What to Do When Airlines Lose Your Kids

Many readers whose children have flown as unaccompanied minors know that they must pay an unaccompanied minor fee of $100 to $200 on top of the cost of even the cheapest airline tickets. Parents understand why these fees exist and trust airlines to get their children to their destinations safe and sound.

Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong and airlines temporarily “lose” unaccompanied minors, causing incredible stress for parents and children.

Should Children Travel Alone on Airlines? 

Cases of Airlines Losing Children
The most recent case of an airline “losing” a child happened December 22, 2011, when Southwest rerouted a 9-year-old girl traveling from Nashville to New York. The rerouting was because of weather and was unavoidable, but Southwest neglected to notify her parents. The cost of the ticket was refunded, and the girl got a Girl Scout badge as the result of her adventure, but her mother chose to drive to New York to pick her up rather than put her back on a plane alone.

That wasn’t the only time an unaccompanied minor was misplaced:

  • In June, 2010, Delta routed two unaccompanied minors through connections in Minneapolis, but swapped them, putting the child who was going to Boston on a plane for Cleveland and vice versa.
  • Two errors by Continental on the same day in June, 2009 sent one child to Fayetteville, Arkansas, rather than Charlotte, North Carolina, and another to Cleveland rather than Newark.
  • In August, 2008, after successfully getting a 10-year-old to Washington Dulles from Boston, United accidentally sent a girl to the baggage claim rather than the appointed meeting place with her mother.

What Do the FAA, DOT and TSA Say About This?
None of the three agencies has rules about treatment of unaccompanied minors. TSA considers it a “customer service” issue rather than a security issue, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle. The DOT collects data on complaints about unaccompanied minors, but rarely investigates. That means it’s up to you and your child to do everything possible to ensure your child arrives when and where he or she is supposed to.

New TSA Measures for Kids Under 12

Tips for Unaccompanied Minors and Parents

  • Tell your child to speak up if he or she is being put on the wrong plane. Many children are hesitant to confront adults, including friendly flight attendants. Children should also notify a flight attendant if they feel sick, or if another passenger behaves inappropriately.
  • Send a charged cell phone, pre-programmed with parents’ and other contacts’ numbers plus emergency contact numbers, with your child. Have the child check in periodically from the airport(s) and instruct him or her to call you any time there is a problem.
  • If your child has to make a connection (which some airlines don’t allow with unaccompanied minors), make sure he or she is aware of the final destination city and knows not to wander from the gate.
  • Parents must understand that their child will not have uninterrupted supervision during the flight, though flight attendants check on unaccompanied minors periodically.
  • Most airlines require guardians to accompany children to and from the gate. Getting the necessary escort pass at check-in requires a few extra minutes, so arrive early.

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Published: January 18, 2012