Month: May 2020

COVID -19 Impacts to Unaccompanied Minor Travel

COVID -19 Impacts to Unaccompanied Minor Travel

Back in 2016 British Airways announced that in a move to cut costs, the airline would end its “Unaccompanied Minor” (UM) service. This caused severe upset to a number of parents who were suddenly faced with having to fly thousands of miles to pick up or deliver their children. BA has always been a popular choice due to its huge footprint and large number of long haul destinations being served. The move was not widely announced instead BA told passengers with children booked as UMs that while existing tickets would be honoured no new booking would be accepted. 

While this move was due to a combination of rising costs as well as apparently a drop in demand for the service it does open up the question of how in May 2020 onwards other airlines will deal with maintaining this UM service in its current form with the impacts of Covid-19.  

A combination of trip cancellations and country specific restrictions on International flights is expected to cost the commercial airline carriers up to $113 billion this year and this cost could keep rising with each day that the disruption continues. Many airlines worldwide face the threat of bankruptcy in the coming months. One thing is certain and that is from airfares to destinations to cabin layouts, things will likely look very different when we start travelling again. Some of the many opinions being put forward seem to suggest a very strong likelihood of higher fares, fewer routes, pre flight health checks and less free food. Added to this will be the as yet to be defined costs of reduced capacity and social distancing measures which will further hit capacity and require higher demands on existing staff and procedures.  

For the Unaccompanied Minor (UM) service it remains to be seen whether airlines will still see this as an integral service with a proven large demand that requires inclusion in any strategic overhaul. Indeed it is precisely by keeping and improving a service like this that airlines may figure that it will give them a competitive advantage as well as a reliable mechanism for retaining customers and growing new business. Alternatively, they may take the view as BA did back in 2016 that given the demand challenges and costs (particularly at this unprecedented moment in time!) it may just be one challenge too far to keep it going as it is without either streamlining or temporarily suspending it. One thing is sure is that the road will be long and bumpy and sharing information on forums like this will help us as a community to keep updated as airlines struggle to regain a level footing. As information becomes available on policies for cancellations, refunds and any suspensions or terminations in this service these will be shared.

The most frustrating part of the Unaccompanied minor process – Booking by phone!

The most frustrating part of the Unaccompanied minor process – Booking by phone!

Am I alone in thinking that if there was one place that airlines could make things easier for themselves it would be in the booking process?.  

When I first started booking tickets for my kids I was generally (after some trial and error scrawling across multiple airline websites) confronted with a number to call for both a) Confirming the price of the ticket that my kids would be on as well as the availability and b) Providing manually and verbally all of the details of myself, my ex spouse, addresses, passports, contact numbers and a myriad of other information depending on the airline and jurisdiction of flight. Beyond the fact that this not only took the patience of a saint as well as the organisational skills of an accountant it also has to be done EVERY single time I made a booking. The advantages of an adult booking for themselves or another adult by storing and retrieving information online are simply not available to the parent booking for a child to fly alone.

Needless to say the process was and remains hugely time intensive and subject to multiple misunderstandings and communication challenges. Now I am the first to recognise that the safety of children is paramount here and that the airlines have a duty to ensure full understanding and compliance as well as to maintain an audit trail of conversation. However with that said SURELY it would not be too much to be able to check the full price of a ticket online for an Unaccompanied Minor with all fees and taxes (heavily caveated that it would require verbal confirmation from the airline and may be subject to some change) and to provide a submission and storage mechanism for the transfer of personal details?

Given that there is a charge for the Unaccompanied Minor service and by extension the kids themselves are not just passengers but actually customers then upon sending of this information (requested and prescribed by the airline themselves) then the airline would own the responsibility of the call back to the person making the booking to confirm information submitted?

I am certain this would still provide the necessary checks as well as level of information needed by the airline and also greatly enhance the booking experience. Has anyone else experienced this frustration and are there examples of airlines that do this better than others?  

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A balance between Airline policy and individual care for our Unaccompanied Minors

A balance between Airline policy and individual care for our Unaccompanied Minors

In todays fast paced and frenetic society there are more children travelling alone then ever before. There is no longer a view that special treatment is always given as it would seem to have been in the past.  

After the attacks of 9/11 and other security scares it is certainly understandable that meeting the pilot and all access trips to the cockpit are a distant memory. At the same time it is worth considering whether perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far in the other direction. As a society are we perhaps guilty of treating children classified as Unaccompanied minors too much as seasoned travellers?

It is obviously not possible for a child travelling unaccompanied to be supervised at all times by the airline.  The fight attendants and duty supervisors have other duties and passengers to whom they must be available also. As a community what is the view here? Are some airlines getting this right more so than others and where is the balance between policy and cost constraints that all airlines experience and the safety and duty of care required for our unaccompanied minor travellers? Please comment with shared thoughts and experiences here?

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Rising demand for Unaccompanied Minor Travel partnered with huge growth in passenger flight numbers results in more rules and complexity!

Rising demand for Unaccompanied Minor Travel partnered with huge growth in passenger flight numbers results in more rules and complexity!

For a variety of reasons, such as the greater incidence of divorced families or Grandma and Grandpa retiring to a sunny part of the country, children travelling by themselves represent an increasingly important share of the travel demand that airlines experience.  

As far back as 20 + years ago out of the six hundred million passengers on planes, statistics showed in 1997 that an estimated seven million were children travelling alone – U.S. DEPT. OF TRANSP., AIR TRAVEL CONSUMER REPORT

If this rising demand in requests for Unaccompanied minor travel were not enough in itself then imagine the challenge the airlines face with an airline market itself that has exploded in terms of passenger growth and regional footprint and complexity.

The number of scheduled passengers handled by the global airline industry has increased in all but one of the last 15 years. Scheduled passengers refer to the number of passengers who have booked a flight with a commercial airline. Excluded are passengers on charter flights, whereby an entire plane is booked by a private group. Worldwide, commercial airlines’ passengers air traffic revenue is estimated to come to around 567 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.  It is was expected (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic) that 2020 would set a new record in terms of the number of scheduled passengers with over 4.72 billion predicted to travel.

Three main reasons are generally cited to explain the ongoing global growth in air travel. First is the increase in low-cost carriers, who have almost doubled their market share over the last 15 years. Second is the growth of the global middle class, especially in China. Both these developments have increased the number of consumers able to afford air travel. Finally, there is also the growth in airport infrastructure spending, led by the Asia Pacific region, which has increased the global carrying capacity.

The rising number of children traveling has created the need for the airlines to develop policies and procedures regarding the special needs of these passengers.

The challenge ahead – Airlines are going to have to rise to the challenge to address this in terms of ensuring safety for unaccompanied minors as well as ensuring that the logistics and information required to support this service are fit for purpose.

Currently there can be little doubt that the lack of harmonisation between airlines in their policies and procedures in terms of rules, price transparency and service provided means that unaccompanied minors will continue to be a growth area but perennially underserved in terms of customer experience.  Country and regional rules make this landscape even more changeable.

Some airlines will no doubt rise to the challenge and others may simply decide that it is a task too hard to deal with and remove themselves from even offering the Unaccompanied Minor Service.  One thing is sure and that is that there is currently and will continue to be huge demand of unaccompanied minors travelling.

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UNACCOMPANIED MINOR TRAVEL EXPLAINED

UNACCOMPANIED MINOR TRAVEL EXPLAINED


THIS ARTICLE IS INTENDED AS INTRODUCTION INFORMATION ONLY.

If you are allowing your child to fly alone as an unaccompanied minor, be sure to take every necessary precaution to ensure his or her safety and check with the airlines directly. Millions of children fly alone each year, the majority without incident. But there are important steps and points to ensure you are prepared on before even starting the booking process. That’s why it’s vital that both you and your child are fully prepared for the trip. Read on for important family travel tips on children flying alone.

WHAT IS AN UNACCOMPANIED MINOR?


An ‘unaccompanied minor’, commonly known as ‘UM’ is a child who is travelling alone without a parent, guardian or responsible adult. The term is frequently used in airline policies, however, the specific meaning varies from airline to airline. In many airline policies ‘unaccompanied minor’ refers to an airline passenger aged between 5 and 14 years old. Unfortunately, there is not a single clear definition that is agreed upon by all airlines so it can be confusing to the passenger as some airlines state different ages. Many airlines will not allow unaccompanied minors to make connections at all (involving changing planes) and with each country and different jurisdiction there are also specific rules to adhere to. In short the process is very complex!

CAN AN UNACCOMPANIED MINOR TRAVEL ALONE ON AN AIRPLANE?

It depends on the specific airline rules. Some airlines do not allow minors to travel without an adult; other airlines allow them to travel only if they purchase the airlines Unaccompanied Minor Service (UMS), other airlines allow unrestricted travel between certain ages.

UNACCOMPANIED MINOR SERVICE

Unaccompanied Minor Service is the special service which airlines provide for unaccompanied minors. This service is commonly abbreviated to ‘UMS’. The quality of the service may vary depending on the airline, and the staff delivering the service.

Booking UMS: The person who requests the unaccompanied minor service (typically the parent or guardian) will need to complete and sign a UMS booking form, naming the responsible adult who will deliver the child to the airline staff on departure and also naming the adult who will collect the child at their arrival destination. It is essential that this information is accurate, and the adults have official ID to show the airline staff. The airline staff may refuse to allow the child on the flight or release the child into the care of the adult on arrival at their destination if they do not have acceptable ID.

Departure: Airline staff will collect the UM from the check-in desk, escort the minor through immigrations and customs, take them to the gate, and ensure they board the flight.

Transit Connections: If the flight includes a connection, airline staff will escort the minor throughout the connection period. The airline staff will collect the minor from their flight, stay with them throughout the stop-over, take them to the gate of the connecting flight and ensure that the minor boards the plane. If a minor misses a connection, the escort will assist with ensuring they catch an alternative connection.

Arrival: When the minor reaches their destination airport, the responsible adult named in the UMS booking form will need to show formal identification before the airline staff release the minor into their care. The person who collects the minor must have ID to prove who they are, and this must be the identical to the named person on the original UMS booking form. A different person cannot represent the named person, even if they have the original person’s ID with them as proof of representation

IS UMS COMPULSORY?

It depends on the airline’s rules. Most airlines have specific rules about unaccompanied minors. UMS is compulsory for certain ages, but the compulsory age is different for different airlines. Some airlines will allow unaccompanied minors to travel if they pay an additional fee for UMS. Other airlines will not allow an unaccompanied minor to travel at all. For airlines that provide UMS, the service can be requested even if it is not compulsory.

HOW MUCH DOES UMS COST?

The principal direct cost for UMS services is the cost of the support itself (i.e. what the airline charges): Each airline has a different UMS rate but typically these can cost anywhere from 50 to 300 USD. The rates change frequently so it is very important to check upon booking. The process is complicated and often involves manual intervention either through an agent or using the airline telephone reservations. To date there does not look to be any form of portal where prices can be calculated in full and compared similar to what one might expect for adult travel services like Kayak and Expedia.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN TRAVELLING AS A UM

Some minors may require extra documentation when travelling as an unaccompanied minor. For example, passengers with Russian nationality are sometimes required to have a notarised statement in Russian from both parents confirming that they consent to the child leaving the country unaccompanied. Check with your airline if this is necessary when you book your plane ticket and make your UMS booking.

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