the meeting party needs to sign where it says “signature of Party Accepting Custody” when they actually pick up the children, or does it need to be signed by the meeting party beforehand? Thanks.

Micki: 13 and 15 year olds traveling together are not considered unaccompanied minors. The 15 year old is considered an adult.

Tanya: My 15-year-old has autism, and their father still needs to go directly to the gate to pick them up.

Micki: [no response]

Tanya: He’ll be fine on the plane, but we don’t want him going through the airport unaccompanied.

Micki: That is fine. We will document the itinerary so that it’s understood by the agents. All the father needs to do is show his identification at the ticket counter and they will issue him a gate pass to meet the flight.

Those who happened to catch my post a few days ago know what transpired with the December 25th travel plans, and why the flight had to be scheduled that day. But since we had no way of knowing that it would be canceled, the boys were prepped for their first solo flight (!). We practiced lifting up their luggage to put it in the overhead bins. We talked about being patient while waiting to de-plane and not making comments about how people should “just move.” We talked about what to do if for some reason their father wasn’t at the gate when they landed. We went over what topics are not okay to talk about with airport security. Special needs were noted with the airline agent in an online chat that could be printed out for verification. Not surprisingly, there were many preparations for this huge milestone.

And although they ended up not flying that day, we still planned to have them return to Oregon by plane.  I got up that morning and prayed for a fogless arrival time, so that the boys’ plane could land safely. Their father called to let me know as soon as they boarded in LA. He sounded so proud, describing how he watched the boys get on the plane, and how they waited patiently for an elderly woman in front of them.

When the time came, I drove to our little airport to pick them up. The sky looked good, but as I neared the terminal, my body started gasping involuntarily. It wasn’t a panic attack, which I’ve had in the past. No, it was just a mom, overcome with emotion. I couldn’t help it. Nigel was doing something I never thought he’d be able to do! He has come so far, and he never ceases to amaze me.

I parked the car and pulled myself together. I went to the counter to request a gate pass. They hemmed and hawed a bit at first (I wanted to say, So what if they’re teenagers? They are my children, autistic or not, and I have every right to meet them at the gate!), but all I had to do was drop the A-word, and then they were accommodating. The flight was only a few minutes late, and I waited anxiously at the gate.

I was afraid that I would start crying again with their arrival, but as soon as I saw them, my face broke into a huge grin! Aidan ran past me, looking unwell. “Mom, I’m sick. I’m going to the bathroom,” he said as he handed me his luggage and took off. “What’s wrong?” I called after him, but he hurried away. I hugged Nigel and asked him what was wrong with Aidan. He said he didn’t know, and we walked over to the side to wait for him. Nigel said that the flight was fine, and then he proceeded to tell me about how, at the movie theater the night before, he threw up twice during the 3-D showing of Avatar. “That 3-D was too good, I guess!” he said with a chuckle. “I’m sorry that happened, honey,” I said. He told me that all the 3-D aerial scenes made him dizzy and sick. I hadn’t even thought of that as a movie-related sensory issue. If it’s not one thing, it’s another!

Aidan returned then, explaining that he’d felt a little airsick when they started descending, and then the stuffiness of the cabin and having so many people around him while waiting to de-plane just got to him. “At least I didn’t throw up in the plane,” he said. Yes, at least. Oh, my poor SPD boys! I felt so bad that they had both been sick, especially when I’d hoped that they would enjoy the movie, and later, take pride in their autonomy on the flight. But my concern took a back seat to my overall relief and exhilaration. They did it! Their first solo flight! After many years of effort in dealing with their challenges, it’s so validating to just let them fly.

23 thoughts on “Flying Solo, Part 2

  1. Anastasia

    I’m glad their return flight happened (relatively) smoothly! And it was so great to be able to watch that movie with them, despite the vomit. I enjoyed it as much as you did, and Nigel maintained a great attitude despite getting sick!

  2. Kim

    woo-hooo!!!! They did it! I would have been a HUGE mess while waiting for the plane! So glad they let you back to meet them when they got off! whew!

  3. Eithne

    Wow, what a great milestone. Congratulations. I hope some day my son will be able to do that too.
    Best wishes.

  4. Meg

    I was nervous for you just while reading this post! Awesome job, boys! What a HUGE milestone!

    (And I’ve had friends get sick or headachy from Avatar, it may not be a sensory issue. Still want to see it though!)

  5. Nicki

    Aww, poor dudes, one getting sick from the movie and one getting sick from the plane! 🙁 I’m glad they succeeded on their first plane ride alone, though!!! Haooy New Year!!!

  6. corrie

    Congrats, Mom! You didn’t cry. And you are so proud of your boys. What an accomplishment for them. I guess part of this is just being a mom. I worry when I put my teenage son on the plane; however, I guess in my case I was worried because he was changing planes and because he was leaving the country.

    I also get sick watching movies which movement. I can’t go into those IMX theaters. And even lately, with our large HD TV and the camera circling one person over and over again makes me sick.

    And it’s rare that I can get on or off a plane without having been sick. The take off and landings always get me.

    I can so relate to your kids.

    Sniff, sniff. They are growing up too fast and I’ve only known them a couple months.

  7. babs

    Wow. Just…wow. As I was reading along, I was constantly reminded of my own two (what NOT to discuss with airport security OMG yes) and how Little Miss can’t do 3-D in the theaters (we just let her take off the glasses, which apparently helps), but how proud you must all be, the boys too! Congrats!

  8. Cheryl

    That is so wonderful that they were able to get to do their first flight alone, and that you were brave enough to let them and trust that all would be well! It’s so hard to let kids go and grow up sometimes, I struggle with this all of the time, and you’ve helped to remind me that it’s ok to let them out of the nest and fly on their own! Hurray for you and the boys!!! What a proud accomplishment!

  9. Cinda

    What a wonderful tale of bravery, adventure and excitement! How did they feel about this? I know you told them how proud your were of them…! I know of some research that demonstrated self-confidence is built in kids (and kids with disabilities) when they accomplish something like this and are coached to describe their feelings (name it) of being proud or “feel good” or whatever and it is 10 x more than if someone else tells them. These two guys are awesome and, mostly, so are you!

  10. Anonymom

    Yay, yay, and a big hooray!
    I’ve been on the airplane travel journey for some years and it is a roller coaster. The boys did great. Next time, they’ll get off and say, “Mom, what’s the big deal?!?”

  11. Tera


    It’s great, terrific, wonderful! Glad the boys did okay. Glad you were reunited with your sons.

    My question is this: I have been afraid to tell the airline when Kaeden flies solo that he is autistic. I’m not sure they would accept him as an unaccompanied minor flying internationally knowing that. Do you know if there are laws that allow me to state that he is autistic and still allow him to fly?

    On the website, the information states (in so many terms) that the child must be able to function on his own. As a parent I wouldn’t send Kaeden if I didn’t think he’d do okay, but with autism you seriously just never know. I’d like to be able to honestly tell them he is autistic without worrying it could lead to the consequences of him being unallowed to fly alone.

    On another note, Kaeden KNOWS that at 15 he can officially fly alone, unaccompanied. He believes he’s ready to do so. I know he is not. We have gone over what if’s- what if the flight gets canceled? What if you end up in another airport? what if…

    His answers always amaze me- I would go ask…. for help. I would look at the board to see where I need to go…I would…

    However, the stress of something like that could set him off when he’s had no sleep, his meds haven’t been handed to him (he easily forgets to take them on his own), and though his english is good, it’s not perfect.

  12. Tanya Savko Post author

    Hi Tera,

    I completely understand your concern about telling the airline. The reason I did is because if any situation were to arise with Nigel’s behavior or his response (or lack thereof) to a flight attendant, or even if they thought he “seemed suspicious” because of his lack of eye contact or making an inappropriate comment, I wanted them to have on record that they were notified that he has autism. That way the airline can’t say that I neglected to inform them if, God forbid, anything were to go wrong. And I really think that, at least in Nigel’s case, it’s something that really should be on record with the airline. In Kaeden’s case it might be different, especially if flying completely alone. Nigel was with Aidan (although Aidan is younger), and I don’t know if that made a difference to the airline. Also, different airlines might have different regulations. (Although if he is capable of flying alone, I think that if the airlines did not allow him to, that would be discrimination.) There’s a lot to consider, especially with having connecting flights. That was my other issue – I only felt comfortable with the boys flying alone because it was a direct flight. But that’s for the time being. As our boys continue to grow and learn, I think that, with enough preparation, it won’t be too long before they’ll be able to maneuver even the connecting flights. I’m taking the same approach with him driving – not now, but we’ll work on it for the future.

    Not sure if this helps you in deciding, because you have other variables involved, but I just thought I’d give you my thought process on this.

    Best wishes!

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