United Airlines put a 14-year-old boy was put on a flight to Germany. The only problem... he was supposed to be going to Sweden. The airline allows unaccompanied minors to fly solo, if they're at least five years old. But the airline requires kids from 5-14 years of age to take advantage of what is essentially a hand-holding service, to help kids get to their flights. In this case, it didn't go so well.
The Independent says the boy was flying from Raleigh, North Carolina and connecting in Newark for a flight to Sweden, where he would be visiting his grandparents. The United staff was supposed to get him from one flight to the other, but somehow failed in that relatively simple task. They didn't even get him to the right airline. He was flying to Sweden with United's partner carrier SAS, but he wound up on a flight operated by Eurowings. At some point before take-off, the boy realized he was on the wrong flight and pressed the call button. Long story short: he finally got to Sweden on the correct airline, but had to be re-routed through Denmark.
The boy's mom is Brenda Berg, and she was obviously not happy. She unleashed a tweet storm on the airline, apparently much of it while waiting on hold while United sorted things out.
I don't blame her for being angry. Had this been a much younger child, it would have been seriously traumatic. A 14-year-old is pretty close to being allowed to fly on his own, and Anton (the boy's name) had enough awareness to press the call button and point out that something was wrong. His mom tweeted that he would have figured this out on his own, if he hadn't "counted on [United] to know what [they] were doing." And of course, United charged $150 for this failed service -- each way!
It's a relatively simple task to follow the signs to your correct gate and get on the right plane, and a 14-year-old should be able to do it. I was just 13 when I saved up my money and booked a trip to my old hometown. The trip involved four flights each direction, and no one at the airline cared if I was flying solo.
Yes, times have changed quite a bit.
The reality is that some kids have no issues traveling solo, while others need a helping hand. United's policy is fairly rigid: a 14-year-old must add $300 to their round-trip ticket to get an escort to their gate! A 15-year-old traveling solo cannot use the service. The policy decision is up to the airline, and I totally understand why they'd be nervous about letting someone under 15-years-old fly solo But if the airline is going to require this unaccompanied minor service, they need to hold themselves to much higher standards to justify the expense. They need to do at least as good a job as the person paying for it would do. And in this case, they failed miserably.
Photo by Jules Meulemans