Travel Influencer Reports Taking United Airlines Upgrade, Leaving Her 10 Year Old Alone In Coach

A mom who offers travel advice on Instagram stirred up controversy by showing an upgrade she got with her husband – while she said her 10 year old son sat in coach for their 13 hour flight.

POV: Enjoying business class with my husband on a 13-hour flight while our 10-year-old sits in the back in economy class because he doesn’t have United Premier 1K status like we do and didn’t get a complementary upgrade.

And she adds, “Sorry son.”

So what do you do if you’re offered two upgraded seats and you’re a party of three?

  • I’d offer it to my wife and daughter
  • I do think that when offered an upgrade, you take it unless you absolutely cannot (one upgrade for a solo parent and child)

Certainly leaving the child alone seems like a bad idea, because you’re no longer supervising the child and they become someone else’s problem. This is doubly so on United, you’re not really going to just trust the median United cabin crew working long haul to look after and calm down your child are you?

After being roasted online for leaving her son in back while she and her husband upgraded she posted that she didn’t really do it, she was lying, and that he sat up front too.

I believe that. The 10 year old should also be in the same cabin as their adult companions unless they’re traveling as an unaccompanied minor.

At what age though does it become appropriate for kids to travel on their own? United requires unaccompanied minor service for solo travelers (those not accompanied by someone at least 18 years old) who are under 15. That seems like a reasonable guide to me.

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, 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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  1. I traveled between USA and Germany alone in coach at age 12. There’s nothing wrong with a 10 year old traveling in economy when his/her parents are on board the same aircraft. The 10 year old doesn’t need the space, won’t drink the adult beverages, and is at an age where they can sleep more easily in a seat than the parents. There’s nothing wrong with a child at that age sitting in economy on the plane with the parents in another part of the plane.

  2. If that’s the case Carl, then there’s nothing wrong with you leaving your kids in the car so that you can go into a bar and have a few drinks because you couldn’t find a babysitter. The real problem with this influencer and you, are that you send a message to your children that you are more important than they are. That their well-being and safety don’t matter. Of course, you’ll be the first to scream a lawsuit when the person sitting next to your child touches them in a sexual way and you weren’t there to protect them. Or your child forget to keep their seatbelt fasten and got a head injury during a turbulent flight. Hey, but you got more legroom and were too smashed to check on them.

  3. So did she lie and he really flew upfront, so she did it for all the clicks everyone is now doing to her post? Or did she leave him behind? Because they’re both bad.

  4. I m sorry but what complimentary upgrades does one get on United on 13 hour flight?

  5. If the kid is mature and well behaved I dont see a problem. This happened to me all the time. When I was 10, I got bumped off a flight and my dad flew on and left me behind in Boston.

  6. I guess I can see all sides of this. So I’m not going to take a position with respect to the actions of the parents.

    That being said, speaking solely for myself, I’m pretty sure that 10-year-old me would have thought that being left alone on an airplane with meals and entertainment provided was just about the coolest thing ever!!!

  7. @david – presumably plus points since they identify as 1Ks, which most people would consider to be complementary (i.e. not paid with cash)

  8. Just the kind of social influencer we need these days. So helpful to those who don’t know how to behave. Top rule is ME FIRST. Everybody got that? It’s doubtful that this happened at all … two complimentary seats up front on a 13-hour flight? But that’s the beauty of being an influencer … nobody knows and nobody cares.

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong? Children travelling with Parents/Guardians can be seated in row behind or forward of Parent/Guardian.. this is age specific until age 14. FA are to be aware of children travelling alone etc.

  10. She lied? He really didn’t sit in the back alone? How is that okay either way? One parent, one child in front otherwise no go would be my vote.

  11. The criteria to taking advantage of such an opportunity should be the level of maturity of the child, not the chronological age. Basically, are the children able to entertain themselves? If so, you’re set. Back in the day (1993) I flew JFK – HNL in First (TWA) with my wife while our two children ages 8 and 9 (19 months apart) sat in coach (bulkhead, easy to keep an eye on them and for them to access us if needed). We planned with lots of fresh activities for them (books, puzzle books, coloring books), and the FAs were terrific giving them special attention, flight pins, and the airline’s own child activity packages. The kids had a great time as did we. This was a few years after the release of the original Home Alone movie which featured such a situation, and it was much discussed at the time among us frequent travelers. The split between the two camps (“it’s no big deal” vs “it’s child abuse”) hasn’t really changed.

  12. Re: “”… that 10-year-old me would have thought that being left alone on an airplane with meals and entertainment provided was just about the coolest thing ever!!!” 10 year old you probably would have thought (insert typical 10 year old bad decision) was also the coolest thing ever. That’s why 10 year old’s generally don’t make their own important decisions.

    As far as this influencer, she’s an idiot. Plenty of people will just read and hear the “… business class with my husband … while our 10-year-old sits in the back in economy class …” and emulate that exact behavior. Very irresponsible.

  13. Depends on the kid. I’d have been happy at that age, as long as I knew where my parents were.

    Parents in higher cabins are still responsible for their progeny; crew could have insisted a parent downgrade or switch seats if it came to it.

  14. I knew this was click bait right off because according to UA policy, a child not in the same cabin as the accompanying adult would be considered and Unaccompanied Minor.

  15. In the rare instance of a depressurization with oxygen masks coming down, I’d want to be sitting near my 10 year old, as opposed to them bring by the self in a different cabin.

  16. Regardless of whether a 10 year old CAN sit on their own in coach for MORE THAN HALF A DAY, the parents suck as parents for doing it.

    I hope they remember this when they’re old and sick and the kid dumps them in the cheapest nursing home they can find and never visits.

  17. As a data point – in the 1970s, the major airlines had a standby youth fare program, where people 12-21 could fly for half price (later raised to 66%). In other words, if you were at least 12 you could fly unaccompanied and standby. The airlines advertised and promoted this program for years.

    If it was OK for 12 year-olds to fly unaccompanied then, why not now? The major difference is that it is even safer now because with the advent of cell phones it’s easier to stay in touch and keep track of your kids.

    The major danger that an unaccompanied minor would face would be cancellations and delays, which are not an issue if a parent is on the same plane even if in a different cabin.

  18. This 10 yr old kid probably enjoyed being left alone for a while! I would have loved this arrangement if I was him.

    I flew a lot when I was 8-12 yr alone, there was no UM system at the time. I never had any issues.
    My parents were dropping me off at the departure gate and my grandparents were waiting for me at the arrival gate. (non-flyers could go to the gates at that time!!).
    Kids are much more capable of handling themselves than parents believe.
    I was walking 30 minutes to school on my own every day, going to stores or to my friends on my own. I never needed nor liked to have helicopter parents on my back all the time.

  19. Eh, when I was a teenager (not that young, but still), my parents flew in business class to Europe while my brother and I were in coach. I didn’t need as big a seat and couldn’t drink, why would they pay for me to fly business class?

    You think a 13 year old wants to spend the whole flight talking to his parents?

  20. When I was 8 and my sister 7 we flew unaccompanied on American Airlines from Chicago to Los Angeles. The flight stopped in Dallas. It was a DC 6B and we had fried chicken box lunches. I got my junior pilot wings. Totally uneventful.

  21. Since when is a 10 year old too irresponsible to sit by themselves? The 1990s exactly. Before then children were more responsible.

    We wonder why they don’t know how to behave as adults when they were never trusted with responsibility as a child.

  22. I have the same question as @Bob. A 13 hour flight sounds like it has to be international and there are no complimentary upgrades on international flights. Something is totally bullshit here. It is time that bullshit “influencers” on social media are called out for their bullshit.

  23. The picture says it all.

    FWIW when I was 10 my parents went out every Saturday night leaving me in charge of the house, my 7 yo brother and 3 yo sister. I’d put the girl to bed then watched the great CBS lineup from All in the Family to the end of Carol Burnett. Those were the days…

    (wouldn’t do it now with my kids…)

  24. Depends on the kid–the biggest reason for unaccompanied minor procedures is if things don’t go as scheduled but with the parents on the plane that’s not a factor. I would think 12 would typically be fine and some kids would be fine considerably earlier.

    However, I think any kid would resent if it happened to them. Better to put one of the parents in back.

  25. Did this routinely with my son on delta from age 8-18. I’d book him in comfort+, aisle, furthest to the front possible and I’d take the back of d1 or 1st. Of course if it was domestic and he was the only one with me we sat together in 1st a lot. FA’s loved him. A couple knew him and his taste for ginger ale. He had medallion status at 6, so not typical, but if you’re close to them and they’re well behaved no reason you can’t be separated a few rows.

  26. @SE_ROB

    ” FAs were terrific giving them special attention”

    Why is it the FA’s job to watch your kids when you’re on the plane?

  27. More proof, if you need it, that social media isn’t real. Lie for clicks and likes…then come clean, for more clicks and likes ‍♀️

  28. Sorry, a ten year old is perfectly capable of sitting alone. I travelled back and forth alone from US to India from age 11-15, because one parent lived in each place. I learned how to take care of things for myself. Young people can be mature if they need to be!

  29. An awful lot of people here need to take “Parenting 101.”

    Both my kids were mature enough to handle sitting alone in economy. They could personally handle it. They would behave maturely so that other pax wouldn’t be adversely affected. In fact they would behave a lot better than many adults who flew then and a whole lot better than the majority of adults who fly today.

    That said, just because they could handle it doesn’t mean as a parent I should leave them alone in the back while I would sit in the front. I submit its selfish, irresponsible and egocentric. It also leaves someone else to handle the kids in an emergency. I’ve been on flights three times with emergencies including one aborted takeoff during which the aircraft ended up off the runway, one with an inoperable nose gear and one with a cabin pressure loss.) Adults were going berserk on these. A kid, even a teenager would be scared out of their mind. They should be with their parents.

    There is no excuse whatsoever for a parent to abandon their child to the back of the plane while they sit far away up front, none!

    And as to those who say that they traveled alone as teens so it’s okay for mom and dad to abandon their kid when they’re all on the same flight, the situations aren’t comparable and in many cases letting a teen or child fly by themselves is wrong too, unless the travel is essential and the parents really can’t afford to accompany the kid. Otherwise you accompany them and fly home while they’re at the destination. When I was a kid, I had friends with divorced parents living far apart. One parent always accompanied their kid to the other parent meeting at the airport, then flew home. When it was time to return, the parents reversed the responsibility. That’s the way to do it, if one can afford it.

  30. This is honestly the most ridiculous story. It’s almost like there’s nothing else to talk about
    I used to fly from Texas to Germany from 8 years old without my parents. I would get dropped off at the airport and I would find myself to the gate. I had to do this flight a lot since my father lived in Germany, and I was always taken really good care of on the plane. I did not travel as a minor u just found myself around the airport. My mother of course had a cell on me and she thought it was a good molding experience. I feel like it’s the sturdiests job to make sure the younger passenger feel ok and that the cabin remains a calm area.

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