The Travel Adviser

Before they travel alone, teach your children well...

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August 1, 2010 05:01
The Travel Adviser

airport travel 88 248. (photo credit: )

 
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Liberty is an appropriate name for Newark’s international airport. As 13-year-old Eliezer had discovered before he heard his name being called over the loudspeakers, he was experiencing complete liberty.

Unbeknownst to Eliezer, this was not what his parents had desired when paying for an unaccompanied minor service for their child.

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Our children are our most important asset and this is the time of year that tens of thousands of parents send their kids to near and far destinations, putting complete trust in the hands of total strangers. We’ll check out the background of our kid’s soccer coach, interview references of potential babysitters, but when it comes to sending our kids unaccompanied, common sense is replaced by sheer faith. It has to be.

In my quarter century of experience, it’s quite obvious that parents fret endlessly about sending their kids as an unaccompanied minor. But quite often there is no alternative.

Divorced parents, eager grandparents, workloads and basic financial challenges mean that frequently there is no choice but to send our prized possessions as unaccompanied minors. So how exactly does it work? The process is actually quite simple. Together with one’s travel consultant, or directly with the airline, the most important decision is choosing the appropriate airline. Price should not be the first consideration; in fact many offices refuse to book a ticket which would result in the child switching airlines in either Europe or in North America.

The first rule is to choose one airline that will carry the child to his or her final destination. So while El Al has a well-deserved reputation for caring for these minors, flying only to JFK, Newark, Toronto and Los Angeles means that if the child needs to get beyond these four cities in North America, El Al is not the answer.

No airline will take a child from one airline to the other. In fact some airlines, for example US AIR, which flies from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv and back, will not permit an unaccompanied minor on any connecting flight to/from Philly. The fee is usually $100 per direction on international flights and $75 for domestic flights inside North America. Siblings can fly together and the airline will only require a single payment.



The requirements are quite basic; one must supply the name of the contact person, the phone number and the relationship to the minor of the person bringing the minor to the airport and the same information on who will be receiving the minor. The fee can be paid in advance or at the airport. There are some forms to be filled out and in most instances the child is given a sign to wear.

The only person authorized to accompany the minor beyond check-in in is the staff attendant of the airline. In fact the initial uneasiness occurs as you see your child heading toward passport control knowing for quite some time he or she will be incommunicado. At many airports, parents wait a few minutes then slowly head back to their homes. In principle though, one is not supposed to depart the airport until the plane has taken off.

Delta Air has solved this conundrum nicely. At Ben-Gurion Airport the representative asks ever so slyly for identification of the delivering adult. Once the picture matches the person, he is told it will only be returned once the Delta plane has left Israeli airspace. We’ve received many complaints from parents who feel they were manipulated to turn over their documents and feeling they were being held captive.

Delta’s response to a recent complaint was quite succinct: “Until we are certain the plane is not returning to Ben-Gurion Airport, the parent may not leave the premises.”

On the plane the child is seated, where possible, with other unaccompanied minors. It’s imperative that the child is made aware that no flight attendant sits with him or her and that if s/he has any needs to simply make the request known. Parents should explain the process from start to finish, alleviating any anxieties the child may encounter.

Upon arrival, the flight attendant will accompany the child through passport control, collect the checked-in suitcase and, in a perfect world, deliver the child to the receiving person.

SO WHY was Eliezer wandering the corridors of Newark Liberty Airport? He has almost no knowledge of reading English.

His mother continues his saga; “When Eliezer’s flight finally arrived in Newark airport and deplaned at 10:30 p.m., he asked for the person who would be accompanying him to his connecting gate. He was very tired and scared. The steward told him that no one would be accompanying him and that he could make his own way to the gate as it was simple to get to and he would point him in the right direction.

“My son was very worried about missing his plane, so he followed the steward’s direction and started off to find his next flight alone. After much walking, worrying, wandering and feeling scared, he arrived in a food court that he said had many restaurants closed and just as he was ready to ‘lose it,’ he noticed a sign in Hebrew and followed it. He heard on the loudspeaker continual requests for Eliezer to please come to the ticketing counter! “Why were they looking for him? I had paid for him to be accompanied and he should have been with a Continental representative! As soon as he arrived, he was immediately boarded onto the plane and flooded with relief.”

This story ended well. He arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport and with tears in his eyes threw himself into his mother’s arms. No doubt Continental will compensate him for his trouble and, in reality, Continental, like El Al and most airlines, has an excellent record of taking care of children.

Parents though need to be very cautious when making travel plans for their children; if possible a cellphone with the necessary contacts should be provided.

Our children are our dearest possessions, let’s not leave them unprotected or unprepared. As Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills and Nash wrote, “Teach your children well.”

The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.

For questions and comments, e-mail him at mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il.

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