Sunday, July 13, 2014

Unicorn's Adventure ~ Flying Solo

Unicorn has spent the past four weeks in Arizona visiting her dad, grandparents, aunt and uncle, and some friends. She had a great time while she was there but getting her there and back was a bit more adventurous than I was planning on.

Background info: Unicorn is just barely 14 and, other than a flight to Hawaii when she was 7 and the trip over here in February, hasn't done any flying. There are no direct flights between Abu Dhabi and Phoenix so Unicorn had to change flights (and airlines) once each direction.

To Phoenix: She traveled on Etihad to JFK and then JetBlue to Phoenix. Etihad was wonderful. I had the unaccompanied minor forms filled out and we got her all checked in. Since Abu Dhabi now has a US Pre-Clearance program for US customs I was not able to stay with her until she boarded the plane. This is relatively new and the Etihad website has not been update to reflect how this change affects unaccompanied minors so I was not expecting to have to say good-bye to her so quickly! JetBlue doesn't do unaccompanied minor for children 14 and over but they do have what they call "Meet and Greet" where they will meet the child at the gate and make sure they board the plane. Luckily Phoenix airport is pretty easy to navigate. So, Etihad walked Unicorn from the international terminal in JFK to her connecting flight. JFK has free wi-fi so Unicorn and I were able to chat via Facebook while she waited for her flight. JetBlue met her and helped her board her flight. In Phoenix, Unicorn walked on her own and was able to meet up with my mother just outside security. All in all this leg of the flight went fairly smoothly.

Her flight home was a completely different story!

To Abu Dhabi: Her father and my mother took her to the Phoenix airport and started the check-in process only to find out that American Airlines wouldn't take Unicorn through the Chicago airport to Etihad in the international terminal. Thankfully, my mom looked around and saw a woman in an abaya who was also going on the same flight. My mom talked to the woman and found out that she is from Saudi Arabia and was going to be on the same flights as Unicorn all the way to Abu Dhabi. The woman was very nice and was willing to walk with Unicorn through the Chicago airport. American Airlines was kind enough to not charge us the $150 unaccompanied minor fee and to allow Unicorn's father to go with her to the gate and stay with her until she took off. Once Unicorn and the Saudi woman arrived in Chicago they made their way to the international terminal. It turned out that Unicorn was actually more help to the Saudi woman as Unicorn knew where to go (we flew through Chicago on our way here in February) and the Saudi woman didn't. They got through security and on their flight without any problems. However, Unicorn forgot to give the Etihad people her unaccompanied minor paperwork and once she landed in Abu Dhabi she didn't have any assistance. She was able to follow the signs and the people to get her luggage but then she didn't know where to go. She asked someone for help but he had trouble understanding her. Then, she noticed some Etihad flight attendants and she asked them for help. One sweet flight attendant then helped Unicorn get through customs and out to where we were waiting for her. Of course, I didn't know about all this as the Chicago airport does NOT have free wi-fi! So while Unicorn was getting through Chicago on her own I was here in Abu Dhabi freaking out as there was no way for me to know if she made her flight! I tried calling the Etihad offices but they were closed. I tried calling the Chicago airport to see if there was a way to find out if she had boarded but the number they gave me for the Etihad desk was the same one I had already tried. Finally, I had an idea to try the Etihad Facebook page. On their timeline I briefly explained the situation and asked if there was any way to find out if a passenger had boarded a flight. They replied quickly and asked me to private message them with Unicorn's ticket information and they would get back to me. I did so and they were able to confirm that she was in fact on the flight!

Final Thoughts: I am so grateful for all the angels that were watching over her on this adventure. First the Saudi woman so she wasn't alone in the Chicago airport, then the Etihad Facebook Page administrator who confirmed for me that she was on the flight, and finally, the Etihad Flight Attendant who went above and beyond and brought Unicorn out to me in Abu Dhabi. I am sure there were many other angels watching over her that I am unaware of but I am so PROUD of Unicorn and how well she handled this whole situation (I think she handled it better than I did)! For the sake of my sanity, she will be flying Etihad unaccompanied minor directly between Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles (Etihad started flying this route in June) and either her father or my mother will be picking her up in Los Angeles!

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  1. Jennifer Hestand VassilarosJuly 13, 2014 at 8:14 PM

    Sweet little unicorn... not so little anymore!!! <3

  2. AdventuresinHomeEducatingJuly 13, 2014 at 11:27 PM

    Nope...not so little anymore! In fact, she is almost as tall as I am! ;)

  3. Jennifer Hestand VassilarosJuly 14, 2014 at 8:21 AM

    Well.... That's not as hard as you might think... ;)

  4. AdventuresinHomeEducatingJuly 14, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    It is for my children! :P <3


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