Don’t Send Your Children Flying As Unaccompanied Minors In The Current Summer Mess

A mother complains that her 14 year old son, traveling as an unaccompanied minor on American Airlines, had his Miami to New York flight cancelled and he was forced to spend the night in the airport. This seems to me to be the parent’s fault, and not American’s. Don’t send your child as an unaccompanied minor right now, on a connecting itinerary, if you can possibly help it.

Digging into this a little bit, the passenger was connecting in Miami. Their flight to Miami was cancelled due to weather. He was rebooked on an early flight the next morning, and it appears that the child was supervised by an employee throughout. I’m honestly not sure what they would have had American do in this circumstance.

The child’s mother says that checked bags didn’t travel on the same flight they did and were sent to New York LaGuardia instead of JFK. But that’s because the child was originally booked to, and their bags were checked to, New York JFK.

American coordinated with the family on a new itinerary to get them to New York as quickly as possible – LaGuardia. And American delivers late-arriving bags. This just doesn’t seem like a reasonable complaint to me.

American Airlines requires children 5 – 14 traveling alone to use their unaccompanied minor service. It’s optional for ages 15 – 17. Children 8 – 14 are permitted to travel unaccompanied on connecting flights.

Right now I wouldn’t send a child alone as an unaccompanied minor if it is at all possible to avoid it – during the current travel mess, peak summer passenger volumes, and facing summer weather events as well. That goes doubly for connecting itineraries. Travel with them if you can, even if it means dropping them off somewhere and flying home and then another trip to collect them later. That’s an additional expense. But if you can possibly afford it, doing so will prevent situations like this.

Airlines offer the unaccompanied minor service but I bet they wish they didn’t – it’s a service to customers more than a revenue-generator for the airline given the staff time, paperwork, and risk involved (including reputational risk).

At least if your child is flying unaccompanied on a non-stop you can go back to the airport and collect them if their flight is cancelled and they will not be traveling same day. As a connecting passenger, in a far-away city, there’s a lot less that you can do.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Generally, I agree that avoiding connecting flights is the best move. However, there are times when a nonstop flight is NOT an option if you live in certain underserved locations. And for divorced parents, they may have a legal obligation to share the children’s time with the other parent. It can put you in a difficult position.

  2. One of the best things you can do is teach your children to travel – and that includes traveling alone. I wouldn’t send a nine year-old, but a 14 or 15 year-old? Sure, been there done that. Kid1 travelled overseas even, with connecting flights. Armed with a cell phone, credit cards, and Global Entry, they did just fine. Even when rockets started flying in Israel – they were in Newark awaiting the flight, we talked them through going to the counter to cancel and get to friends in the NY area – who were more than happy to pick them up. Kid2 was even younger (12, I think) on Southwest, which allowed it, connecting to go to climbing camp in NH. They made sure they boarded first, kept an eye on them onboard, told them the gate to go to at BWI, and everything was fine. The camp gathered them up from across the country at MHT.

    Kids are far more capable than helicopter parents give them credit for. That said, you probably want them on early morning flights, not the last flight of the day. Less chance of having to overnight somewhere. Other than that, send ’em.

  3. I support having kids learn how to travel by leading the way. Watch them book the tickets. Let them check in with the kiosk and have them guide the rest of the family (with your supervision, of course). Quiz them on how to handle problems as they happen. Calmly solving problems without crying or getting anxiety is a great skill to have. Knowing travel tricks is icing on the cake.

    The hesitation that I see for an unaccompanied minor is that they cannot check into a hotel by themselves. That wasn’t always the case. When I was 9 years old, I checked into a hotel myself. That’s when the airline cancelled the connecting flight and gave me a hotel voucher. I just gave the voucher to the hotel.

    Which airline did that? Northwest (now Delta)

  4. I traveled several times by myself as a minor or with my also-minor older sister. All times were nonstops or one-stops (no change of planes). While there were sometimes delays, the flights generally went smoothly.

    But there is something to be said for letting kids experience an activity somewhat out of their element sometimes. It’s like letting kids do stunts on their bikes – Sure there is the risk of an accident and injury (I broke my wrist in a bike accident at 14), but that doesn’t at all mean kids shouldn’t ride their bikes. Riding in an airplane by yourself without supervision is just one of those “adult” things kids love to experience and in the end they become more comfortable with being out in the world with mom or dad holding their hand.

    Sure in this it stank for the kid as it can sometimes for any unaccompanied activity, but it certainly doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t fly by themselves and somehow it’s indicative of bad parenting if they do.. Let’s lesson the judgement.

  5. *without mom or dad holding their hand. Wish we could edit comments.

  6. Oh puleeze. OF course it would be American, not that it doesn’t happen with others. How can it possibly be the airline’s fault unless you left your kid before the departure? There are fees for UM’s to be watched over but not until the flight is taking off I would presume, so this is on mom or dad. Pathetic.

  7. At 14 I traveled alone several times cross country. A teenager can handle it unless the kid’s been coddled his whole life (which may be the case by this woman’s tweet).

  8. Looks like AA supervised him, fed the kid snacks & provided a cot. Not exactly the worst possible outcome on AA’s end.
    I would have told him to ask the agent that gave him the cot for a hotel & meal voucher. If they refused, I would have booked my kid a room at a hotel with a 24 hour shuttle & told him to order GrubHub on the authorized user card I always have my teenager carry while traveling – for stuff just like this. The kids a teenager & certainly can walk out of the terminal & follow the signs to the shuttle stop, along with a map they googled. If they get confused, guide them through it or have them call the hotel. Clearly the kid has a phone since there’s a cot image.

  9. Domestic non-stop UAM service still works fine with US airlines that offer it this summer, but the people dropping off and picking up must be flexible.

    International, connecting UAM service is much more of a gamble this summer. Some airlines had already stopped offering it some years back and others have cycled between having it in the last year or two and not having it. And the rules for it don’t seem to be static — for example, maybe the MCT for UAM service use has been changed too or the routes on which it’s allowed by the airline are a different, narrower subset than before.

  10. This is all AA’s fault not the parent’s. Please, Gary Leff, your victim-blaming of a Woman of Color is a bad look. You talk about the reputational risk to airlines in offering URM service. Isn’t your victim blaming in this article a reputational risk for YOU? Okay maybe you are old and you don’t care about the new “woke” generation, but don’t you have a young child, and wouldn’t it suck if all the other kids in school — and their parents, and their teachers — knew you as a RACIST MISOGYNIST? Or at a minimum, somebody unsympathetic to the plight of others?

    As I have said yesterday, airline rules are ARCANE as hell. If you view every situation through the lens of the contract of carriage, then you may find the airline absolves themselves of nearly every responsibility. The LGA/JFK bag thing is a great example. On the surface, it’s great to get a person and/or bag to a destination in a timely manner, but if it involves splitting person and baggage between two airports, then common sense dictates, that decision should be the passenger’s.

    Bag delivery is only as good as any other delivery. In urban areas, some buildings are a pain for delivery (couriers, recipients, or both) meaning high risk that a delivery will not succeed — further delaying the bag.

  11. Air Canada do not allow UMs on connecting flights. It’s from point A to point B only. Also parents, etc are not allowed to leave the airport until the UMs flight has left.

  12. Various European and American airlines allow for UAMs to take connecting flights using the UAM service, but the rules change and aren’t always even consistent. Some airlines even take a pause from the service at times, even for non-stop service.

  13. US Airways didn’t allow UM’s on connecting itineraries at all. These whiny parents had better hush before they end up having to accompany their children.

  14. I’m with Sam. The kid was fine. What did mommie expect? No doubt a dedicated babysitter. I’d love to ask the kid directly how the experience was.

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