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Aug
26

Tickets for Unaccompanied Minors

Recently my daughter’s best friend flew to Beirut from Los Angeles, CA to Beirut, Lebanon ALL BY HERSELF. She’s 12 years old.

unaccompanied minors

unaccompanied minors

I was pretty blown away and I was not alone. No one could believe that her mother put her on that long of a flight by herself.   I thought of all the things that could happen to a young, shy girl from here to Beirut, from airports, bathrooms, food, weird people, missed connections, layovers, falling asleep and missing a connection, being hungry, tired, sad, and then adding to that the total nail-biting fear I would have until she arrived safely in Beirut, was, to me, torturous.

Beirut

Beirut

Her mother confirmed it. She said she didn’t want to do it, that she couldn’t conceive of doing it until her daughter begged and pleaded with her to be allowed to meet up with her sister and her father who had been living in Beirut for the year while she completed her year abroad. Her mother worked, there was no way she could go, her daughter had so much time off this summer and nothing to do with it, and so she began her research and she found a program like the one Emirates has.

emirates

emirates

When she explained it to me, even I began to see how you could feel okay about letting your 12-year old fly across the world.

lounge

lounge

You must purchase  a full-priced fare for this treatment but it is so worth it:

  • Separate check-in facilities on departure, with dedicated Emirates staff to accompany them to the aircraft. Parents or guardians must present the child for check-in at least two hours prior departure.
  • Unaccompanied Minors and Young Passengers are always boarded before other passengers, so that the cabin crew can seat them and stow their hand baggage.
  • They’ll take a Polaroid of your child on board the aircraft.
  • On arrival, an Emirates employee will meet all unaccompanied children at the aircraft door and help them through formalities before handing them over to their designated guardian.
weird dude

weird dude

But what they don’t say is that they’ll make certain no one is sitting next to them so you don’t have to worry about some weird guy talking to your daughter the entire flight. They’ll move them to ensure that no one bothers them. They’ll also bring them to the lounge for long layovers so that your child is in a controlled space and you know that they are not wondering around Dubai airport about to be scooped up and become a child bride somewhere.

girl bride

girl bride

The mother of this unaccompanied minor told me that she was biting her nails the whole time, that she could not concentrate on anything until she knew her daughter had arrived safely in Beirut. But Air Emirates understood her concern and took such good care of daughter that she was afraid for a second, not did she mind the high cost of the ticket.

worth the money

worth the money

But recently I came across a slew of articles by parents who DO mind the cost. Especially when their kids are a tad older AND the flights are short and familiar. Delta and US Airways charge $200 round-trip fee for children younger than 15 traveling without an adult. Even if you’ve got siblings traveling together, as long as one of them is not yet 18, they still have to pay the $200 each. If you think about it that’s a hell of an expensive babysitter at $110 an hour especially when they’re teenagers and really don’t need or WANT any help.

teens, yikes!

teens, yikes!

And this ticks a lot of people off. I get it, the cost goes up enormously, making it harder to send children off to camp, to visit relatives, fathers, friends, you name it.

And everyone’s got a different rule. American Airlines allows children 12 and older to travel without an adult, but the airfare was much higher than the others. Spirit Airlines, allows a child to fly with someone who is at least 15.

Are there laws governing the policy of what really constitutes too young to fly? Shouldn’t it be up to the parent’s?

american airlines

american airlines

United States airlines generally require children between the ages of 5 and their early teenage years to fly in unaccompanied minor programs. Airline employees not only escort the children on and off the plane, but also care for them between connecting flights (that is, if the airline allows them to take connecting flights). Airline personnel also ensure that the child is safely delivered to the appropriate person on arriving. The fee for this service ranges from $50 each way on Southwest Airlines to $100 on most other airlines.

jetplane

jetplane

After age 11, however, airline policies differ widely. United, Continental and American allow children to travel alone from the age of 12, while JetBlue lets them travel solo from 14. Delta, Spirit and US Airways, however, all require children under 15 to travel in the unaccompanied minor programs. The fees may be the most pressing concern for parents, but for the teenagers, the issue is independence. While many children are not ready to travel alone at 13 or 14, others are eager to show their self-sufficiency.

preteens know what they're doing

preteens know what they're doing

Donna Hardiman, whose two daughters frequently took flights from New York to London, recalls her children’s complaints about the minors programs. “My girls were 11 and 14 and felt like they were treated like infants,” she said. “If they left the flight attendant’s side, they were screamed at like toddlers,” said Mrs. Hardiman, who thinks parents should be given a choice of whether to enroll children in this age group in such programs, depending on their level of travel experience and confidence.

“Today, many kids are so well traveled; we felt it was important to give parents control over what they think is best for their young teens,” said Stacey Frantz, director of corporate communications for American Airlines, which a year ago lowered its age limit. “We trust parents to make the best decision for their teens, ages 12 and up, when it comes to traveling alone, and we believe parents value this control.”

too young?

too young?

But Susan Elliott, a spokeswoman for Delta, which is among those airlines with a higher upper age limit (children cannot fly alone until age 15), says she believes the airline’s age parameters are appropriate. “There are many travel scenarios that can crop up that are complicated for adults, let alone young teens, so we feel it is best to require even this older age group to be in the program,” she said.

extra safe

extra safe

So how much does money have to do with it?  Some parents don’t check in their children as unaccompanied minors at the airport even though they have had to reserve an unaccompanied minor ticket. It is during the check-in process that parents must usually pay the service fee, provide documentation about the pickup person, and obtain a gate pass (parents are supposed to stay with the child until he boards and then remain until the flight has taken off).

And yet, airlines find these kids daily cruising around all by themselves until they’re suddenly confused about something and go up to airline staff. These parents have just dropped them off at the curb.

safe better than sorry

safe better than sorry

Most teenagers do not want to be handled like a baby, walked from gate to gate, but I got to tell you, up until they’re fifteen, wouldn’t you feel safer if they were?

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