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Flying the Helicoptery Skies

41 comments | March 27th, 2012

(story by Mir, from Woulda Coulda Shoulda)

We all know that post-9/11 air travel is a completely different reality than what most of us grew up experiencing. (I say "most of us" because I recently met a woman my age who'd never been on an airplane. That kind of blew my mind. I'm talking about people who had experienced commercial air travel pre-9/11 as opposed to folks who have only had the dubious pleasure of the TSA-nanny-state experience we all get to "enjoy," now.)

I am one of those people who finds the new regulations… well, they're annoying, sure. It would be much nicer to just walk into the airport, locate the proper gate, and head on over, yes. But I prefer having to remove my shoes and put all my toiletries into a quart sized Ziploc bag to, say, having my plane blown up by crazy people, so the bottom line is that I'm not that bothered. In fact, I am almost always selected for either a full-body scan or a spot-check of my carry-on luggage, and—given that I am, I think, a fairly regular and unassuming-looking person—I once asked the TSA agent rifling through my things why I seem to so often be picked. As soon as I asked, I realized it was a silly question, and I didn't really expect an answer… but to my surprise, the agent kind of looked around, then leaned in and quietly said, "You look like the sort of person who probably won't complain." As a lifelong type-A personality, I decided to take that as a compliment.

All of this is to say that I find air travel a kind of necessary inconvenience; I don't really enjoy it, but neither do I feel like the endless bitching that people tend to do about how horrible it's become is necessarily warranted, either.

This is kind of sad, if I think about it. When I was a kid, we flew to visit my grandparents once a year, and I absolutely LOVED it. We usually dressed up a little for the trip. (Okay, I'm not that old, really, but remember when people dressed up to fly??) My mother would bring candy and games for my brother and me, and the stewardesses always fussed over us—we always got those plastic wing pins, and a new deck of playing cards, and sometimes we even got to go up to the cockpit to say hello to the pilot. And we got to drink soda, even if it was before lunch! It was all very exciting.

It's been years since I viewed air travel as anything other than a means to an end, but recently I was booking plane tickets for a family trip and came face to face with how different things really are, now. See, we're taking a vacation with extended family for a week (yay!), but when that's over, my teenager is going to fly to her dad's house for a visit (while the rest of us go home). She's flown there by herself only once before, but I figured this time it would all be even easier, because we're all headed to the airport, and our flights are close together—last time, I had to go fill out a bunch of forms and get a special pass just to get to go through Security with her. This time, I thought, would be a piece of cake.

Well. Last time, her father made the arrangements and bought her ticket. This time, I was shocked to discover that at age 14, she is still considered "too young" to fly alone without us ponying up a mandatory $100 Unaccompanied Minor Fee to the airline. Even if we were okay with her navigating on her own (we'll be with her until she gets on the plane, and her non-stop flight deposits her at an easily-navigated airport she's been to dozens of times before), she is not allowed to disembark without an airline employee walking her out. This is true even though logic dictates that after everyone in the airport's been scanned and felt up, the airport is probably safer than the hallways at her school. (And just to be clear: I have no problem with the airline offering this service as an option. Every kid is different, and some are probably fine to fly alone at 10 and some still wouldn't be ready at 16. I'd just like to see the parents have a little more say over that decision.)

The year I was 14, we couldn't make the family trip to my grandparents' as planned. I can't remember why; maybe it was a work conflict for my parents? Or my brother had something school-related at home he couldn't miss? I lobbied to make the trip on my own, and my parents agreed to send me. (I grew up in upstate New York; that Easter-time trip to Florida meant lazy days at the beach when it was still snowing at home.) Of course, back then, you didn't have to get through Security to get to the gates, so my parents simply walked me to the gate when I left, and my grandparents met me at the gate when I arrived. I don't remember the trip itself, really. I assume I drank my ginger ale and read a book and looked out the window, and never once thought to myself, "OH NOES THIS IS SO SCARY, I HOPE A STEWARDESS WILL PROTECT ME."

The bottom line, I guess, is that I understand the need for strong security at our airports. But at the same time, I feel like the national fear of DANGER and MAYHEM means that even our airports are insisting on helicopter parenting, to the tune of high schoolers being deemed somehow incapable of… sitting in a seat for a few hours without direct supervision. I'm not even talking about the extra money the airline is bilking us out of, I'm talking about the message it sends. How have we arrived at a place in our society where kids my daughter's age are seen as too young to travel alone, but at the same time are expected to know what they want to be when they grow up, and by the way they should also want to wear g-strings and make-up and go get spray tans? (Don't worry; my kid has some ideas about her future, but no interest in the rest of that.)

Growing up is hard enough already. Too bad this trip is giving my kid one more thing to be indignant about.

Do you think a 14-year-old is too young to fly alone? Are there more mixed messages for today's teens about age expectations than we faced years ago, or am I just being a curmudgeon?

(fly more with Mir here)

 

41 comments

  • Amy

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I just spent my last class period with a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds. Every one of them would be capable of a simple flight on their own. One would need a bit more assistance just getting from Point A to Point B within an airport without wandering off to see something shiny, but with enough direction and support on either end, she’d manage just fine.

    I think it’s nuts that we treat teenagers like children in situations where they can totally handle being treated like the intelligent, independent people that they are.

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  • ccr in MA

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    When I first flew alone, around age six, I certainly needed the stewardess to watch me, and since she brought me a soda, I didn’t mind a bit. But 14? I totally think she should be allowed to be in charge of herself. How are kids supposed to learn to be adults if they don’t get to try under such circumstances? She knows what to do, she knows to ask for help if she needs it … what else do they want?

    Report this comment

  • Em

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I think their policy can be summed up in 3 letters: CYA. I doubt it has as much to do with protecting kids as protecting themselves from lawsuit when junior (not Chickie, a dumb junior) mistakes the hatch for the bathroom door. But I am kind of cynical in general.

    Report this comment

    • Lucinda

      Posted on March 27, 2012

      I think that’s exactly it. At 14 not only did I fly alone, I transferred from one flight to another at Dallas airport. I wouldn’t be surprised if the policy is for anyone under 18 at this point because of lawsuits and the extra $100 per kid doesn’t hurt them either.

      Report this comment

  • Headless Mom

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    Ridiculous. All of it. My daughter began flying on her own pre-9/11, and then her bio-mom had to pay the fee for years regardless of how experienced she was in airports, etc. Until she was 15 or 16 I think. My boys are 10 and 12 now and I can’t believe that they haven’t had a chance to fly alone yet. I’ll have to fix that ASAP.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    Agree 100% with Em. I am not surprised they make you jump thru hoops to do it, including paying extra.
    That said, I think that in general, 12 to 13 is old enough to handle a simple, non stop, picked up at the gate of the arriving airport by the right people, is fine. Adjust up or down based on the kid in question.

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  • Megan

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    What I think is silly is there’s a one-solution-for-all approach. Does the kid have a complex flight with one or two connections? Well, sure then have someone to at least walk them down to the other gate. But a direct flight?? That’s just silly.

    And it’s quite possibly symptomatic of whatever weird thing it is that is making people delay ‘growing up’ over responsible, important things (like fiscal responsibility) while pushing ‘growing up’ over other things (like sexualization).

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  • Amy

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    They won’t even let you ride the train by yourself until you are 12 or 13 now. Ridiculous. I flew alone from Philadelphia to Charleston WVA–changing planes in Atlanta– when I was 8. Personally I think it’s really good for kids to have these kinds of experiences–teaches them self-reliance, and gives them confidence, but sadly, there are very few opportunities these days. It’s practically child abuse that I allow my 7 and 8 year old to walk to school alone, never mind the fact that school is 6 blocks away in a very safe neighborhood.

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  • amanda

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I flew alone at 14 and actually had a miserable experience- an undiagnosed ear infection made itself quite known on the way up and the way down. I remember crying in pain and holding the hand of the nice woman seated next to me. Although $100 and an airline employee walking me out the door wouldn’t have made any difference at all in the outcome of that flight!

    Report this comment

  • Anonymous

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    What airline? I went through the “unaccompanied minor” thing last summer when my 10 year old flew from Western New York to Florida by himslef. The cut off was 12 years old on Southwest — which had the cheapest unaccompanied minor fee $100 round trip; I think US Air was $75 each way and other were $100 each way– almost as much as another ticket!

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  • Little Bird

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I flew solo to Florida when I was twelve or thirteen. They didn’t make me have a babysitter. Ironically the person who sat next to me was a pilot. In full uniform. The first thing I said to him was “Shouldn’t you be up there?”. I was pointing at the cockpit.
    The rest of the flight was spent drinking Coca Cola and reading the Garfield books I had brought. I was fine.

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  • Arnebya @whatnowandwhy

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I just don’t understand how a 14 yr old can be trusted to maneuver a vehicle for a learner’s permit in some areas (at least here, they start driver’s ed at 14), but can’t fly alone. I agree with Amy; we aren’t giving the kids enough credit. We coddle them like 14 is immature (sure, in some kids it is, but to make it a blanket requirement is ridiculous). I just wonder what message it sends to the 14 yr olds (or the 12 and 13 yr olds for that matter) who know they are fully capable only to have to wait for a personl escort off the plane. Walking! A 14 yr old! Alone! OH NO, someone watch her!

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    • Celeste

      Posted on March 27, 2012

      I agree. I think it’s mostly a way to discourage parents from letting their kids fly alone, and making some extra money off the ones who do.

      On the topic of what 14-year-olds can do, apparently they can pay their own medical bills these days. Cuz when I try to talk to Blue Cross about insurance claims for my daughter, they won’t speak to me unless they have HER permission. Never mind that 1) I’m paying for the insurance, and 2) I’m stuck with the bill for what insurance won’t cover. Something is wrong here.

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      • Anonymous

        Posted on April 4, 2012

        I’m okay with that, because I think kids in high school should have some privacy around their bodies. And, often, their sex lives.

        Report this comment

  • SarraJK

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    As the child of divorced parents, I flew alone all the time as a kid. I don’t remember needing assistance from flight attendants, save for the times I had to change planes for connecting flights (and I was pretty young). Surely by 14 I was even handling that part on my own.

    I think some of it is airlines not wanting to be sued.

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  • Stacy

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    The last time I flew there were 2 unaccompanied children on the plane, both under the age of 10. No one sat with them. They did check on them a lot and walked them off the plane (after the rest of us left), but that was it. So, the airlines are screwing you over (what a shocker). Your 14 year old sounds quite capable of doing it herself. My husband’s son, who is also 14, not so much. Not because he’s immature, but because he gets very, very nervous doing things he’s never done before. He would complain about being treated like a baby, but I also know he would be relieved, the first time. After that, he would be fine doing it himself. But, I’m the parent who allows my 3 year old to pour her own cereal and milk because I want her to learn to take care of herself, so what do I know.

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    • Mir

      Posted on March 27, 2012

      Stacy, I totally think it depends on the kid. My son is two years younger than his sister and I can’t see him flying alone at 14; he’s just a different kid with different issues. But if I’m telling the airline I think she’s fine, I think it’s ridiculous that I’m not allowed to make that call.

      This is particularly weird to me in this day and age of cell phones. If something happened (what would happen?) she has a phone and can reach five different adults who can either come and get her or make arrangements for someone else to, y’know?

      Report this comment

  • Ani

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I remember flying to Florida when I was 12, making a connection through Miami airport, all the while babysitting my sister who was 10. Solo (duo?)

    The new rules are probably dictated in part by all the extra TSA procedures, but still, the airlines are just licking up the extra fee gravy. It’s ridiculuous.

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  • meghann @ midgetinvasion

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    Having divorced parents meant I flew all the time alone growing up. I think my first solo flight was around 10? And I even had my little sister, who was 4 with me. We were the flight attendants’ pets, and had a lot of fun. One time, the airline totally dropped the ball. I was 15? I think? Which means my sister would have been about 9. My mom had been on a different flight, and was going to meet us at the gate.

    Well, she didn’t show. I got on the phone and did everything you are supposed to do. I called her hotel where she had been, and yes, she had checked out. Then I called my dad to let him know that we were sort of stranded. I also came up with a list of people I knew could come get us if they had to. Then I had a desk person check on her flight. It had arrived and apparently she wasn’t on it. We could not figure out what was going on. (at one point my sister and I were just sitting on the floor in the terminal, hoping to see our mom walk up.)

    Eventually, an airline employee walked up and asked if I was Meghann, and then took us to this secret room they have for kids at the airport. It had chairs, and a movie playing, and they gave us some food while we sat with all the other stranded kids. (Did you know this place exists?)

    Finally our mom showed up. Turns out she had missed her flight, and got on a later one. She had called the airline and airport and told them, and they had promised her they would have someone meet us at the gate. Ad then they totally didn’t. Whoopsie!

    Moral of the story-my parents were stoked at how well I handled the whole situation, including taking care of my sister through it. I credit that in part to the fact that I had been flying alone for years by that point.

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  • MichaelB

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    The first time I flew by myself I was 19 and headed off to Boot Camp… I think when I was 14 or 15 I was supposed to get the opportunity to fly from NJ to FL by myself but due to bad grades that year had that taken away from me…

    My wife on the other hand was a veteran solo flier as a kid – and as a result my in-laws suggested that this year our 8 and a half year old fly down from OH to FL on his own – and I couldn’t do it. Even though it was a non-stop flight, I just couldn’t see him navigating either airport in the admittedly unlikely event he got separated from an adult.

    Admittedly some of my hesitation is because I know he has some maturity issues – but the rest is me, and I’m not sure what it would take to convince me that he’s ready to take this on…

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  • jen_alluisi

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I have to agree that it’s probably more of a cover-your-ass policy. In theory, some unsavory person could get through security, kidnap a kid into a family bathroom (the one-seaters, as we call them), and um…do something bad. Of course, that could also happen to a grown woman. It’s very, very unlikely. But the airline does not want to take the risk that something will happen to your kid on their watch and you’ll sue them.

    I read something recently about the differences in what’s on a 1st-grader’s report card now versus 20 or 30 years ago. There used to be life skills, like being able to navigate a 2-block route from school to another location, or knowing how to contact emergency personnel, or being able to tie your damn shoes. Apparently, all of that crap is gone and now our kids have to learn some weird math that is NOT how we learned to do math, and other academic tasks. Now, academics are fine. Encouraged even. And I certainly remember learning addition and subtraction and other academic stuff in 1st grade. But I also learned how to tie my shoes and read a simple map, which are also incredibly valuable skills. These days we don’t have room for that, though – who needs to learn to tie shoes when you just wear flip-flops or sneakers with Velcro, and who needs to learn to read a map when you have GPS? Not to mention most people would not let a 1st-grader walk 2 blocks alone nowadays. *le sigh* I’m rarely reminiscent for the “good old days” because I think memory taints how truly good they were, but some things really were better, yes?

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    • JMH

      Posted on March 28, 2012

      As an elementary teacher, I want to add to this….we took many of the “life skills” off due to increased pressure from the state to meet the No Child Left Behind standards AND due to lack of parental involvement. At our school, we DO work on things like tying shoes, zipping coats, etc. but it is not marked on the grade card. Most of my 4h graders don’t know their address since they live in several different homes and/or they move all the time. Yet, the parents don’t seem to care! (Not ALL of the parents, but we always have quite a few who really don’t seem to care)It is very frustrating as an educator.

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  • Sarah

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    This is such a hassle – I went to boarding school 600 miles away from home when I was 14, and the whole first year I was there I had to be accompanied by very annoyed-looking stewards/stewardesses at every single vacation. I’m all for safety, but it was absolutely unnecessary, and I don’t know a single 14 year old who would disagree.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    mixed messages? here are a few that are bothering me lately:
    – “I felt my child having a cell phone would provide more independence”. Really? calling or texting your kid while they are at the park is showing independence? I know its a different world, but I think we had a lot more independence when we DIDN’T have a cell phone in every pocket. On a group trip last year, a kid texted their mom 2 states away about not feeling well. The head chaperone was woken up by a frantic mom – back in the day the kid would have sucked it up (it was a minor issue – probably something they wouldn’t have woken their mom up at 11 pm if at home!) or with a couple of her friends would have knocked on the head chaperone’s door for help. Me thinks we are actually stripping our kids of independence by being tied by the cellphone umbilical cord. But maybe that’s just me.

    – FB and texting by adults – I can’t tell you how many FB posts I see by moms complaining about their kids or talking about how they have to get out of their house alone ASAP or how annoyed they are to be stuck at soccer practice yet again. Those same moms would be extremely upset if their kid posted “geez, I wish my mother would just GO AWAY” or “Can someone please kidnap me and get me out of this crazy house?” or “how many more years until I turn 18 and can get the heck away from my parents”. How do they think their kids feel or will feel if they ever stumble upon their parents complaining/whining posts? Treasured? I think not. We and if you want to post something funny about it on FB feel free, but stop the constant complaining and whining and just being mean about your kids when you probably begged your hubby to be a SAHM. And holy filter people – can folks NOT text every single thought? Whatever happened to actually living in the moment and then sharing that moment over coffee or wherever vs twitter or FB or a text? Then they get upset if their child shares something over the phone or wherever that isn’t exactly appropriate or for public consumption. I’d be rich for every penny from a constantly texting mom complaining about their constantly texting child. I just think we’ve lost a lot of our filtering ability. But hey, I guess I’m proving that right now, right?

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    At 16 I flew from Chicago to Paris. Alone. And I’d never met the people who were meeting me at the airport; just seen a photo. I managed it and it was a huge growth experience. Yes, we need to back off a bit. Does this mean that when my 5th grader leaves for middle school his brother (who is 8) should walk home from school alone next year? Hmm. I am not so consistent.

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  • Jen

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    At age 14, I took a trip from California to Florida, where I was to meet up with my dad. It was my first time flying. My flight had 2 layovers; on the second, my flight got in late, and I missed my connecting flight to Florida. The airline put me up for the night in a hotel, gave me vouchers to get food, called my parents, and sent me on my way. By the time I got into my hotel room, I was running a fever – turned out I had the stomach flu. In the end, I still got where I was going. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I figured it out, and adults around me helped me along. That was 1992 – this would most certainly not happen under those circumstances now – I’m not exactly sure what they would do.

    My 13 year old navigates the city bus and train system with little to no help from me these days, which I would consider significantly more dangerous than him flying alone. I think I would get pretty stressed out if he ended up stranded like I did, but I think he would handle it just fine – he would probably consider it a nice vacation from the family.

    I don’t think I’d mind airport security so much if I felt it was effective. A friend recently realized after a flight that the set of x-acto knives he always carries in his messenger bag was still in his messenger bag. It had gone through the scanner, the TSA agents had opened up and looked through his bag, and no one caught it. I’ve heard many cases of people getting through with knives or even guns, yet people are harassed for trying to bring through breast milk or cupcakes. Singling out people based on whether they look like they will put up a fight or not doesn’t seem like a very effective security policy. If someone was trying to sneak something through, I don’t think they would have much trouble in doing it. It seems to be more about making us feel safe, without actually making us any safer.

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  • Beth

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I’ve assumed it was mostly a fee thing, like charging for luggage. It varies by airline; Southwest is definitely the cheapest and seems to have the most common sense and the earliest drop off. For example, my 10 and 13 year olds fly alone fairly often, and I don’t pay for the 13 year old but they let him preboard with his brother anyway, which is more comfortable for both. And when we flew my 10 and 15 year old niblings out for a Special Secret Surprise, the fifteen year old counted as an adult and we didn’t have to pay extra shipping for the ten year old.

    Like that irony? Your 14 year was a child, and next year she can be a parental authority!

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  • Harriet

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I think about this traveling alone issue constantly, although I worry much less about flying than about ground transportation. My mom grew up with a divorced mother who raised her alone in San Francisco. She navigated the city alone at a young age and saw no reason why we shouldn’t too. Consequently, I walked more than a mile each way to kindergarten by myself. And when I was 9 and my family moved to London, I quickly learned to get around the city solo on the Tube to my orthodontist appointments and violin lessons and school. The idea of turning my 11-year-old on a subway of a major city terrifies me, and yet I loved it and I think it was important in developing my independence. We are now moving from a small town to a large city where my 11-year-old will most likely have to get himself around by subway as his parents will be working. I’m still terrified, but I’m wondering if this is also an opportunity for us all.

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  • Katherine

    Posted on March 27, 2012

    I flew alone at 12, on a direct, but not non-stop flight. My parents just told me not to get off at the stop. I was fine and I hadn’t flown much at that point (maybe once since I was in preschool). I think it’s crazy that a 14 yo can’t be a flying passenger alone, yet at 16 we turn them loose Ina car – by themselves. To get lost or whatnot. I flew about a month after 9/11 with my then 2 yo. Yep, they pulled him for extra screening. Really?! I know they were all nervous and new rules and all, but common sense got completely lost in the process!

    My 13 yo does not have a cell phone, because he doesn’t really need one. He is either with adults or he is hanging out around the neighborhood being a kid. We all survived w/o phones and he is too.

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  • Pris

    Posted on March 28, 2012

    At ages 6 and 5, my sister and I were sent on a several-hours long flight with an elderly family friend. Everything was fine! Parenting today is kind of crazy. There’s lots of entitled bratty kids as a result of ‘instilling confidence’. Then there’s playdates, I never even heard of such a thing when growing up. We were all just out in the streets like tiny little gangs of kids, coming up with the wildest games.

    The USA in general has become somewhat of a police state. It’s sad.

    I also remember flying a plane being a big deal. I haven’t flown in a while, but I remember it as a luxury thing that you got to do and were happy about! Nowadays all I read are complaints. Dude, you get to ride on a plane! Be excited! Things have obviously changed.

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  • Liza

    Posted on March 28, 2012

    Wow. That is nuts.

    When I was about 7, I flew home alone after visiting my cousins with my grandparents, and Grandma was actually allowed to walk me all the way onto the plane.

    I few by myself at least once/year, usually twice, either to visit the same cousins or to visit my other grandparents, for the entire rest of my childhood. I didn’t care for the extra attention or the plastic wings after about age 9. I wanted everyone to leave me alone with my book(s).

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  • Von

    Posted on March 29, 2012

    Is anyone else having issues with the Twitter, Facebook and Categories bits encroaching on the body of the post? It pretty much makes the last paragraph unreadable.

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  • Therese

    Posted on March 29, 2012

    There probably would be idiot parents that have idiot children who would claim their demon spawn could do the flights on their own just to save the extra fee. It’s a case of bad apples spoiling things for the rest of the bunch. It’s a shame parents aren’t allowed to decide at what point their own children are mature enough to handle responsibilities.

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  • Von

    Posted on March 30, 2012

    To OOC: I am using Internet Explorer 9. The problem is still there today..

    This has happened twice before over the last few months, both times I was not the only one affected. Either your IT dudes sorted it, or it sorted itself out, only to return.

    Report this comment

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