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My kid is 12. We live across the country from his grandparents. Some of his friends have started to fly alone to visit their respective families but I’m not sure I’m ready to put him on a flying machine by himself and sending him off into the wild blue yonder. I think he would be fine, as he likes to fly. So I’m pretty sure that it’s my own anxiety that is keeping me from allowing him to travel alone. But maybe he should be a bit older. I don’t know.
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My kids started flying cross-country to visit their dad when they were 9 and 6-years old respectively. Granted, they did have one another for support and reassurance, but with assisted boarding and disembarking they were both comfortable with the arrangement.
I think that this decision should be based on your child and their own needs and personality. A shy and anxious 12-year old would probably have a far more difficult time travelling solo than a gregarious and confident 9-year old. If your airline offers assistance in boarding and disembarking (and making sure that your child is safely handed over to their family on arrival) this may help to ease any uncertainty you may feel. Make sure the airline is aware of any allergies or health conditions your child may have, such as asthma, and have regular conversations with your kid about airplane etiquette.
Flying remains one of the safest forms of long distance travel. If you do decide to send you son to visit his grandparents, make sure he is properly prepared, book with a reputable airline, and chat to him about following the instructions of the flight crew. Also remember to talk to him about the usual safety related concerns, for example not talking to strangers, not wandering off on his own, and who to go to if he needs assistance.