In all my years of traveling, I had the experience of flying next to an unaccompanied minor only once. Granted, I didn’t know much about the unaccompanied minor program. I loosely understood it to be a service offered to assist minors who are traveling by themselves without an adult. As for the nuances of how it all worked? I have no clue.
I remembered I was traveling with my family with their confirmed seats up front, while I was rolling the dice with an upgrade request. Before boarding, I knew my chance of an upgrade was shot. I joked with my family that they had better enjoy their seats up front.
Empty Middle Seat
When boarding ended, I was surprised to see an empty middle seat. Did I luck out? No sooner had that thought cross my mind, a flight attendant came by with a young lad (10-12 years old?) She helped put his bag into the overhead bin, and then politely pointed him to his seat.
Yes, that dreaded middle seat.
I watched curiously. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he’s an unaccompanied minor. He had this big passport-sized identifying tag that he wore around his neck.
I never had the experience of flying alone when I was a kid. It made me wonder: Is it nerve-wrecking? Will a flight attendant be checking up on him? How does this work?
I don’t like to engage in conversation on a flight (especially when I’m wearing my earplugs). I tend to want to put on my headset and retreat into my own little world.
But, he seemed slightly nervous. I wasn’t sure if this was his first time flying by himself, so I politely acknowledge him and asked where he was traveling from. Despite his shy demeanor, he seemed wanting of some interaction. He revealed that he had been flying all day, first with his aunt from an international destination. He’s on this flight by himself, but his Dad is going to pick him up once he lands.
I didn’t want to over-step, but I also remembered that I almost never ask for anything at that age (even when I needed the help). I simply offered to let me know if there’s anything he needs.
The lady sitting on the aisle seemed to want to be left alone. I went back to reading my in-flight magazine.
The kid dozed off while we wait for the flight to depart. We sat on the tarmac for what seemed like forever (at least 45 minutes). Finally, the kid woke up, turned to me and asked politely, “Do you know where we are? How long have we been flying?”
I almost didn’t have the heart to tell him. “Uh, we haven’t left yet…but I heard we will be taking off very soon.” He seemed surprised and disappointed. Maybe he thought we’re already well on our way to our final destination.
Once we took off, he napped again.
The lady sitting in the aisle was enjoying herself with a glass of alcoholic beverage.
Somewhere in all of this, the kid fell asleep with his head leaning towards the lady sitting in the aisle seat. The lady’s reaction is hilarious. She did not want to be bothered and seemed exasperated by it. She looked at me and said “ugh, what should I do now?” while holding her drink in one hand and gently trying to push his head back with the other. I shrugged, figuring that she will do what is most sensible. She looked relieved when he shifted back in his seat.
Later in the flight, I ordered my onboard food and asked if he’d like some. For some reason, I thought the flight attendant would come by and check in on him, but they didn’t.
End of the Journey
At the end of the flight when we were all getting to disembark, I asked if he knows where to go or if he needs any help with his bag. He explained that he is supposed to stay on the plane and wait for a flight attendant.
I guess the difference when I had an unaccompanied minor as a seatmate is that I just want to make sure s/he is going to be okay.
Knowing that he should be taken care of, I left to join up with the rest of my party.
At the baggage carousel, I happened to see the kid again at a distance (this time, reunited with his Dad). When he saw me, he gave me a little wave, then turned and said something to the Dad. I don’t know what he said, but it must be something nice because the Dad looked up at my direction, smiled and mouthed a “Thank you” at me.
I gave them a thumbs up.
We were all ready to head home.