Kids flying without their parents is certainly nothing new. One study estimates that on any given weekend, there could be as many as 400,000 kids flying alone on both domestic and international flights. Parents can even pay a fee — usually in the neighborhood of $300 — to make sure that airline staff take care of their kids before, during and after a flight. Looking after “unaccompanied minors” is actually a big source of income for many airlines, although new hidden camera footage reveals that parents may want to think twice before making this type of decision in the future.
What Really Happens When Kids Fly Alone on Flights
In 2016, 8-year-old Aaliyah took a flight from her Newark, New Jersey home to Charlotte, North Carolina. Like so many kids her age, Aaliyah was equal parts curious and precocious. She also happened to be something of a technology aficionado. Completely on her own, Aaliyah decided that she was going to use a small hidden camera to record her journey. When she arrived at her destination and her parents had a chance to review what she had recorded, to say that they were shocked is something of an understatement.
As her flight began, things appeared to be more or less normal. Airline attendants even placed her all the way in the back row near where they would be working in an effort to better keep an eye on her. She originally had an entire row to herself — an airline traveler’s dream, regardless of age. However, a stranger quickly moved out of his seat in another part of the plane and sat down right beside her. The flight attendants who had been tasked with protecting Aaliyah either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Aaliyah’s incident was certainly not an isolated one. Thirteen-year-old Mackenzie Miller recently flew alone from Dallas to Portland on an American Airlines flight and received a similar level of “care.” She too covertly recorded her journey. Unfortunately, her situation involved a lot more than just a stranger sitting next to her — she actually became the victim of a sexual assault during the flight. Once again, the flight attendants who were supposed to be keeping an eye on her either didn’t notice or were completely uninterested in what was going on.
Protecting Children in the Skies
Hidden camera operations like these not only underline the dangers of letting kids fly alone — they reveal that it likely isn’t a good idea in the first place, regardless of the circumstances. Should parents absolutely need to place their child on a plane without a friend or family member going along with them, there are a number of essential things they’ll want to keep in mind.
For starters, parents need to read up on the airline-specific rules for unaccompanied minors BEFORE a flight takes place. Many people don’t realize that every airline has different rules — which also includes different guidelines and other factors relating to liability that parents will need to be aware of. If you believe that the “Unaccompanied Minors” program at a particular airline doesn’t have the practices in place to protect your child, go with your instinct and do NOT let him or her fly alone.
It’s also important to sit down and have a conversation with a child who will be flying alone so that they understand exactly what is about to happen. Kids should be instructed not only on how to behave, but on what to expect — and what to do if they suddenly get uncomfortable or feel as if they might be in danger. Talk to kids about whom to go to in the event they need help, signs to be aware of regarding strangers who may be dangerous and more. Child safety when flying alone requires an active approach from all parties — which makes perfect sense when the stakes are this high.