I recently wrote about Is Your Child Flying Solo? Here’s What You Need to Know! and did a couple of TV segments on this topic, but didn’t expect to witness first-hand just what can go wrong when a child is entrusted into the care of an airline.
On a recent flight, my boarding was delayed because the arriving aircraft’s flight attendants couldn’t find an unaccompanied child who had just deplaned. It was a bit unnerving to hear the flight attendants – in very rough voice – telling each other at the gate, “I thought YOU were watching the kid.” Of course they would not allow anyone to board until the child was found, either on the plane or elsewhere. The question of “What does he look like?” was asked repeatedly at the gate and went unanswered.
Long story short, the child was eventually found. Apparently the child hopped off the plane with everyone else and did not wait to be escorted by a flight attendant. The adults meeting the boy most likely received gate passes to meet the child at the gate. Once this boy saw his relatives, it was off to the races. Why didn’t the flight attendant know this? Because each one thought the other was responsible for deplaning with the boy. Meanwhile, no one was.
I would chalk this up to a fluke event except that my husband told me about a similar incident earlier this year. He was waiting to board an aircraft at JFK that had just arrived from Shannon (SNN), Ireland. SNN is one of those rare international locations where you clear customs locally, not upon arrival into the U.S. Almost a carbon copy of what I witnessed, my husband relayed the story about how his flight was delayed because the flight attendants had ‘misplaced’ a 13-year-old girl traveling alone. It was déjà vu all over again… “I thought YOU were watching her.”
Well, JFK is a pretty big airport so finding a child – who could easily walk outside without notice because there was no immigration to stop her – was a major concern to the crew. My husband was standing at the gate desk when the incident occurred and he joined the conversation with the gate agent on what to do: Contact security, notify the station manager, check the paperwork to see who was picking her up, etc. He asked if they had a photo of the girl. They did not, nor did they on the incident I witnessed.
Yes, my husband and I fly a lot so we are more likely to see unusual events when flying but really, what are the odds that each of us would see the same thing like this? It makes one wonder just how often this happens with airlines. I’m just very glad that my kids were always returned to me safe and sound when they were flying solo.
If your child is flying as an unaccompanied minor, talk through the process with them ahead of time so they understand the importance of staying with their designated care-taker (flight attendant or other airport personnel) until the official hand-off from flight to family member is done. Advise adults who are picking up your child to check with the agent before leaving the gate area to ensure that everything is in order.
For kids, flying solo is a big adventure. With a few minutes of going through the rules, it will be a great experience for them and for you — and you’ll not hear the dreaded words of “I Thought YOU Were Watching the Kid!”