Paying a fee to check your bag doesn’t guarantee that your bag arrives on time. So why should paying an unaccompanied minor fee guarantee that your child is treated properly? 10 year old Adrian Opsahl was returning from visiting his father in Denver to San Diego on Frontier Airlines when his plane made an unscheduled stop in Las Vegas due to a medical emergency. The plane was then stranded on the ground due to fog in San Diego for an extended period.
At no point did the airline contact any emergency numbers provided by the family to apprise them of the situation. Finally, Adrian turned on his cell phone and alerted his family. When his family finally reached the gate agent, they were given two choices: Adrian could return to Denver, or, if he wasn’t picked up by family in Las Vegas within 30 minutes, he would be turned over to Child Protective Services. When Adrian’s aunt stated that the child should not be turned over to CPS, the gate agent hung up and had him flown back to Denver without the family’s consent or knowledge. The family says had they been told earlier the child was in Las Vegas, they would have been able to have someone meet him there. Adrian was flown to San Diego the following morning, but the incident raises some disturbing questions. Frontier Airlines has , as of yet, not responded to reporters’ inquiries.
If airlines are going to be taking fees for accompanying unaccompanied minors, they must have systems in place to deal with adverse events.
What is the plan for communicating delays and changes to family? Airlines should have a clear procedure in place to proactively inform family of any, changes, delays or issues that arise. Communication should be made as soon as possible, and when choices need to be made, family should be given adequate time to consider their options.
What is the plan if child is stranded in transit? In this instance, the child was returned to his destination, but what is the airlines plan for supervising and caring for a child who is stranded, as Adrian would have been if no flights to Denver had been departing that evening? Child protective services cannot be the answer; the airline must have a reasonable response plan to provide a chaperone to the child as well as to ensure they are fed and cared for.
What procedures are followed to ensure that the child reaches the correct destination? Periodically, stories are reported of unaccompanied minors being routed to the wrong city. This is eminently avoidable and should not be possible in a modern airline system.
By providing an unaccompanied minor program, airlines are taking responsibility for vulnerable children and must ensure that they have adequate systems, support and contingency planning for the safety and well-being of the child.