Airport by .michael.newman.
I used to work for a local airline in a position loosely title Customer Service Agent, which meant that the shift supervisor on duty could send me to do any manner of nasty jobs that needed doing, like grooming the plane (think cleaning out seat pockets), or manning the line where the “missed connection” people were sent.
One of the best jobs was to hang out with kids who were traveling alone, or Unaccompanied Minors, as they are officially known in the airline industry. UMs are generally in a good mood and appreciate your company, unlike much of the traveling public.
Unaccompanied Minors are children whose parents have paid a fee to have their child escorted from the point they are dropped off to the point where they are picked up at their destination. For any of you who might need this service, you should check for the details with the airline, but I can give you the gist of how it works and some facts and figures to mull over.
The airline industry has established basic guidelines. Airlines are not required to follow these guidelines, but they are suggested. Most airlines have their policy posted on the internet so take a look before you buy the tickets. Some require children under a certain age to use the service, and others don’t offer it at all.
Minimum Age = 5
Between ages 5 and 12, service is required
Between ages 12 and 17, service may be requested.
Children under 8 must fly nonstop to their destination.
Children 8-11 generally may make one connection.
The idea is that the airlines will take these guidelines into consideration when making their own policies. Most of the larger, well known airlines have stuck fairly close to the guidelines, but again, make sure you check with your own airline.
And Of Course There’s Always the Fee
You didn’t think it was going to be “free” did you? Or included or complimentary? When you have to pay $50 to check a bag? Silly Rabbit.
I researched the fees of a bunch of airlines and most of them came in at about $100 one way. I jotted down a few.
- Delta – $100 each way
- United $99 each way
- Continental $100 one way
- KLM – $50 each way with Europe
- $120 each way from US
- And the big winner…
- Southwest $25 each way
Are You Kidding? For That Price I Could Take Him Myself!
Okay, so that is a huge chunk of money to tack on, not to mention the fact that if your child has not flown alone before, you are both going to be a nervous wreck. So an alternative may be to look into a flight to accompany your child yourself. That way, you could potentially grab a flight back later in the day or even a couple of days later and spend a little time knocking around yourself.
If that doesn’t work, knowing what to expect is going to make both of you feel better about the situation.
It Will Go Something Like This
You will usually be required to stay with your child until they board their flight. When you turn them over to the airline representative that will be responsible for them, you will sign a form that states the time, flight number, who you left them with, etc. It will also state who will be picking them up at their destination.
While your child is in flight, a flight attendant will usually be responsible for them, and will check in occasionally to see how things are going. But flight attendants are realistically not going to be able to entertain them during flight, so make sure they have plenty of things to keep them busy. Also, some airlines are not providing so much as a pretzel in flight these days so make sure they have some cash. No travellers checks or Visa cards. Just cash. I wouldn’t send food or drink of any kind because who knows when the TSA will consider crackers a threat and make you get rid of them. Cash will always work.
When the flight disembarks, the person accompanying your child will turn them over to an airline representative on the ground. The paperwork that you signed will follow your child the entire trip, being signed each time it changes hands, and here is where the most important point of this story will save you time, and frustration, and the need for 3 Manhattans.
THE PERSON SIGNING FOR THE CHILD MUST BE LISTED ON THE PAPERWORK AND HAVE PROPER ID.
Yes, I am yelling this at you, and if you are still reading this, then I am assuming you are interested and will thank me later for it.
I can’t tell the number of times I showed up with the UM and there were Grandma and Grandpa saying, “Surprise!” and the kid was like, “Grandma, I’m so happy to see you, but I thought Uncle Benny was picking me up?” and Grandma was like, “He was, but we were so excited to see you and wanted to surprise you, and guess what? Here we are!” Hugs and kissed followed while I checked the paperwork to see that Uncle Benny was the only person authorized to pick up little Johnny. Damn.
Of course, then began the usual laughing and Grandma asking, “Johnny, who am I? Tell the nice lady who I am? I’m your Grandma, right?” Ugh.
The airline rep can not release an unaccompanied minor to anyone but the person listed on the paperwork, and they must show proper identification, and sign on the dotted line before the kid goes anywhere. Think about it for a minute. Would you want them to?
A Few More Useful Tips
- Flying early in the day will pose less chance for a delay.
- When you book the ticket, inform the agent that the child is flying alone. Online Sites will not usually let you book a flight for a child flying alone.
- Make sure your child knows they can asked to be moved if they consider the person they are sitting next to creepy.
- Flight attendants can not dispense medications.
Kids fly alone everyday and arrive at their destination safely. Try not to worry, but be informed, and remember that Grandma cannot pick up Johnny unless she’s authorized.