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.