Are Unaccompanied Kids Safe on Airplanes?

After two mix-ups in two days, parents are wary about their kids flying alone.

June 17, 2009, 1:14 PM

June 17, 2009 — -- Airlines are notorious for sending luggage to the wrong destination but Continental are now developing a reputation for sending young children to the wrong place too.

"Oh my god," said Christine Koh, a mom of one in Boston, when she heard about two separate instances over the weekend in which unaccompanied young children boarded the wrong aircraft and traveled to the wrong destinations.

"This makes me totally hyperventilate," said Koh.

On Saturday, an 8-year-old Houston girl mistakenly ended up in Fayetteville, Ark., instead of Charlotte, N.C. Then on Sunday, a 10-year-old girl from Boston flew to Newark, N.J., instead of Cleveland, where she was headed to visit her grandparents.

Both girls were boarding planes operated by ExpressJet, which is operated by Continental Airlines.

A representative from the airline told that it has fully reimbursed both families and is addressing the situation with the individual employees who were involved in the incidents.

"We literally fly thousands of unaccompanied minors every year," said Kelly Cripe, a spokeswoman for Continental Airlines. "This is not something that happens on a regular basis. It's more like a freak accident that it would happen back-to-back like this."

Cripe said that airline policy is such that unaccompanied minors are under the supervision of gate attendants who then pass them off to a flight attendant. Parents are also given a sort of faux boarding pass so they can accompany their children to the aircraft's gate.

In the two incidents over the weekend, Cripe said that two flights were departing simultaneously from a single doorway and a "miscommunication among staff members" resulted in the mix-up.

But some parents said that a rare instance of a child being mistakenly flown across the country is enough to worry them.

Amy Kuras, a mother of two in Detroit, said that Continental's missteps have "reaffirmed her fears" about letting her children travel alone.

"The idea of putting my kids on a plane and leaving them at the mercy of plane employees already terrified me," said Kuras. "This just shows how many flaws are in the system, and Continental is probably not the only airline that has things to work on."

"Even when I fly I get confused and sometimes don't know what's going on, and I'm not 10. I'm 39!" said Kuras. "I can't imagine being a little 10-year-old kid and getting into this situation."

Amy Oztan, who's children are 5 and 8, said that she and her husband are getting to the point where they would like to let their older son travel alone.

"We'd like to maybe see them go visit grandparents, and it's just too expensive sometimes in both time and money to accompany them," said Oztan.

"[These mistakes] do give me pause, not really enough to not do it," said Oztan. "There are risks with everything, but this seems pretty small."Oztan said that while the recent mix-up wouldn't necessarily stop her from letting her older child fly alone, it would make her more likely to question the ariline.

And asking questions, said parenting expert and author of "The Big Book of Parenting Solutions," Michele Borba, is exactly how parents wary about their summer travel should tackle their newfound fears.

"This is definitely a wake-up call, but don't cancel your plane reservations for your kids too quickly," said Borba.

"Instead, the first thing you should do is call the airline and ask them specifically what you can expect and what you can't; every airline is different," said Borba.

Borba suggests parents weigh the age of their child, their maturity level and their sense of responsibility before letting them board a plane alone.

Making sure there is a backup plan in case something goes wrong is important as well, said Borba.

"This is the one time you want to give your kid that cell phone he's been asking for," she said.

"You really need to think this one through," said Borba.

"Because just like there will be missing luggage, there will also be missing children."

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