Q My 9-year-old daughter recently flew as an unaccompanied minor from LAX to Boise, Idaho. The fee was $99 each way, but there was no real service. I had to take her to the gate, she was picked up at the gate by my friend, and on the flight she was treated just like everybody else. Besides that, she was seated next to a male passenger. Her soccer team can't even practice with the two male coaches without a mom being there. We were shocked. What is the policy?
A One question that arises immediately: What is that fee for, exactly? "United representatives supervise the children, escort them to and from the gate and provide support and guidance throughout their travel experience," said Charles Hobart, a representative for United.
In the case of this woman's daughter, however, United refunded the money after the mother said she couldn't detect any such service for her child. In an email, the customer service rep said, "From your feedback, it sounds like the service that you paid for was not provided. I apologize."
Airline reps say that every airline does its best to ensure a child's safety.
That's where the question of seating becomes a hot potato. According to CNN, on a recent Virgin Australia flight, an unaccompanied minor was seated next to a male passenger; the child was moved. The man was upset because he felt as if he were suspected of being a pedophile.
What's an airline to do? James Boyd, a spokesman for Singapore Airlines, said his airline wants the child on the aisle near the galley because, he noted, "that's the crew's office" and the child has proximity to crew members.
Or, said another way, "Child molesters would be less likely to attempt molestation if (children) were more visible," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute.
Singapore also tries to seat unaccompanied minors next to an empty seat. If that's not possible, the next-best seat is near a family or a couple, Boyd said.
If your child has a seat you aren't comfortable with, get proactive and work with airline personnel. "Our gate agents always try to accede to a parent's wishes whenever possible," said Mary Frances Fagan, a representative for American Airlines.
You can't select your child's seat mate, of course, but you can equip him or her to handle a bad situation. It's important to talk to a child about what to do if a seat mate is "somebody who seems too friendly and who gets into personal space or touching in ways that are not comfortable," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
But don't scare a child out of his or her wits. Most of life comes with risks, and the parent must decide whether it's worth it to put a young child on a plane.
Today's column comes from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times.