Friday, August 13, 2010

Common Sense according to Airlines

See article from

US kids buy plane tickets, fly alone
By The Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Three Florida children bought tickets with babysitting money and flew to Nashville, Tennessee, on Southwest Airlines — unbeknownst to their parents.

WJXT-TV reports that 15-year-old Bridget Brown had $700 saved and asked a 13-year-old friend where he wanted to go.

The friend, Bobby Nolan III, suggested Nashville.

Together with Brown's 11-year-old brother, the three took a taxicab to Jacksonville International Airport and bought three tickets at the counter. The children say no one asked them for identification.

They called their parents from Nashville and immediately flew home.

Southwest Airlines says the company's minor policy covers children ages five through 11 travelling alone, and that the 11-year-old in this case was accompanied by two older companions.

(end of story)

In light of this story, let's consider the things that airlines consider suspicious and put up the red flag for:

-an unattended piece of luggage
-a bottle of makeup that's more than 100 ml
-a person with their face covered
-scissors in hand luggage

Now let's consider the fact that they had 3 unattended minors as legally defined by state law. Anyone who's under 18 is considered to be a minor and even though the airlines' policy is to let these people fly alone, it's funny that nobody at the airline thought to inquire about the childrens' parents, the purpose of their visit and whether or not someone would be waiting for them when they landed in Nashville. These are questions that even a 16 year old babysitter knows to ask, and for some reason, were not given any consideration by the airline. If one of those children had a pair of scissors for their craft time in their purse, however, I'm sure that would have caused a stir...

To be fair, the airline representative who served them may have been having one of those off days where maybe they had been out too late the night before and they had mentally checked out already and all that they had considered when they saw this intrepid trio was the fact that they had come with cash in hand. And maybe this intrepid trio is very mature looking for the age. And maybe the airline representative is very fond of such movies as Home Alone and Home Alone 2 and thought that there was nothing more adorable than a group of children travelling together to the world's country music capital for some mischief.

The airline is surely going to hide behind their minor policy which defines minors as 5 through to 11, clearly in contradiction with state definitions of what constitutes a minor and may be subject to revision at some point. The airline will also be quick to point out that this minor was accompanied by two older children. That's all fine and dandy for the airline this time around, but perhaps this rule should be altered slightly to say a minor accompanied by someone over the age of majority (over 18).

This isn't just a question of making the airline look silly. This is a pretty serious safety concern. With more and more children being targeted by human traffickers, particularly within the sex trade, children travelling alone would be a pretty easy target. Children of that age may know the basic golden rule of not wandering off with strangers, but that won't protect them from possible abductors who see that they're unaccompanied, vulnerable and probably ignorant of the possible dangers around them. And if nobody knows the children are there, it may take days and even weeks for their parents to locate them.

There are other potential dangers once the children land at their given destination. Once they leave the aircraft, they are no longer anyone's responsibility, therefore, the airline won't be held liable for children abducted within the airport or outside of it. Meaning that the well-meaning stranger who offers them a ride into town may look like a good idea to the child.

The airlines should revise their policies and consider asking some various basic questions. They should be used to doing this by now, as they've had plenty of practice with adults (is this your bag? Did you pack it yourself? Did you leave it someplace unattended?)

The airlines should extend their minor policy to all minors (under 16 would be a reasonable age limit). The airline should also specify that minors should be accompanied by someone who is age of majority, and if not, they should have special written permission by their parents who fill in details for the purpose of the trip and the name and contact information for themselves and the person who will meet their children at the airport. If these kinds of provisions are not made, they should not permit children to board the aircraft without contacting the parents themselves.

And maybe parents should consider whether or not it's wise to let minors travel alone across the country. Even if their children are incredibly mature, travel can be intimidating and chaotic, even for adults, so careful consideration should be given prior to making travel plans.

And for God's sake, leave the scissors at home. That goes for all of you passengers.

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