How to make sure your unaccompanied minor gets on the right flight

George Hobica, June 17, 2009
Fares from Washington DC:

    How could Continental have "misdirected" two unaccompanied minors, in two separate incidents, onto the wrong flights over the last few days? In one case, a Continental flight attendant walked the child down the Jetway, at the end of which two regional jets were waiting, one headed for Cleveland (right destination) and one for Newark (wrong destination).

    Not surprisingly, reports, at least they offered free flights and frequent flyer miles in compensation. And as the parent of one of the children noted on his blog, Continental staff in Cleveland " 'graciously' offered to refund the unaccompanied minor fee. My father-in-law laughed when they made the offer, it was so outrageous. You can bet they'll be refunding a lot more than that fee by the time I'm done with them." Read the comments in his blog posting and you'll see that this sort of thing happens more often than is generally realized.

    So what are some practical steps to take to prevent a horror show like this happening to your little solo flyer?

    One sure fire plan is to see your child get on the right plane with your very own eyes. But of course, the TSA won't give you gate access unless you have a ticket or a gate pass, and even if you have a gate pass, without a ticket for your child's flight you'll have no access to the Jetway and the plane itself.

    So buy a ticket. A fully-refundable ticket that you don't plan to use.

    Sure, these fares cost a small fortune, but remember, you'll get your money back. Bring the kid on the plane (we're presuming with his $100 unacompanied minor airline employee escort), sit him down, buckle him up, make sure he has his Gameboy, kiss goodbye, go back through security, and then apply for a refund of your fare. Helicopter parenting? So be it.

    And if you really want to play it safe, have whoever is meeting the child on the other end obtain a gate pass to meet the flight and make sure this person arrives at the gate well before the scheduled arrival time (assume there will be a traffic jam or other delay and play it safe).

    Sounds a bit radical you think? Unfair to the airline, because you're holding a seat you're not going to use? Maybe. But until airlines can guarantee they will never screw this up again, it's your only guarantee that your unaccompanied minor will get on the right plane. Other than writing your child's flight number, aircraft tail number, and gate number in Magic Marker on his forehead, this seems to us to be the best plan. Comments? Feel free.

    Oh, and as an aside, a couple of weeks ago I took Browser for an off-leash walk in Central Park and he disappeared beyond my sight for a few minutes into an area with low bushes and underbrush. When he didn't respond to my calls and whistles, I was in a panic, even though I knew he had to be in there somewhere. Can you imagine how this parent felt for a couple of panicky hours? I smell a rather large legal settlement.

    See more tips for kids flying solo here.