Flight of unaccompanied minor should be lesson

By Andrew Zashin*

Earlier this month, a mother took to TikTok alleging that American Airlines lost her child. According to the mother, Monica Gilliam, her preteen daughter was flying American Airlines as an unaccompanied minor from Tennessee to Florida when the airline lost track of her daughter after her flight landed in Florida. Luckily, the child was unharmed and was able to independently link up with her father at the airport.

In response to Gilliam’s allegations, American Airlines stated, “We take these matters very seriously and are looking into what occurred. American cares deeply about young passengers and is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience from them.”

Gillam’s story caught my eye since it is common for my separated or divorced clients to utilize an airline’s unaccompanied minor services to transport their child or children back and forth for parenting time. Further, from my personal experience, the degree of supervision offered to the unaccompanied traveling minors is considerable.

Many airlines have different rules to deal with unaccompanied minors. There are, however, some basic principles that all airlines adhere to. For instance, every child wears a lanyard, a strap, a necklace of sorts with an envelope attached that holds information about the child, his or her itinerary as well as his or her passport if the flight is an international one. A parent or guardian is required to sign for the child at the drop-off and upon pickup. The designated person for the drop-off and pickup are registered with the airline in advance.

These details are designed so that a child is literally not lost in transit. Once the child is dropped off in advance of departure, he or she is not allowed to leave the eyesight of a designated airline representative. During waits and layovers, children are kept together with other unaccompanied minors in special lounges, and escorted to their gates and onto the aircraft, at the appropriate times.

Most airlines will allow children to travel unaccompanied as early as age 5. From ages 15 to 17, most airlines will allow children to fly as regular passengers, depending on the carrier. Parents may, however, opt to allow their older teen to fly as an unaccompanied minor. It is important that parents familiarize themselves with the rules of the airlines on which their child will travel alone before booking.

Generally speaking, the unaccompanied minor program is safe and uneventful. It is a low-cost effective way to get children from place to place. Rarely are there any issues. But when they do occur, they can be serious, as evidenced by Gilliam’s story.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

2023-11-10T13:38:05-05:00July 31st, 2022|Child Custody, Traveling with Children|

Legal issues of traveling with children

By Andrew Zashin*

Summer is almost here and many families will take vacations near and far. While the thought of traveling with children – small children, in particular – can be daunting, the legal aspect does not need to be scary.

Special permission for travel is usually only necessary if you will be crossing international borders. While it can never hurt to travel with a copy of a child’s birth certificate and other important documents, like custody, guardianship or adoption papers, if you are driving domestically, you will likely face no issue or question.

The one notable exception would be if you have a custody order that limits or puts special restrictions on travel with the child. In that case, you will want to make sure you follow your divorce or other custody order.

As for air travel, the Transportation Security Administration similarly does not require identification or any special consent for children traveling accompanied on domestic flights. Children under the age of 13 can undergo modified screening procedures that are intended to be less scary, however older children must go through the same process as an adult.

Rules for children flying unaccompanied vary from airline to airline. Some form of identification may be required, at least for older children, and it’s always a good idea for an unaccompanied child to travel with some form of identification, whether a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, school ID or similar form.

No matter the method of travel, if the travel will be with someone other than a parent or guardian, it is smart to give the chaperone a letter of consent so it is clear he or she is authorized to travel with the child. In fact, with group trips, such as those organized by a school, religious or other group, some form of permission slip will likely be required.

International travel is a bit more complicated. The website for the U.S. Department of State contains important travel requirements that vary from country to country. In general, if the child will be traveling internationally, a passport will usually be necessary just as for an adult.

If the child will be traveling with only one parent or guardian, it is useful and sometimes required for the traveling parent to travel with a letter of consent signed by the other parent. This letter is not a specific government form, but should clearly spell out the travel being permitted and identify as much detail about the travel plans as possible.

To obtain a passport for a child, both parents or guardian must consent. The only times a passport can be obtained unilaterally is if the parent applying for the passport can show that he or she has sole legal custody of the minor, such as by a divorce or custody decree, some other order authorizing the issuance of a passport, a birth certificate listing the requesting parent as the only parent or guardian, or a death certificate showing the death of the non-requesting parent.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.

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