Unaccompanied minor

Did you hear about the 11 year-old who hopped a plane from Manchester to Rome without ticket or passport? It is simply amazing how an unattended youngster can bypass a big set of security protocols. But some kids are simply courageous when they travel. . . I met one on a flight from Virginia.

At first, I couldn’t understand why the AirTran Airways shuttle was loaded to the gunwales and I was the only passenger next to an empty seat. Just before departure, an attendant came down the aisle and leaned over me with unexpected news:¬† “Okay, you’ll be flying today with an unaccompanied minor.”

A tiny girl peeked out behind her legs. I couldn’t guess her age. She was a redhead with a pink jacket, “Hello Kitty” backpack and a soccer ball. Her name was Sarah. We looked at each other with a fair share of apprehension.

The attendant guided Sarah to her seat and nodded to me. “Just hit the overhead button if she needs anything.”

Like her soccer ball, Sarah was probably tossed between parents in two different states. But she didn’t object to the cramped cabin or the loud aircraft. It never occurred to me that this cute kid had more flight hours than I did and knew her way around an international airport.

We made small talk for the first ten thousand feet. “Your breath smells,” she declared without subterfuge. But you can’t explain to a kid how you attended a wedding on the previous night, one with an open bar, and hangovers aren’t an acceptable framework for logical conversation. We played games and drew pictures. At some point she grew tired and asked for a pillow and blanket. The attendant couldn’t find one, so I bundled up my jacket and let her prop it against her armrest. Sarah passed out and slept all the way through a bumpy landing.

She grabbed her belongings as we rolled to the terminal, physically used to jumping between planes. I said goodbye to the kid on my way out. Sarah had a toughness I lacked, and it was something to be admired. . . I wonder if she’ll ever be a pilot.

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