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The Tyke’s Fault?

Several readers wanted to know what happened to the kid in the last story last week (copied below) — is he still wandering the airport or what? I of course wondered that myself, but the story I used as a source didn’t say! I tried checking other sources and never got an answer. I was pretty sure the kid was fine — surely airports on Vancouver Island can’t be all that big — but I didn’t know.

Well, Premium edition reader Greg in Washington wanted to know, and since I couldn’t tell him he emailed the reporter. I asked him to let me know what he found out, and he wrote back later: “She said the editor had hacked up the story for space considerations, cutting out the part where Grandma found the little guy wandering around the baggage claim.” Which makes me wonder if maybe his bags were lost after all. 🙂

If you missed the story, here it is:

Boy, You Make One Little Mistake

“It shows that their system has huge flaws that have to be fixed,” grumped Greg Henry of Calgary, Alta., Canada. The man had put his 7-year-old son on a WestJet flight to Vancouver Island, B.C., to visit his grandmother, but the airline lost the boy, despite a special tag hanging around his neck declaring him an unaccompanied minor. The airline’s policies require a flight attendant to escort such passengers off the plane. “We realize how important our children are,” said a WestJet spokeswoman, who promised the airline would “take steps to address the issue.” (Calgary Sun) …But hey: at least the kid’s suitcase got there OK.

I did hear from a Canuck flight attendant, Michael from Alberta, who had a comment from the “inside”:

While it is truly terrifying that an unaccompanied minor could apparently get ‘lost’ on their way to visit their grandmother, I have had several near-misses with unaccompanied minors (UMs) myself. We brief UMs at the start of the flight, telling them all the emergency procedures and where the exits are, et cetera. just the way we do everyone on the plane. However, UMs are also told to stay in their seats upon landing, until everyone else has left the plane, whereupon we can escort them off the plane (Transport Canada regulates that there must always be a minimum of 2 flight attendants on board an aircraft when guests are present, and 1 per 40 guests — which is why we can’t get off the plane with a UM as soon as we land).

We also re-brief the kids at the top of descent, reminding them that they are to stay put. Some kids follow the rules, and some don’t. A few times (thankfully not many!) I’ve had to actually grab a kid as they were going out the door, and pull them back to stand behind me until everyone else has left. The day after this news story broke, I had a child dash off the plane as I was handing the flight’s paperwork to the Captain (which we received from the gate agent as soon as we opened the doors), which means the kid bolted for the door as soon as it opened. Thankfully, he was caught by the gate agent — halfway up the ramp!

We do have procedures in place, and redundant procedures for the handing over of our Unaccompanied Minors — but every so often the circumstances create that one little loophole where opportunity combines with the child’s willfulness or heedlessness to allow them to evade us. I’m chagrined that this happened, and even MORE chagrined that the media spin on this makes us look negligent and irresponsible. There’s only so much we can do when a seven year old, who one assumes has been taught to follow the rules laid down by an adult in uniform, decides to not only ignore those rules but to deliberately seek to avoid authority figures and play a game of hide-and-seek in unfamiliar territory.

However, in the final analysis it IS our responsibility, and I for one am doing everything I can to increase my and my co-worker’s sense of awareness when it comes to unaccompanied minors.

Much appreciated, Michael — and I do know kids can be hellions. Unlike many adults, I remember my childhood. I hate to disappoint you, but I had to laugh: you don’t really think even most kids these days are “taught to follow the rules laid down by an adult in uniform,” do you?! :-/

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35 Responses to The Tyke’s Fault?

  1. Romeo from Toronto September 3, 2007 at 6:07 pm #

    Maybe it’s just me but why send a child that young ANYWHERE unaccompanied? Did the parents have something more important to do that they should put him on a plane and hang a tag around the boy’s neck telling any weirdo who might happen by that he is unaccompanied? And why are they blaming the airline for the fact that the kid’s parents are screwups? The potential for something going wrong seems too great to take that kind of chance with a seven-year old child.

    Kids travel by themselves all the time. Why should the parents spend thousands of extra dollars to fly with him, turn around and fly home, and then fly back to get him later, when the airline agrees to look after him? Or, more fundamentally, why argue that the parent has to be with the child at all times, all day every day? Because that’s what you’re really saying here.
    It’s unclear who’s at fault here: the airline for “letting” the boy out of their sight, or the kid for sneaking out. Fundamentally, the airline is, since they had accepted responsibility — but that doesn’t mean the kid is blameless. -rc

  2. Scott, Texas September 3, 2007 at 9:50 pm #

    Of course the airline staff isn’t blameless. But to whatever extent the kid is at fault, that part of the blame has to be shared with his parents. They have the responsibility to teach him appropriate respect for themselves, and for those they share their parental authority with. And if they can tell they haven’t done that, they shouldn’t put the child in a position where the things they haven’t taught him put him in danger.

    I put my two sons on an airplane by themselves for the first time earlier this summer. And before I did, my wife and I got the full details of the UM rules for the airline, and did a detailed roleplay of how everything was going to work, so there’d be no surprises. We made it crystal clear that they were to obey the instructions of the gate agent and flight attendants without question or delay. And if I hadn’t been 100% sure that would actually happen, they would not have gotten on that plane. (Naturally, everything went perfectly smoothly.)

    (And regarding the tag–that’s for the airline staff to quickly ID who they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on. These kids are never alone; there’s a physical hand-off from delivering guardian to gate agent to flight attendant to gate agent to receiving guardian, with a paperwork packet showing a signature at each step of who’s taking charge. There’s no way for an unidentified stranger to take the child at any point in the process–the child would have to exit the process on his own initiative first …)

  3. Todd, New York September 3, 2007 at 10:22 pm #

    I actually had a similar incident to the one mentioned in your last newsletter. I have permanent custody of my autistic 10-year old nephew who had not seen his grandparents in approximately 5 years. My ex-wife is a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines and, since she legally shares custody, was able to provide unaccompanied travel for him by me paying an additional $75.00 for the flight crew to watch after him. He is relatively “high functioning” requiring only minimal assistance and direction. His initial flight, that included a plane change, was uneventful and he was acquired by my parents upon arrival. I did mention to the ticket agent that he was autistic and was assured by the agent that it would be placed in his profile.

    Upon his return flight, my 20 year old son went to obtain him and was told that his flight was delayed. My ex-wife called and stated that she had received “an ass chewing” by the transfer location for not having him designated with “autistic” issues. I then verified by using his online verfication credentials that he was indeed on the returning flight. However, once I arrived at the gate and attempted to obtain a gate pass to retreive him, I was told that there was no record of him being on any Northwest flight. The ticket agents attempted to review the existing passenger list on the incoming flight and were once again unable to verify his ever having boarded a Northwest flight. My ex-wife was scheduled to depart later in the evening and happened to stop by the supposed arrival gate and was told the same, that he wasn’t on any Northwest flight.

    She happened to have the caller ID information from the earlier “ass chewing” call and happened to contact the originator of the call and was told that he was indeed on the arriving flight. Needless to say, he did arrive on the flight and we were able to obtain him. However, while waiting at the baggage claim, the lady (and I should say, “saint”) that happened to be seated next to him on the flight approached me and told me that he had been a joy on the flight and that she had noticed within minutes that he was “mildly autistic”, and that it should have been evident whether or not it had been in his profile. She also stated that he had been no trouble on the return flight.

    I must say that I was very disheartened with the professionalism and technical capabilities of a supposedly “premier airline”. I don’t believe I or my nephew (or other family members) will be taking advantage of any Northwest promotions or “employee benefits”.

  4. Donna, Petoskey, MI September 4, 2007 at 7:43 am #

    I see no problem with having young children travel on a plane. However, I disagree with the Canadian flight attendant that the UM should be the last person off the plane. Traveling alone is traumatic enough without making him or her wait until everyone has disembarked. It makes more sense to let the UM off first. It would be much less stressful for the person(s) picking up the UM, also.

  5. Tanya, Atlanta GA September 4, 2007 at 12:43 pm #

    We had a similar incident early this summer with our daughter, who was 14 at the time. It was the first time we’d allowed her to fly alone, going from Atlanta to Fort Smith, AR to visit relatives. Delta required an extra $100 for the unaccompanied minor fee ($50 each way), which we were told included an escort on and off the plane, and waiting until the assigned relative showed ID to pick her up.

    The trouble started immediately after we checked in! We were assured that a flight attendant would be waiting for her at the gate, and she wanted to exert her independence by walking alone to the terminal. Thank goodness we decided to walk with her, because the plane left 20 min early without her – even though they were supposedly aware than a UM was heading their way. We spent nine hours in the Atlanta airport waiting for the next nonstop flight to Ft. Smith. During the ordeal of booking the later flight, the Delta reps were awful: one of them actually said “I would never let *my* child fly alone!” A letter of complaint to Delta got us three $150 vouchers, which is actually more than I expected.

    Happily, the Ft Smith airport is so small and friendly that her arrival and return trip went off without a hitch.

    I remember Way Back When, when extra fees were to pay for extra services, rather than a way to gouge the customer without providing anything in return…. -rc

  6. Lisa, Ohio September 4, 2007 at 4:28 pm #

    Now hang on one minute. There is a HUGE difference between having an UM who is 10 or 12 or older, and having one who is seven years old. An older child can be expected to look after themselves, and in fact, can be legally left alone at home by the parents. But a seven-year-old?

    Furthermore, I don’t agree that a flight attendant is a good parent “substitute” (as a school teacher is), nor should they be expected to be! Having custody of a small child…is that a major part of their job description?

    Common sense should tell a parent whether a child is old enough to travel alone…I just don’t think any seven-year-old could possibly be mature enough to deal well with it.

    I did fine with it at 8. I have a photo of myself wearing the tag…. -rc

  7. DinaFelice, Larchmont, NY September 4, 2007 at 4:36 pm #

    When I was 17, I went on my first solo flight…to Spain. I did NOT speak Spanish yet (I was going to be attending a language immersion program), this was my first solo and also my first flight where I would have to make a connection — I was kind of nervous. My mother was petrified.

    She made arrangements that, while I wouldn’t be designated as an unaccompanied minor, I would get a bit of extra help navigating a strange airport. Well, I identified myself to the crew when I boarded and everything seemed fine. When we landed in England (where I would pick up my flight to Spain), I identified myself again (I was getting pretty nervous by this point) and asked what I should do. I was instructed to get off the plane and wait at the bench at the end of the ramp.

    I did as instructed and waited. And waited. And waited. After about 20 minutes, when it was clear that nobody else was getting off of the plane, I tried in vain to find a flight attendant from my flight. After another 10 minutes, I finally found an airport employee (it was difficult since I didn’t dare leave visual range of the bench) who had never heard of someone meeting a minor and showing them where to go.

    In the end, I did a fine job of navigating the airport, made my connecting flight with time to spare and was a seasoned solo traveler for my return flight (when one of the flight attendants asked me if I needed help since she had a note associated with my ticket). But I wonder what would have happened if I had actually needed help or if I had decided to wait until someone found me.

  8. Steve: Boulder, CO September 4, 2007 at 8:36 pm #

    I think that the most difficult thing that a parent has to do in this modern world is to interview, and do substantial research on, the people that we entrust with our children, such as daycare facilities. To not ever have the chance to talk with the flight crew member(s) that are supposed to ensure the safety of a traveling child is truly an amazing leap of faith for any parent, ESPECIALLY a seven-year-old.

    I think that your tag of “But hey: at least the kid’s suitcase got there OK” is unfortunate, in that it shows some inability to understand a parent’s soul-tearing terror of realizing that their child is missing. Perhaps this is something only a parent would understand.

    A seven-year-old parent? Now there’s a scary thought. As for the tagline, it’s exactly what I supposed the airline would say. “Hey, here’s his suitcase! We got it to the right place, and on time! The kid? What kid?” I’m pretty sure most people “got it”. -rc

  9. Steve: Boulder, CO September 5, 2007 at 9:18 am #

    “A seven-year-old parent?” What the heck are you talking about, Randy? Read my post again. I, of course, was talking about the parent of a seven-year-old and the leap of faith necessary to entrust a child to strangers… Also, your story has nothing about the child being found, except for the perhaps implication that the parent “grumped” instead of being terrified, so I so your whole story was skewed by that… And your tagline didn’t even imply that the “airline” was the one making the comment.

    Take it easy, Steve, it was a joke. You wrote: “…flight crew member(s) that are supposed to ensure the safety of a traveling child is truly an amazing leap of faith for any parent, ESPECIALLY a seven-year-old.” You missed the “of” in “parent OF a seven-year-old”, and instead wrote “any parent, especially a seven-year-old”. You thus wrote about seven-year-old parents. I obviously understand that wasn’t your intent, but that was the logical structure of your sentence.

    The entire point of the posting here is about how the newspaper screwed up the reporting (“read it again!”), and didn’t mention that he was found, so it’s a bit much to complain about that now, especially in a reply to that posting! And again, I’m sorry you didn’t “get” the tag, but I’m pretty sure the majority did. I didn’t say I was quoting the airline, I said it was what I supposed they might say. Please slow down; you’ll absorb more points that way. -rc

  10. Mike from Dallas September 5, 2007 at 10:27 am #

    Amazing. I was sure that most of the comments would criticize the parents for not investigating the airline more thoroughly. One even made a comment about “common sense.” I have traveled repeatedly to every continent except Antarctica (something I plan to rectify in my lifetime). And I can tell you that people everywhere are NOT essentially the same. “Common sense” is NOT common, not even in different regions of the same country.

    As for the parents doing “more”, let me refer you to an incident years ago in which a little 10-year-old girl asked permission to sleep over at a friend’s house. Kids do this all the time. The next morning the little girl was missing. A few days later, her dead body was found. {Deanna Seifert, Warren, MI May 1992} Apparently a family relative who had drug problems was upset at the family and wanted to take revenge. He snuck in during the night to kidnap the family’s daughter and got the wrong girl. When he discovered his mistake, he killed her.

    The hue and cry from the community was, WHY didn’t the dead girl’s parents investigate the family more, before giving permission for a sleepover? It was a normal family with a whacko relative from another family. Short of an FBI security clearance, a background check would not have revealed anything. So we have comments about parental involvement that would border on the extreme. We are not the CIA nor have their resources.

    On the other extreme, we often have NO parental involvement. Interestingly, my wife is an Asset Protection agent in a large department store and many of the apprehensions involve minors (notably teens). In such cases, she will contact the parents prior to the police, and it’s amazing how many parents will defend a 14-year-old’s actions with “He doesn’t realize what he’s doing.” We don’t need more Ritalin, just more parental values in self-discipline.

    So does that alleviate the responsibility of the air crew when a child decides to slip away on his own? Well, basically, yes. As I’ve told people in my own profession, “Help me to help you.” I can’t help those who are determined to do the opposite. And you would be surprised how many are.

    And I’ve flown enough airlines around the world often enough to know which ones I like and which ones I’d avoid if there were any way possible. The comment about Dolta doesn’t surprise me at all. And Northworst is a nightmare. They not only lose baggage, but they lose (adult) passengers as well. I had to transfer in Seattle to get to Orange County airport. So imagine my surprise when I got off the plane and saw the sign that welcomed me to LAX. Imagine my further surprise when I checked with the gate about the error and, as he looked up my information, told me that I hadn’t even landed in Seattle yet. He was insistent; I could not possibly be in LA because I was scheduled for Seattle and hadn’t landed yet. Much to the snickers of the passengers around me, who apparently got it even if the Northworst agent didn’t.

  11. Steve: Boulder, CO September 5, 2007 at 11:33 am #

    “Please slow down; you’ll absorb more points that way.” Nice, Randy. Thanks for the sarcasm… Again, your tagline was written before you knew the child was safe.

    No sarcasm, Steve, but rather sincere advice. I even said please. Really: you’re taking all this very personally; your defensiveness is silly.

    And again, it was rather obvious that the child was safe, as has already been pointed out. -rc

  12. Steve: Colorado September 6, 2007 at 4:34 pm #

    Silly? Huh… No, clarifying a point in a conversation is not silly. Your ad hominem attacks are perhaps silly, as were your snide, condescending and then insults comments, but clarifying a point is not silly. Perhaps you presume that someone takes a comment personally if they reply back to your comments. Perhaps you’re unaware what logical fallicies are and how they are perceived by others. Perhaps your schtick is now based on getting a reaction. This just seems very Jerry Springer-ish.

    By the way, look back at my original comment and your reply and you will see that you made it personal, and in fact did not reply to the substance of my comment.

    I did not lock-step with how you were looking for the comments to proceed, since I was talking about your original insensitive tagline about a missing child *before you knew the outcome*, so I can see how you were confused by my comments.

    Fine, Steve. Whatever you say. I’ll just post this without response. -rc

  13. Jim, California September 6, 2007 at 6:35 pm #

    Yo, “Steve in Boulder, Co”: do you have a stick in your ass or something? If anything, Randy was polite to you, especially considering you completely missed every point he made. And he’s right: you are being defensive and silly; he didn’t say anything rude to you. I could see he was genuinely, and gently, trying to get you to understand. I saw his points instantly, and I’m no brain surgeon.

    I usually laugh at the clueless morons that write to Randy, but this is more like watching a car wreck: it’s horrifying, but you can’t help but watch. It’s painful to see someone acting like such a dumbass when it’s otherwise reasonably plain that you have a brain. Are you frying drugs on your noggin or something? That’s the only excuse I can think of for your responses.

    And Randy, from your restrained and polite response I can only guess that you know Steve from your days in Boulder. If that’s the case, I’ll bet you’re now glad you have a mountain range in the way!

    No, I don’t know Steve, other than as a subscriber. -rc

  14. Mike from Dallas September 7, 2007 at 8:47 am #

    Steve, grow up. The unbelievable OVER-USE of the term ad hominem on the internet is the exclusive purview of forum geeks who participate for no other reason than to argue for its own sake.

    The story, itself, was written so poorly by the reporter that it was a non-story. It didn’t become a story until Randy attached his tagline to it. (Creative Writing 101, every story must have a point; otherwise, it’s just a collection of data, like a phone book.)

  15. Ashlee, New York September 7, 2007 at 8:51 pm #

    ParentDish reports:

    “Fortunately only 20 minutes passed before William’s grandmother found him wandering around the terminal (still wearing his UM tag), and took him home. Although, it’s worth noting that the grandmother showed no ID, and didn’t sign for William (as is normally required) — she simply grabbed William by the hand, collected his luggage, and left.”

  16. Christine Fredericksburg, VA September 7, 2007 at 10:08 pm #

    My thirteen year old nephew came to visit us this Summer. We flew him from Florida to Washington DC as an unaccompanied minor. When he arrived, he did NOT follow the instructions given to him and left the plane. My husband found him leaving the gate area. Since he didn’t bring any checked baggage with him, they simply left the airport and headed home. They called from the car to let me know they were on the way. Very shortly afterwards I got another call from the airline: They let me know they no longer had my nephew and wanted to make sure he was picked up by his “escort”. I assured them we had custody of him and asked if they needed to return to sign the form. They declined and just wanted to make sure he arrived where he was supposed to.

    Not only did I have to buy a ticket for his airfare, I was charged and “escort fee” since he was a minor. Additionally, I not only paid the fee (twice: arrival and departure), but had to provide the escort (his uncle at our end and his grandmother at his “home” end). I think I should have asked for a refund on one of those fees. I also most certainly do NOT hold the airline at fault for him not following directions. Personal responsibility has to start somewhere.

  17. Tim in Montana September 7, 2007 at 10:18 pm #

    I hate to disappoint you, but I had to laugh: you don’t REALLY think even most kids these days are “taught to follow the rules laid down by an adult in uniform,” do you?! :-/

    I think you could have stopped at the word “rules”.

  18. George, Washington September 7, 2007 at 11:26 pm #

    Having worked for Horizon Air which services the smaller and some of the larger communities in the northwest for 3 1/2 years I know exactly what the Alberta agent is talking about. I “lost” a child once when he chose to “escape” after being fully advised to stay until I, the escort, arrived at the plane to assist him. When the flight attendant informed me that he was missing I notified the grandmother who was to pick him up and received for my effort a sound tongue lashing and a lot of language that, hopefully, most grandmothers don’t even understand.

    The fact was that the boy had intentionally joined another couple with several children and slipped off the plane. I and several staff spent many terrifying minutes trying to find this boy before he was finally located buying candy in one of the airport concessions.

    When he was located he let us know in no uncertain terms that he thought we should all go _ _ _ _ ourselves. This from a boy no more than 8 years old. And when he was returned to his grandmother she again served us up with her choice of venomous invective.

    One can’t blame a child for the way they act when their parents/grandparents have no respect for those in authority either. Sometimes when you see children acting so badly in public or with so little respect for authority it makes on want to “slap the parent upside the head”. Instead the child usually gets mollycoddled and the person trying to do his job gets abused by both the child and the parent. We live in a sad age.

  19. Richard, Monterey, CA September 7, 2007 at 11:35 pm #

    As a result of 42 years experience as an educator (elementary through college levels) I have found that one way to deal with a youngster or young adult who doesn’t want to follow the rules is to give him what he would perceive as an important job to do. In the classroom it might be to be a Teacher’s Aide. In an airplane, after he has received his “official wings” he might be enlisted to stand by the flight attendant and greet disembarking passengers with a few words as they leave. If he thought it was an important duty, he would see more reason to stay behind while the others left first (the Captain stays with the ship idea.)

  20. Larry, Chatsworth, CA September 8, 2007 at 1:08 am #

    Oh, the stories I could tell… (or actually my wife who is a Flight Attendant for Southwest. But first:

    Donna (UM should be the last person off the plane.) I guess you haven’t flown much, imagine the number of trampled kids trapped under the stampedes of passengers escaping the average flight… not to mention as Michael pointed out about not being able to leave.

    OK, one of her stories … about the young mother who boarded and placed the baby carrier in the overhead compartment … yes, with baby strapped in… fortunately one of the FAs noticed the baby was missing.

    Anyway, my wife has related various stories about UMs … and most airlines do take it very seriously and why they are calling to make sure the escort has custody… in her perhaps most memorable case (back when she was a gate agent) she took custody of a child for hours when the mother didn’t show up at the airport and couldn’t be reached. She had to keep the father, who was in the departure city, calmed as she assured him that all was well and that she wouldn’t leave his child unattended as they were doing everything they could to track down the mother (which it turns out was on another flight which had been delayed — a fact unknown by the father and ex-husband). Interestingly enough, the father jumped on the next flight (1 hour) and arrived at the airport minutes before his frantic ex-wife showed up. By this time my wife discovered the mother was on another SWA flight arriving late. Upon the father’s arrival, my wife was surprised discover that he was one of her teen heart-throbs as his daughter told dad all about she was ‘helping’ my wife. All was fine in the end… and SW didn’t charge any extra escort fees.

    Oh, and we were comped perfect seats for a great performance in Vegas a few months after the experience!

  21. Anne, New York September 8, 2007 at 8:08 am #

    I have BEEN an unaccompanied minor on a number of flights, although not in many years. I was always given a set of “wings” when I flew, which were supposed to help identify me as unaccompanied; a few times, my brother (who flew on several of the flights with me) or I would simply stick them in our carry-on. I would often get so excited to be getting to where I was going that I’d grab my bags and fall in line with the other passengers heading for the door, forgetting that I was supposed to wait.

    I think that’s true of a lot of kids; it’s exciting to be going on a vacation, to be flying, and, most of all, to be alone, with no grown-up watching over your every move! It’s easy to forget something you were told four or five hours earlier, before the plane took off, or even four or five MINUTES earlier, in the excitement of landing, and the anticipation of seeing whoever you’re going to see. Especially when you’re six or seven!

    I think the airlines need to be more aware of that: these aren’t adults (obviously!), they’re little kids. They don’t listen! My six-year-old can barely listen long enough to get herself dressed without stopping for a tv break between her pants and shirt, without forgetting what she was supposed to be doing; her favorite refrain is “I forgot!” I think a lot of other kids are just like that: “forgetful,” when it comes to following instructions. Everyone just needs to be more aware.

  22. Nola in Toronto September 8, 2007 at 8:38 am #

    I trust that the consequence for disobeying the rules is comparable to that of adults caught smoking in the loo or being disorderly: being banned from flying as unaccompanied minors. Parents would then impress upon the children the need to behave, otherwise they will be paying a lot more to accompany them wherever it is they have to go.

  23. Kim, Ozark, AR September 8, 2007 at 10:00 am #

    I have to agree with Donna from Petoskey, MI.

    When I read this part of the comment from Canuck flight attendant Michael — “I had a child dash off the plane as I was handing the flight’s paperwork to the Captain (which we received from the gate agent as soon as we opened the doors), which means the kid bolted for the door as soon as it opened.” — I immediately thought, why not let the UMs be the first off a plane? It’s obvious, the plane is met by the gate agent handing the paperwork to the flight attendant….why not make a trade and hand off the kid as well? Sounds like its time to change procedures.

  24. Karen, Sarasota, FL September 8, 2007 at 12:18 pm #

    I’d imagine that *most* kids manage just fine to sit until it’s time for them to get off the plane. Otherwise, airlines wouldn’t allow kids to fly unattended. So, what is wrong with requiring that a child LISTEN and BEHAVE when they’re not around their parents (and in some cases when they are)? Yeah, they’re excited but that does not negate that whole behaving thing. It doesn’t work when you’re older and it shouldn’t work when you’re younger. Self-control is hard but vital, especially in unknown and potentially dangerous situations.

  25. John - Sacramento September 10, 2007 at 9:23 am #

    The folks who think they have a “right” to send their little hellions off un-accompanied should realize that the airlines’ ultimate solution to the problem of dealing with them (and their parents – and the media) will be to disallow the practice.

  26. Bryan, St. Louis September 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm #

    There are many and varied reasons for unaccompanied minors on flights. Kids aren’t convenient, they’re loud, they’re bouncy, they’re frustrating….but they’re also human and deserve respect.

    Many years ago, when I was a UM myself on a couple flights, the flight attendants didn’t just read me a canned speech, they actually sold me on the idea that I was to wait for them before moving from my seat. They treated me as special and important and I gave them the same courtesies they gave me….how could I NOT?

    I can’t say that kids today get quite the same respect and cherishing that I did when I was young. I tutor a Korean family who had a nephew sent from Korea for one more year of school in the US (an important boost in a society that views English as a highly important skill). It doesn’t sound like he was given nearly the attention I was when I flew. He came out of it unhappy, exhausted, and a little traumatized. They didn’t lose him, but they didn’t go out of their way to make life nice for him either it doesn’t sound like.

    Kids aren’t perfect, parents sometimes make mistakes in raising them, but I’ve run into very few kids that didn’t respond well to being taken seriously and paid attention to.

    I know airlines aren’t as well staffed as they used to be, but they should charge sufficiently for an UM to afford the extra staff to not make it a burden on the other attendant. Indeed, the extra staffing would even be a BOON. Kids don’t take constant attention, so the extra attendant would be there to lighten the load for everyone.

  27. Jackie, Tacoma, WA September 11, 2007 at 12:20 am #

    Just had to throw in my two cents as well. I’m probably feeling a bit biased at the moment because of my recent experiences, but… I just returned from almost a month spent in Kenya. While I was there, one of the things that I noticed was that kids have a lot more responsibilities than they have here. I commonly saw kids as young as seven and eight carrying around younger brothers and sisters (or possibly cousins), looking after them, etc. We won’t even talk about early marriage ages (not that I think that 13 is a good age to get married, but if kids in other countries are getting married, having children, and running households in their early teens, I feel fairly confident that our kids can manage a cross-country plane ride on their own at that age).

    For that matter, I remember my first summer after high school visiting a Salvadorean orphanage. The kids there started handwashing all of their own clothes at age six, not to mention various other things (otherwise the staff would have had no way to care for them, and they couldn’t afford the staff necessary to wash clothes for 72 kids). And so on.

    Kids are capable of a lot more than we like to give them credit for. Nowadays we’re raising our kids to be less and less capable of doing things; I was shocked to hear that in some areas in the US it’s illegal to leave kids 12 and under alone, ever! When I was 12 (which was only 16 years ago), that was potential babysitting age. We give them hardly any chores, we worry about what they can do, and we keep them immature for much longer than is necessary. How is this helping them? Let’s give our kids some credit, and give them a chance to take on a bit more.

    As far as switching the time when UMs get off the plane, I don’t think that’s practical for the reasons stated by the flight attendant that first wrote in (no staff to accompany them), as well as the fact that (as someone said) the swamp of people trying to get off would make that difficult. I don’t see how it would be frightening for a child to see everyone else getting off if they knew ahead of time that they were going to wait around until the end, and that someone would be helping them find their way after that. I never found it frightening when I was a UM; perhaps a bit boring, but that’s no big deal. For that matter, I think that getting off first (if I was battling other passengers trying to get off at the same time) could have been more frightening, since I was a rather small child stature-wise even when I grew older.

    Okay, responding to one final comment made by someone else about forgetfulness. It’s true that anyone can be forgetful at times, and it’s not as big of a deal in kids as, say, deliberate disobedience. Kids still need to have consequences to forgetting to follow the rules, though, or else how are they going to learn that it really matters that they follow them? I really doubt that my current supervisors would be understanding if I regularly forgot to come to work on time, forgot the dress code, etc. They don’t have to be horrible consequences (“You’re grounded for 3 months because you forgot to stay on the plane!”), but something.

  28. Mike from Dallas September 15, 2007 at 8:30 am #

    Unrelated to the story, but the comment about excuses (forgetfulness) and responsibility really made a point. A couple years ago I was waiting to pay for my books in a bookstore. A large sign said “Form Line Here”. A 12-yr-old kid completely ignored the line and just walked directly up to the cashier, who immediately began ringing him up. I was aggravated with the clerk, so I dropped my books on the counter and walked out of the store.
    On my way out, some woman indignantly admonished me to consider that the kid may have had a brain tumor and couldn’t read the sign. I can only imagine a sign reading “Crocodiles, no swimming.” I’m sure the crocs will take the kid’s handicap into consideration and leave him alone. (Besides, if he couldn’t read a sign, why was he buying books?)

  29. Laura, Maine September 15, 2007 at 12:30 pm #

    There should be some consequences from the parents for forgetfulness, but consider the ages of some of these children. I remember what I was like as a child, and ever since getting my first regular homework assignments in 4th grade when I was 9 years old, I’ve had to fight to become less absentminded. (And I was a real goody two-shoes! I’m still more absentminded than most people, but far less so than when I was a kid.)

    For 12-year-olds, forgetting to wait to get off the plane, etc. should carry more serious consequences than for a seven-year-old, which is really pretty young. Maybe in Kenya, a seven-year-old would be less apt to forget such rules because they’re more used to responsibility, or maybe because life is simpler in Kenya there are less rules (because there are fewer new situations) to keep track of. Either way, expect children on flights to need some looking after and, whether on purpose or through excitement/forgetfulness, to not always follow the rules.

  30. Nathaniel (Maryland) September 15, 2007 at 10:45 pm #

    I went on my first flight when I was about 7. United, I think? Anyway, I remember being vaguely offended by how patronizing the flight attendants were. I was, after all, all grown up: wasn’t I flying on an airplane all by myself? I think I was told to wait until everyone else had left the plane, but that was taking a long time, and did they think I needed help walking off the plane? So I stood on the seat to get my carry-on down, and got in line with all the other disembarking passengers.

    I might have been caught by an attendant on the ramp, I don’t remember. It didn’t matter in my case, because my grandmother was waiting on the other side of the ramp, and I was sensible enough to go to someone in uniform if I needed help. But basically, I don’t think the airline can be blamed (except legally). You can’t reliably protect people from themselves, even if they’re kids.

  31. Israel in Jerusalem (Israel) September 23, 2007 at 7:53 am #

    I happened to have been on a flight the day before. Sitting behind me was an unaccompanied minor and I saw another one elsewhere on the flight. Despite the repeated reminders from the flight crew, both children tried to deplane with the other passengers. I overheard the elderly couple sitting next to the one behind me that he could come with them and they would help him find his parents. Luckily, both were caught by the crew before they got off. The one behind me had to change planes, and the flight crew had his boarding pass for the next flight. The other one (about 10) had removed her Unaccompanied Minor ID and was hanging out with another child on the flight.

  32. Stephen - Birmingham, UK August 9, 2008 at 5:35 am #

    Reading this story a solution occurred to me, one that I think many childfree adults who have been subjected to a flight with children would heartily endorse. You know those plastic crates that dogs and other pets have to travel in? Just fit a flat screen TV and some headphones and the kids would be happy as a pig in muck.

  33. Don, Kennewick, Washington July 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    The summer I was 15, my folks arranged with cousins for me to work on the farm. I lived in Seattle and they were in Elk Mound, Wisconsin — quite a long ways away, indeed. Since my Dad was a school-teacher, it was decided that the best way for me to get from West to East was via the Greyhound Bus. I left Seattle on Tuesday, June 13 and arrived in Eau Claire on Thursday evening, June 15. What a trip. I had a blast, met some ‘interesting’ folks, and prepared for my departure to travel ’round the world in three short years as a sailor in the United States Navy.

    Would I send my own son on this sort of trip. Well, yes I did. When he was 16, my son was having, how shall we say it, trouble with authority. His mother and I decided that he needed to learn to deal with adults who knew how to administer discipline without the emotional attachment. Hence, we dispatched said son on the same Greyhound — from Kennewick, in Eastern Washington, to the same farm in NW Wisconsin. He came home at the end of the summer with a totally new attitude and a fresh outlook on authority — especially considering we sent him with a one-way, non-refundable ticket and told him to earn his way home!

  34. muriel, san gregorio, CA September 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    Great comment from the flight attendant. When I first heard that story I assumed the kid had a lot of culpability in ths situation. Maybe UM’s should be locked in the 1st class restroom until all passengers have deplaned. Humiliating? Too bad.

  35. Charles in Florida September 14, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    I find the suggestion of a child-crate (made by Stephen in Birmingham) to be very appealing – especially as someone who has been subjected to ill-behaved minors.
    However, the child-loving public would probably be happier with something like a metal RFID bracelet which requires a handcuff-key to remove. RFID readers are already quite common (those anti-shoplifting gates in retail stores, for example) and could be set up at the gates to alert everyone when a rug-rat makes a break for it.

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