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Dumping The Kids

Children travelling alone

The race to get rid of expensive unwanted service offerings by airlines continues apace. As we approach (or enter) the holiday season, many parents will be finding out that the "Unaccompanied Minor" is basically, a thing of the past and that if your child is four-and-three-quarters, then unless you go, (or someone else 18 or over (not 16!)) your child isn't.

(That said, under 5 years of age is not really the time for children to travel alone anyway)

The "Unaccompanied Minor" (UM) service offered by airlines used to be free, then charges came in and now, if you can find an airline that offers the service, then you may find yourself paying up to 200 Euros. The cost, really, was never an issue - no parent would balk at a 200 Euro charge, if it meant peace of mind that your child was in good hands.

Flights to America still have a UM offerings but for routes going anywhere but the USA, there is little to offer.

An interesting email bulletin did drop on my desk, however, from Virgin Atlantic. Virgin, apart from their (excellent) full blown UM service, also acknowledge a YPTA entry in any booking. YPTA means "Young Person Travelling Alone" and in the words of Virgin Atlantic: "... this will ensure that these customers are flagged to the airport staff and visible to our crew".

The YPTA option is available to passengers on their own, between the ages of 12 and 18.

For many a parent, that is all that one wants. That the airline is aware of the child/ young person and that someone is likely to give a monkeys if the child is missing from the passenger manifest when it is time to close the doors.

Running a trimmed down UM service is all that is needed. That crew and airport staff are aware and that a child and young person knows who to turn to when they face the daunting prospect of fighting through the retail bombardment and mystery maze that departure lounges have become, is all that is asked for.

Parents do find themselves apart for whatever reason and there is a need for parents or guardians to be able to have peace of mind when little Johnny or Julie has to travel alone. My younger daughter had to travel from London to Moscow on her own and it was a worry that between my dropping her off and Mummy picking her up, all trace of No.2 daughter could be lost.

Though many kids are quite streetwise, airports have become quite daunting places and are full of strangers, many (most?) of whom do not have a Basic Disclosure Certificate and (probably) do not even know that a BDC exists. Yet airlines and airports are quite happy to separate children from their parents or guardians and, were there to be a delay, allow a child or young person to be at the mercy of anyone for a significant amount of time - possibly even, overnight.

At a time when airlines seek both differentiation and additional ways of determining income, to drop the UM service is at best, strange. Parents and guardians are happy enough to pay - and pay a substantial amount - to give them that peace of mind. For those with elder children, knowing that the airline is at least aware and having some sort of place in a busy departure lounge where a young person may at least derive some help and perhaps comfort, is not too much to ask.

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