Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Last Christmas I was blessed with a visit from my daughter and her family. When it came time for them to leave, however, my granddaughter cried her heart out. We couldn't get the tears to stop until I said, "Let's ask Mom if you can spend part of the summer with me." My daughter agreed, but now I am faced with a problem. The trip entails two or three changes of airplanes.

When I discussed my concern with a friend, she told me that her granddaughter had made a plane trip requiring two airplane changes each way. In order to ensure her safety, my friend gave the flight attendant $40 ($20 for each plane the child was taking). This was done for the return trip also. I was surprised that she had tipped the flight staff, but she assured me that this is what is done today.

Is tipping a requirement to guarantee the safety of a child flying alone, or do the airlines still provide personal attention for children without handing gratuities to the flight staff? -- GRANDMOTHER JUDITH, LAWTON, OKLA.

DEAR JUDITH: Your friend was misinformed. I checked with three major airlines, and all three had similar policies regarding children traveling alone. None of them allows flight attendants to accept tips.

In order to fly alone, a child must be at least 5 years old. There is an additional fee for an unaccompanied child, but it is part of the cost of the ticket. However, fees vary, depending on the airline and the number of connecting flights.

DEAR ABBY: To "Concerned Daughter," whose elderly mother is taking medication she got from several doctors and trading pills with friends, I say: Go to Mom's house, collect her pill bottles, write down the names and phone numbers and contents of each. Make a list of medications Mom swaps with her pals. Call all the doctors and tell them exactly what Mom is taking and who is prescribing what. Ask specific questions and ask each if he (or she) is aware that Mom is seeing Doctors So-and-So. Then mail each doctor a note giving the names of all her physicians and the names and dosages of all her medications.

I am a health-care provider who almost lost one of my patients to this same type of drug addiction. Once I recognized there was a problem and spoke with the doctors, they began to consult with one another. The patient had to be hospitalized and evaluated, and go through a drug rehabilitation program.

Abby, in my opinion, it's an honor to become my parents' protector. They protected me when I was young, and now it's my turn to protect them.

"Concerned Daughter," please take my advice immediately -- you could be saving your mother's life. -- SPOKE UP IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR SPOKE UP: I'm printing your letter for all of the "Concerned Daughters" out there. Your patients are fortunate to have such a caring and proactive health-care provider.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600