Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Unaccompanied Minor - A Tween Flying Alone

There's been a lot going on, both on this blog and in real life. Last week, I sent my eldest child off on an airplane all by herself. Bethany went to visit Chris's brother in Florida for a few days. Not only did she get to miss school for 3 days, she also got to go to Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Aquatica (Sea World's water park), and La Nouba (Cirque de Soleil). What a spoiled little punk,huh? Sadly I have only a few pictures that my brother-in-law shared on Facebook and texted me. Maybe he will be nice and send me some more...? Obviously she had a fabulous time, I mean how could she not, right?

Putting her on the plane by herself was slightly surreal, but I knew she would do fine, and she did. Bethany is very mature in some ways (not so much in other ways), she can handle herself. Everything went off without a hitch here in Detroit, but when her uncle brought her to the Orlando airport it was a bit of an ordeal. First of all, the lovely gate agent tried to bump my daughter - the unaccompanied minor - from the flight. The very one for whom my brother-in-law paid a hefty fee so she would be specially looked after. He had to argue to get her on the plane. Luckily he has a big mouth (love you Rob!). Then they boarded her last. She was supposed to go on first. Because, as they assured me in Detroit, they try to be as discrete as possible about having an unaccompanied minor on board. And finally, they failed to mention to my brother-in-law that he needed to stay at the gate until the plane was in the air. You see, if everyone has to get off the plane for some reason, and the unaccompanied minor doesn't have her guardian waiting there at the gate, then she has to be released into police custody. This was clearly explained to me in Detroit, nobody said a word in Orlando.

So once Bethany was on the plane, and my brother-in-law saw it leaving the gate, he went home. And not long after that, Bethany called me from the airplane to tell me the flight was delayed due to weather problems. They didn't know how long, she knew nothing except the plane had not left the ground yet. At this point I assumed her uncle was still at the airport so I wasn't overly concerned, and Bethany sounded fine, although anxious to get home. A little while later I called into the the airline's automated line to see if they'd released the new departure and arrival times yet. Hmmm, odd. The automated message said that the plane had departed already, 20 minutes before I talked to Bethany. I knew that couldn't be right, so I jumped through lots of hoops to finally get a live person on the phone, and it was confirmed that the plane was still on the runway and they didn't know when it was leaving.

Somewhere in the midst of all this mess I learned that my brother-in-law was no longer at the airport. I was assured that they (they being AirTran, in case you were wondering) never bump unaccompanied minors from flights, they always board the unaccompanied minors first, and that my brother-in-law should have never left the gate (even though no one told him to stay, and the airline's gate attendants left). They ended up calling him and telling him he had to come back, but by the time everything got all sorted out, the plane had left already (over an hour late). Everything worked out fine in the end, but I was ticked. I feel like I put my daughter's life, her safety and well-being, in the hands of AirTran, and they failed me. Although I voiced my concerns to the woman helping me on the phone, I received only a simple cursory apology. Don't get me wrong, she was helpful and did her best. But I will be calling the customer service department to voice my concerns, because obviously they have a training fail somewhere along the line. I feel like this is an area where there is no room for error. They were lax, and when you're talking about a child traveling alone, that is just not acceptable.

I feel like my temper has cooled off considerably since Sunday evening, so tomorrow will probably be a good time to call. Am I crazy? I really don't think so, but please let me know if you think otherwise! Has your child ever traveled as an unaccompanied minor? If so, what was your experience?


Holli said...

Alysia, You most definitely should call and complain. It made me so mad just reading this. I travel quite a bit with my job and kids traveling alone are always escorted first on the plane. What happened is unacceptable and those agents need to be retrained ASAP!! Call the airlines now and ask to speak to their manager whoever you get.

Heather (GurleeGirrl) said...

I would definitely call. There is no execuse for the NUMEROUS errors which occurred while your daughter was traveling home. There is no "I'm sorry" that will correct it, but it is best for them to know, so proper retraining can occur - especially in such a busy "child friendly" airport in FLORIDA.