United Airlines has changed their unaccompanied minors policy so that kids ages 5 to 11 can't fly alone when they require a connecting flight, the Los Angeles Times reports. Travelers between the ages of 12 and 17 who choose to use the optional unaccompanied minor service can only fly direct as well.
United's decision to change its unaccompanied minors policy leaves many parents with major travel problems. Parents who are divorced and living in different states often can't get direct flights for their kids. It is unfair to punish them for something they can't control. It is an unnecessary hassle — and very expensive — for these parents to fly back and forth just to drop their child off somewhere.
I also wonder how this rule change will affect sleepaway camps next summer. When my brothers were younger, they flew to Wisconsin to go to camp every year, a tradition that as been in my family for three generations. They relied on this service, which helped them make connecting flights, until they were old enough to travel alone. I am sure plenty of other children had similar experiences.
I don't know why this program is being discontinued, though I hope it is not cost-related. The unaccompanied minor service costs $150 each way, which should certainly cover the cost of watching a child for a few hours. After all, the kids only receive one complimentary food item, and that is if there's food available on the plane in the first place. The agents are not even allowed to administer medication. The program is designed to make sure children make their flights and don't get lost; it is not a nanny service.
In defense of United, L.A. Airspace blogger Brian Sumers notes that "ensuring that a bunch of 5- to 11-year-olds are taken care of during a layover is not the easiest thing. I imagine that this policy change will make the program more efficient for United."
There is some good news. If you are planning on sending your children on a plane without parental supervision, American Airlines still accepts unaccompanied minors on all flights, unless the connecting flight is the last flight of the evening or the trip requires an overnight stay. Southwest will allow unaccompanied minors on nonstop flights and trips with multiple stops that don't require a plane change.