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Should You Worry About Your Kids Flying Alone?


Continental Express sent two unaccompanied minors to the wrong destination this weekend. According to the Houston Chronicle, both children boarded regional jets at gates serving more than one flight, and in each case a miscommunication led to the child being directed onto the wrong aircraft. One child was supposed to fly from Boston to Newark and instead ended up in Cleveland, while the other was scheduled to fly from Houston to Charlotte but was taken to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I don't have children myself, so I can't pretend to know what emotions a parent experiences when their child goes missing somewhere over the country. Certainly, though, parents would be forgiven if, going forward, they thought twice about putting their kids on a plane alone. But should they stop doing so altogether?

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It's worth noting that the parents in these cases appear to have done everything correctly on their end, even accompanying their children directly to the gate—it was hardly their fault that the kids ended up in the wrong destination. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure your child gets on the right plane and arrives in the correct place:

  • Provide either a calling card or a cell phone for a minor traveling alone.
  • Call your airline directly to book tickets, or if you book online, call the carrier to let them know the ticket is for an unaccompanied minor. Some airlines require this.
  • Find out if your child is flying on a regional carrier and, if he or she is, make sure the gate agent is 100 percent clear about which flight your child is taking. As was the case in both of Continental's screw-ups, the children were flying regional carriers, which tend to board multiple flights from the same gate at the same time.
  • Book nonstop flights, even if they cost more. Again, some carriers require this, especially with younger children.
  • Try to get a gate pass or escort pass at the airport so you can accompany your child to the gate. Ask that the person picking up your child do the same.
  • Provide the name, address, and home and business contact information for the person picking up your child at the destination airport. Let the contact know he or she will have to prove his or her identity before departing with the child.
  • Do not book the last flight of the day; if it gets delayed, your child could be stranded at the airport. Some airlines don't even allow you to do this.

It's a parent's choice to make, obviously, when it comes to putting their kids on a plane. But if anything, this incident should tighten up the process of transporting unaccompanied minors across the industry. After all, this is not a situation anyone wants, the airline included.

Do you have any tips for making sure your child gets where they're going (short of taping a giant sign that says "I'm going to ... " on your child's shirt)? Leave a comment below with any advice you may have. Thanks!

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