The first time I ever stepped foot in an airport I was 20. I flew to Las Vegas for Spring Break with my college girlfriends. Had no clue how airports worked and was completely stressed out by the whole experience.
In contrast, our now five-year-old daughter, Reagan, is a pro at flying, having taken her first plane ride at six-months-old. She has spent lots of time in airports having flown back and forth to New Orleans to visit family several times a year, to Los Angeles twice and Las Vegas twice as well. Sometimes, she talks about being a pilot like her Daddy… or owning her own rock shop.
Today, Reagan boarded her first flight as an unaccompanied minor. We’ve been preparing her for the flight by talking up what a big girl she is to be able to fly by herself and how fun it will be to go visit Maw Maw and Paw Paw. She’s been so excited for this day to come.
We had one practice run last month when Reagan, Danny and I all had to sit in different rows for a flight home from Vegas. As standby passengers, we’re always prepared for this to happen, though it rarely does. Reagan’s seat was in the row directly in front of mine – both middle seats. At first, she put up a fuss, not wanting to sit apart. I didn’t want to ask someone to trade with me since they’d be moving into a middle seat, and had paid extra for their first row seats with extra leg room. And no one offered. Plus, I knew this would be a good test to see how Reagan would do on her own. After a couple minutes of crying and whining, I was able to get to the bottom of her worries, which were that there would be no one to change the TV channels for her. Yes, sadly, that’s all it was. I reassured her that I could reach the controls on the arm of her seat from behind her if she needed me to, but that she was a big enough girl to be able to change them herself. Once she discovered this was true, she was a happy little camper and sat quietly content the entire flight.
That’s when we knew, she truly was ready.
We arrived early today, filled out the necessary paperwork, paid the unaccompanied minor fees and breezed through security with just her one carry-on bag, Minnie Mouse and Roarie the lion cub, who she takes everywhere with her. She even made a few friends while we waited at the gate – a boy and girl also traveling alone. They begged the gate agent to all sit together, which of course, they were going to do anyway.
When it was time to board, Reagan barely had time to give me kisses and hugs. She was ready to do this thing! And soon, she was disappearing down the jetway.
I waited until the plane left the gate and began down the runway with the two other moms whose kids would be keeping Reagan company. They both had tears in their eyes. I asked the mother of the girl how long her little girl would be gone – one year. The other mother how long her little boy would be – seven weeks. I couldn’t imagine their pain. Mine after all, will be home in just four days.
Reagan called me from New Orleans to tell me she had apple juice on the plane and got to sit in between her two new friends. The perfect place for her. And on her own adventure.