Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Rome alone: every parent's little nightmare

Boy boards plane without passport or ticket. As I stood in the arrivals hall at the airport the other morning, that was quite an eyecatching news story. My teenage son was due to walk through the doors at any moment, back from a three-week holiday to Mexico. Could he have done it? Was it the result of misplacing his documents, too scared to admit it, hoping to busk it through immigration?

Of course, as it turns out, it wasn't. The enterprising (unless you're his parent) lad was an 11-year-old who left a swimming lesson, walked three miles to Manchester airport and boarded a plane to Rome. A chilling tale for those with children.

I once lost my then four-year-old daughter in John Lewis and stood paralysed with fear for a good few minutes until I heard her faint giggle. She'd made her way into the window display, while I queued (and queued) in the children's shoe department. Dumping my bags, I scrambled in and reached for her hand as she bounced away. Managing to just grab her forearm, I held tight and lost all composure. My face was caught mid-snarl as I turned to face the massed witnesses on the other side of the plate-glass window. Uh-oh.

I suppose what I'm saying is, losing control of your children - whether voluntarily or involuntarily - is scary. From the time the plane from Cancun landed the other morning, I stood for 90 long minutes as lobster-hued honeymooners and families with novelty sombreros emerged.

No son.

He had sent a text the week before saying: "I'm considering staying." Could he have not got on the plane? Eventually a call came through from the immigration officials to say they had halted him and his girlfriend as they were unhappy about two 16-year-olds travelling unaccompanied.

This on the day that London's airports were braced for a huge influx of Olympics-related folk. My blood ran cold just as it did in John Lewis: I could almost hear him, but I couldn't get to him. Perhaps the breaking news of 'Rome Alone' boy had made all passport checkers hit the panic button - staff in Manchester had been immediately suspended and (coincidence?) a planned strike by border-control staff was called off.

After reassurances that parents were waiting nearby and that young people who were able to leave the country, travel around and get themselves back again should be allowed to, you know, go home, the pair came through.

And a lanky teenager discovered that he isn't too old for a cuddle from a relieved Mum.

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