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My Firsthand Experience With Unaccompanied Minor Flights

SmarterTravel

I think twice about letting my 12-year-old daughter walk alone to the corner store for a gallon of milk but, call me crazy, I sent her alone on a flight to visit her grandmother. Though her voyage wasn’t as trepidatious as Red Riding Hood’s, there was plenty of stress involved in the travel process.

Initially, I felt comfortable sending her on a plane alone because I work in the air travel world and know that children (usually!) get to their destination unscathed, but after our first unaccompanied minor (UM) experience, after we had experienced some of its most common pitfalls, I realized just how many ways the process could be improved.

Booking Pitfalls

In addition to the UM fee ($25 to $100 each way, depending on the airline) the air ticket incurred a phone booking fee because, as with most airlines, UM tickets must be booked over the phone. Sadly, the airline representative knew to charge me the phone booking fee ($5 to $25, depending on provider), but was oblivious to the rule that a child flying alone and with a layover can’t be booked on the last flight of the day. When we arrived at the airport, my daughter was not allowed to board the plane for fear that she may be stuck at the layover airport overnight if, for some reason, the second segment flight was cancelled. We were sent home with a rescheduled ticket for the next morning’s flight.

Day of Travel Issues

Since each of us was armed with a phone, I assumed I would have no issues communicating with my daughter while she was on the ground. Not so. When she arrived at Miami International, she called and notified me that she was brought to a locked room with couches and left there alone. It all sounded sketchy but I was reassured by the fact I could call her at any time during her three-hour layover. While in solitary confinement, my daughter tired of staring at the wall and began to watch television on her smartphone, thereby completely draining the battery. My unsuccessful calls went directly to voicemail and I realized I had no direct phone number of someone who could connect me with her. After several hours, my anguish came to an end when I received a call from my baby telling me she had arrived and was standing safely alongside her grandmother.

My family’s experience with the current unaccompanied minor process has taught me that some improvements can be made:

  • Provide parent or guardian with a point-of-contact phone number.
  • Perform background checks on airline caretaker accompanying child.
  • Include meals for those paying UM fee.
  • Since there is no option to book UM ticket online, waive phone-booking fees.
  • Provide more extensive training to staff.

But the airlines are doing some things right. Here are the aspects of the unaccompanied minor process I appreciated during my daughter’s trip:

  • Providing gate passes for parents accompanying child to gate.
  • Thorough identification verification of adult at destination.

What about you? Have you sent a child on a flight as an unaccompanied minor? What was your experience with the fares and flights? What improvements do you have for the airline industry? Leave your comments below.

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