Airline policies increasingly seem hostile to the concept of kids and air travel, according to USA Today, which noted new fees, fee increases and more restrictive policies.
"Whether it's an air carrier trying to squeeze more reservation fees from families who want to sit together, crew members treating their littlest passengers like cargo or troubles with unaccompanied minors, it seems as if airlines have issues with their youngest passengers," wrote Christopher Elliott for USA Today.
Elliott is a consumer advocate and editor at large for National Geographic Traveler.
"The child-unfriendly skies are absolutely no fun if you're a parent," he wrote.
He noted a pattern of travel experiences involving kids. One man had an airline cancel an already scheduled trip 12 hours before departure, even though he'd paid an unaccompanied minor fee. Another family balked when asked to pay an extra $500 in fees to be sure the parents could sit with their infant on the flight. (He says not to blink. On the plane, the crew will make sure baby and parents are together.) Still another mother told him of having a flight attendant castigate the entire family because the baby was disruptive.
Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, recently told ABC News that American Airlines has raised the age limit for kids traveling alone (effective Wednesday), so children up to age 14 will be subject to a $150 unaccompanied minor fee each way. "It's not just American. United charges $150 each way, as does US Airways. And it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Delta raised its $100 unaccompanied-minor fee (age ranges vary by airline)."
Tulsa World noted that before Wednesday, American Airlines’ required children ages 5 through 11 traveling alone to use the unaccompanied minor service, while "passengers 12 through 17 years of age could travel independently, but parents (had) the option of purchasing the unaccompanied minor service."
Parents who purchased the tickets for children 13 and 14 prior to Wednesday will find that when they arrive at the airport, their children are subject to the limited supervision the unaccompanied minor policy provides, including being taken to their gate and supervised until on board the plane, then accompanied off the plane at the destination and handed over to the designated adult. There will be no charge in cases where the ticket was booked before the policy took effect.
The article also noted that "Currently, US Airways does not allow unaccompanied minors to travel on connecting flights, but in coming months the company anticipates this will be allowed for unaccompanied minors ages 8 through 14. American Airlines’ current policy allows unaccompanied minors 8 years or older to travel on connecting flights with certain exclusions."
The two airlines are in the process of merging, and the differences in their policies will over time disappear.
Some airlines, like Allegiant, simply don't allow children under 15 to travel without an accompanying adult. For those airlines that do, the ages range, as do the cost of unaccompanied minor service.
The airlines are not the only ones making parents feel like their children are not welcome on the plane. Last summer, a survey "suggested that unruly children remain the biggest in-flight annoyance for the majority of travelers — ahead of drunken passengers, surly cabin crew and over-talkative neighbors," wrote Daily Telegraph's Oliver Swift, adding that GoCompare.com commissioned the survey.
The Transportation Security Administration posts a list of guidelines for children to help parents know the rules governing child travel. For instance, an airline may allow more bottled infant formula, rather than restricting the amount to the levels required of other liquids. But children, including babies and their equipment and toys, must be screened like anyone else's luggage and carry-ons.
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