Three kids, ranging in age from 11 to 15, walked up to a Southwest ticket counter in Jacksonville, Florida, bought tickets to Nashville, passed through security, and took off. Oh, and a side note: They didn't tell anyone beforehand.
According to ABC News, the oldest, a 15-year-old girl named Bridget, had the idea to spend her savings on a trip rather than a new car, as she had been planning. She settled on Dollywood, near Nashville, and recruited her friend (age 13) and younger brother (age 11) to accompany her. The trio took a cab to the airport. Apparently, no one ever asked for ID.
Naturally, their parents are wondering why no one at the airport or at Southwest put a stop to the underage travelers' adventure. Let's try to unravel the mess a little.
First, I don't really understand how these kids avoided showing identification at any point during their journey. (Update: The TSA told NBC News travelers under the age of 18 are not required to show ID.) These days you can barely set foot in an airport without showing ID. Think about it: You show ID when you check in (which they must have done at the airport) and again when you pass through security. They also should have needed their ID when purchasing the tickets (presumably in cash, which is a huge red flag for security, especially for same-day travel). Southwest has an unaccompanied minors program, and you'd think airline staff would need more than the kids' word to confirm they were old enough not to need a parent. As an aside, what kind of ID would these kids even have? They didn't have driver's licenses. School ID?
Now, for Southwest's role. The airline has a pretty straightforward policy for kids traveling without parents. Here it is:
Unaccompanied Minors (UMs)
Children ages five through 11 traveling without an accompanying Passenger age 12 or older must travel as Unaccompanied Minors (UMs) on Southwest Airlines. Review the UM Terms and Conditions.
Young Travelers Although Passengers ages 12-17 are not considered “legal” adults in the U.S., they may book a ticket and travel unaccompanied—without adult supervision—at any time of day; however, Passengers who are 12 years of age or older and traveling alone are not considered Unaccompanied Minors.
Looks like Southwest acted entirely in accordance with its policy. The 11-year-old was accompanied by two individuals 12 years old or older, meaning he wasn't an unaccompanied minor, and Southwest clearly states passengers 12 and over may book tickets and travel with no adult supervision.
Of course, much could be said about the lack of common sense displayed all around, and some might say Southwest should have known better and refused to transport the kids. But quite frankly, it's none of the airline's business to determine whether or not these kids are making a good decision. Who's to say they weren't given the money by a parent and sent to the airport with permission? That's certainly not the airline's role, and as long as Southwest enforces its own policies, it wouldn't really be appropriate to ask why the kids were flying alone.
As for the kids, well, they got to Nashville and freaked out because, as it turns out, Dollywood isn't exactly "near" Nashville—it's 200 miles away. So they called home from the airport, explained the situation, and flew back. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during that car ride home.
Readers, do you think Southwest (or anyone at the airport, really) should have stepped in and sent these kids home? And what do you make of the supposed lack of ID checking?