The Travel Adviser: Children should be seen and not heard

Here are some tips for children traveling unaccompanied on flights.

Baggage carts are seen on the tarmac near an El Al Israel Airlines plane at Venice airport (photo credit: REUTERS)
Baggage carts are seen on the tarmac near an El Al Israel Airlines plane at Venice airport
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nobody has ever made the connection between Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay from 1729, where he suggests that the Irish eat their own children, to Alexander Hamilton’s job as a clerk at a local St. Croix import export firm in 1771, where for five months at the ripe age of 14 he was left in charge while the owner was at sea. Sure, Hamilton was taken in by his cousin, who soon committed suicide, but labor away he did; resulting in a voyage to the US and a wildly successful life before being killed in a duel in 1804. Now skeptics might state that if child labor laws had been enforced in the eighteenth century that Hamilton might have learned that playing with guns is not a wise option.
In fact debates are plentiful whether child labor is good or bad, with hundreds of opinions on this topic. Usually discerning eggheads fail to look at the other side of the equation – that child labor can be extremely beneficial and vital in poor and developing countries. It gives vagrant children an opportunity to earn money for their families and their future. When these young paupers toil, they help their family and do their part to help for a better future. When the whole family works together, they can dodge the troubling truth that they exist in intense poverty.
When a child is experienced in work, they can help immensely in a family-owned enterprise. Working in a family business is a wonderful thing, because the child is usually not cruelly treated by bosses and earns instead some pocket change working side by side with the parents. Keep in mind that there is a labor shortage in many countries, resulting in a stalling of production. In many countries, woman cannot even perform the most basic tasks under the glare of men. So by employing children, they can increase production as well as provide for their families.
Now I’m not saying that it’s okay for children to be abused in jobs and worked to the bone, but I believe that, if paid a minimum wage, child labor is a beneficial tool. Some will counter that child labor is exploitation and to that my retort would be: Should it be illegal for you to ask your kids to take the trash out or vacuum a room? We pay people to do those things when they do them in an atmosphere of safety, yet society’s norms have changed – our children are now coddled and cosseted when flying unaccompanied on a plane. Keeping in mind the expression “work hard to play hard,” let’s shift our focus to children's leisure activities. Since so many of you culpable conspirators are considering transporting your offspring to North America unencumbered by your physical presences, allow me to guide you.
An unaccompanied minor is a child without the presence of a legal guardian. It can be extrapolated to define separated children, even when accompanied by other family members who are not of age to adequately supervise the waif on a plane. This term is used in both immigration law and in airline policies. The specific definition varies from country to country and from airline to airline.
One could argue that the character of Dudley Do-Right seen on the erstwhile The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was the hackneyed idea of what all Canadians aspire to be. At least the appearance of growing up to be responsible is matched by Air Canada’s policy when it comes to unaccompanied minors (UMNR), as it has the most liberal policy.
Let’s focus on the North American market, as this summer will see a record number of parents and grandparents deciding to send their loved one ‘alone.’ The general guidelines are as follows: • Air Canada charges a $100 fee per unaccompanied minor up to age 12; a 12-year-old can fly alone without the UMNR fee.
• El Al collects a $100 fee per unaccompanied minor up to age 15; a 15-year-old can fly alone without the UMNR fee.
• Delta similarly charges $100 per unaccompanied minor up to age 15.
• United Airlines has both a higher fee and age limit: $150 per unaccompanied minor up to age 16.
None of these airlines offers the service for children under five years of age. All four of them give you the option of utilizing this service for teenagers up to their 18th birthday.
The rules for these four airlines are nearly identical and the service is offered only on nonstop flights. This means if you’re sending your child from Tel Aviv and you want to put him or her on El Al, it had better be one of five cities it flies nonstop to in North America: Newark, JFK, Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles. Delta will take your offspring only to JFK, while United can take the child to either Newark or JFK and Air Canada can fly the kid to Toronto or Montreal. The service is not available on flights beyond the port of entry.
For cities not on this list, one must consider putting the child on either a European airline where the switch-over can be made or having a friend or family member meet your child at the port of entry and then recheck the child on a connecting flight.
British Airways decided to jettison its program, called the Flying Nannie Service. In the past, one could arrange to pay a fee to a BA airline staff member. The service was similar to other airlines: It includes airline staff meeting the child at check-in and staying with him or her until they are safely on board the aircraft. Cabin crew often take the child’s passport for safekeeping and in theory are on hand to make sure the flight is comfortable. On arrival, the child is collected by a member of the ground staff who takes them to be met by their designated adult.
For those of you considering using BA to fly your child to a transatlantic destination, make note that children under the age of 12 wishing to travel alone must be accompanied by someone aged 16 or over.
Fortunately, there are still many airlines that offer the service, which requires that the child must be accompanied to the airport of departure by a parent or escort authorized by his/her parents, who must remain at the airport until the flight departs.
The escort should have complete details, including the full name, address and telephone number of the person meeting the child at the destination. The escort must produce documentation identifying him or her as the person or persons whose details were submitted at the departure point, in order to receive the child.
El Al raises the cost of this service to $150 if you’re sending two or three unaccompanied minors together. If you’re sending a foursome, the cost will be $200, provided that all of the minors belong to the same family and are being met by the same person at their destination.
Here are some tips for children traveling alone:
1. Consider the maturity of the child. If your child is old enough to travel alone on public transportation, able to spend time away from family in an organized setting like an overnight trip with a youth group, then the child is probably old enough to travel unaccompanied on a flight. If the child has flown to the airport of his/her destination and has some memory of it, this will ease any discomfort.
2. Harmonize with whomever is picking up the child. Make sure that the escort knows all the relevant details of the child’s trip and is able to contact either you or the airline to confirm the arrival time of the flight. You should have the pickup person arrive early at the airport and contact you when they arrive. You should also include with the child a copy of the contact information. If the child has a cellphone, explain how to contact the person.
3. Inform your child what to expect during the flight. Explain clearly what will likely happen during the flight. This is vital if the child is a first-time or infrequent flier. They should know basic things such as where they will sit on the plane, how long the flight will be and how many meals will be served. ALWAYS order a special meal; this will ensure the child is served first.
4. Discuss appropriate behavior with your child. Make sure you take the time to discuss suitable behavior, including the behavior of other passengers. If another passenger acts in an inappropriate way, make sure the child knows to inform a flight attendant.
5. Spend extra time at the airport. You should plan on coming to the airport early and staying for a while after departure. If there are last-minute changes before a flight’s scheduled departure, you’ll be there to discuss alternatives.
6. Provide children with a carry-on bag filled with stuff. Anything that keeps them occupied for their flight, you should put in their backpack. Kids want to feel in control when they get on the airplane. To make their lives easier, fill it up with games/books/ snacks/tissues and a change of clothes.
The last tip is huge: Remind your child that he/ she has to stay on the airplane until they are escorted off by a flight attendant. Deplaning can become very chaotic and in the blink of an eye your child can be lost in the swarm of people trying to exit the plane. You pay for your children’s safety and protection and telling them to stay seated is just added security. The goal of everyone involved is that your child will ultimately be both seen and heard.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions or comments, email him at [email protected]