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.