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Children flying alone: a topic fraught with emotion

Readers respond to an On the Spot column addressing airline fees for children traveling by themselves, and their experiences are varied.

December 02, 2012|By Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times
  • Passengers at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va.
Passengers at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. (Michael Reynolds / EPA )

In the Nov. 25 On the Spot ("High Alert When Children Fly Solo"), a parent of a 9-year-old who flew alone from LAX to Boise, Idaho, pondered what the airline fee was for because no services were rendered. Readers responded with several takes on the issue, including whether any child should fly alone. Here are some of their thoughts.

Rebecca Keenan of San Diego notes that at one time in her life she flew more than 100,000 miles a year. "I would fly on red-eyes, the last flight of the day and flights in between," she said. "Flights are delayed, diverted and canceled…. No one under the age of 18 should be allowed to fly alone, period."

She wonders what the child or the parent would do if the child is on the last flight of the day and it's canceled. "On a connecting flight, would a parent really want their child attended to overnight by a stranger?" (Attention, parents: Don't put your child on the last flight of the day — some airlines don't allow this anyway — and try to avoid connecting flights too.)

Among other reasons, she listed a child's need for attention for a variety of issues, including emotions that run amok ("I have seen too many kids begin to cry for numerous reasons. There is no one to comfort them") as well as bad behaviors ("I have seen kids kick the seat backs of the person in front of them, color on the drop-down table, throw items and use language that would even make a sailor blush").

Marlene Amezcua of San Pedro, who flies 100,000 or more miles a year, asks, "Have you ever seen the ratio of attendants to a full plane?" She goes on to say of the unaccompanied minor fee, "For any parent to expect that $99 is insurance to guarantee safety of their child, then I have a $98 bridge I can sell you."

Alexandra Haag of San Diego had a different experience with a trip that her 14-year-old daughter took some years ago: "As a teenage girl, she was resentful that she was being treated as a minor, but there was no doubt in our minds that we were doing everything to ensure her safety. All turned out well with one exception: One of the male flight attendants questioned … why she was being treated as a minor.… This only added to her embarrassment at being 'baby-sat,' making the experience bad for all of us (her, during the flight; us, forever after)."

Roger Bourke of Alta, Utah, is still steamed about a nonstop flight his almost-16-year-old son took. "The airline demanded a $100 surcharge even though he had flown alone on both Southwest and United previously (without an imposed surcharge) and was completely comfortable flying on his own. (Not on his own exactly: He had his ever-present laptop)." An outraged Bourke said he considered the fee "extortion." It was waived on the return trip because his son had turned 16 during the trip, but, he said, it soured him on the airline forevermore.

Tina Little of Ojai believes the fee was worth it — at least, in her case. "My minor daughter flew each summer from LAX to Portland, Ore., to stay a week with friends. I too questioned the steep price and necessity of the 'unaccompanied minor' charge. One summer, I got stuck in L.A. traffic and was more than a half-hour late to pick up my daughter. I called from my cellphone to explain my tardiness and to assure the airline I was on my way. When I got there, [airline] personnel were sitting at the gate with my daughter.… That's when I learned the value of the fee. It's not necessarily for the flight itself, but to have an accountable adult with the child if something unexpected arises."

All of us want our children to be safe. Each of these writers makes an excellent point, including the notion that age is more than just a number when it comes to a child's maturity. In the end, the only one who can make the decision is the mom or dad who knows the child well enough to know when it's time to let that child take wing.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

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