Cover Story: Children flying alone

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - An airline mix-up that has parents thinking twice about letting their children fly alone.  Two fathers of two daughters each lost by one airline over the course of two days.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson looks at what you should do if your child will be flying alone this summer.

By now you've probably heard about Continential Airlines sending two unaccompanied minors to the wrong cities.

Continential Airlines is apologizing profusely.  The airline says it's reviewing all its procedures.

It is an extremely rare occurrence.

But with the economy making travel more expensive we might be seeing more children traveling alone this summer.

It's a scene repeated over and over again at airports this summer.  Ted Conover is sending his 12-year old daughter Nell to visit her grandparents.

"It's a kind of rite of passage," he says.  "They're sooner or later gonna fly by themselves so you just kind hope it goes okay the first time."

And more than nine time out of ten it does.. but sometimes mistakes happen.

Continental Airlines says it was a "freak accident" that two girls.. over two days were sent to wrong cities.

Turns out in both cases--- two flights were departing at the same time from one gate.

And miscommunication among the staff resulted in the girls being borded on the wrong planes.

Little comfort to Raham Williams of Charlotte.  His daughter 8-year old Taylor.. seen here on the right was one of the girls who got misplaced.

"All the checks and balances they have. Somebody must have just dropped the ball and wasn't just checking.. just trying to get done trying to get her on. And get her on the plane.. get her on her way rather than going through the steps and procedures they had."

Airlines fly tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors every year.. and don't keep track of when there's problems.

But the U.S. Department of Transportation says last year it received 53 complaints from customers about the handling of unaccompanied minors.

So far this year the government's received 10 complaints.

"There's a whole process involved in making sure that your child is safe on their flight with us."

That's Michelle Mohr of US Airways.  She says the airline has a special Kids Class check-in at Charlotte Douglas.

And kids get a wrist band and are walked from the gate to the plane by US Airways staff.

The airline changed its policy three years ago when it merged with America West.. now only lets unaccompanied minors travel on direct non-stop flights.. no connecting flights allowed.

She says since the merger the airline's not misplaced a young person.

"Our customer service agents and our flight crews go through a lot of training very specific training on how to handle unaccompanied minors in flight," says Mohr.  "So your child is in good hands."

Airlines tack on a service fee if your child's flying by himself.  For US Airways it's 200-dollars on a round-trip ticket.

So what should you do if little Johnny's flying alone?

Don't book on the last flight of the day.. those flights can be delayed or canceled.

Escort your child to his seat.. many airlines will let you do that.

Try giving your child a pre-paid cell phone or a calling card so she can reach you.