For those who say we should have flown with our daughter…

By | June 16, 2009

A number of commenters on this blog and others have blamed my wife and me for what happened to our daughter, saying that if only we had flown with her, it wouldn’t have happened.

Other commenters have responded briefly and well to that accusation, but I also wanted to share my wife’s response…

The unaccompanied minor program is described by the airline as an extremely supervised and secure process in which the child is never alone (which ours was not) and is only separate from parents and their desiginated caretakers for the time in which they are actually on the airplane; you bring them to the jetway and pick them up at the other end right off the jetway. Airline personnel are some of the best vetted and screened employees in the country.

If your child rides a bus to school or camp, goes to overnight camp, walks or rides his or her bike to friend’s houses, goes to an afterschool program, goes to houses of friends who are in the care of a sitter or nanny whom you did not personally hire, is in another room from you in the house when you are having plumbing or electrical work done, uses a computer without your eyes on the screen the whole time, or plays in the park while you read or chat with your friends, they are not being any more protected by you from these roaming perverts everyone fears.

When I fly on an airplane with my five children, I cannot sit next to all of them. Most times we are in different rows and sometimes we are split by several rows even after rearranging with fellow passengers. When I go to the bathroom in public places, I bring the younger ones into the stall with me, but not the whole family. I am a married stay-at-home mom who drives my kids to and from school, and I am not with them every second of every day. If you are with your ten-year-old every second of every day, I think you need some help.

We know most abusers are relatives and trusted adults. We know that even strangers who abuse first tend to “groom” their victims to gain their trust. Yet we understand intuitively that we cannot possibly function in society if we fear and suspect everyone we know who has contact with our children. If you believe there is a qualitative difference between the above scenerios and the unaccompanied minor program on airplanes, that is fine. There are plenty of things my friends let their children do that I choose not to allow. But if you believe that every time something goes wrong in the world, you would have been able to avoid it by your superior judgement and parenting skills, perhaps your free time is better directed away from criticizing strangers on the internet and into volunteering for social services. Or you could get a cape, a mask and an alter ego and save us all from the horrors of the real world.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

12 thoughts on “For those who say we should have flown with our daughter…

  1. Ben Trafford

    I flew as an unaccompanied minor when I was 9 years old with Air Canada. I was met at the airport by an attendant who saw me into my seat. The staff on the plane took me up to the cockpit to meet the pilot and co-pilot. I got a lollilop, and then they walked me off the plane. Frankly, the response you’ve gotten is indicative of the helicopter parenting that has infected North American society.

  2. Kmangum

    Huh. wow.
    I flew unaccompanied minor at the age of 4-11/12ths. The minimum was 5 yrs, and I got a birthday party 2 or 3 weeks early so I would very proudly say “I’m FIVE” when asked.

    An attendant was with me every mile of the way, from AZ to OK, with transfers in DFW.

    My brother and I also flew as unaccompanied minors a few other times, and had “adventures” with the staff, who genuinely seemed happy to have something out of the ordinary to do.

    Airline travel really is not what it used to be. I think you were absolutely rational in your initial decision to send your child off alone – it really should have been a straightforward trip. It’s just tragic that her first ‘solo’ experience was so harrowing. AND she was doing the right things: Asking for help. Asking for a phone. You had prepared her correctly for what you expected would be a normal trip.

    It’s the callousness of the responses to your pleas for help which is shattering.

    1. jik Post author

      I think you’re confusing my daughter’s incident, which happened three years ago on Continental, with Phoebe Klebahn’s, which happened this summer on United.

  3. Claire Wait

    I flew as an unaccompanied minor years ago. I was 8 and my brother was 9. I cannot remember what airline, but we were the first on and off the planes, driven to our connecting flights on those airport carts. My parents had nothing to worry about, as it should have been, because they paid for it. United was completely at fault here. Shocking. Appalling. Once again, basic customer no-service. I would definitely be seeking financial retribution in this situation (and probably not in the form of more United vouchers).

    1. jik Post author

      I think you are confusing my daughter’s incident, which happened three years ago on Continental, with Phoebe Klebahn’s, which happened this summer on United.

  4. little gator

    “The unaccompanied minor program is described by the airline as an extremely supervised and secure process in which the child is never alone (which ours was not)”

    That’s something like what they said when I flew as an unaccompanied 11 year old in 1968. It was not a nonstop flight. At 2 stops of about an hour each everyone got off the plane but me and they told me to stay on the plane. I did, but I wonder what might have happened if I hadn’t been a timid and obedient child.

    I was grown up before I though to tell my mother, who was shocked. At the time, I thought grownups in charge were usually right andf I didnt even think to tell anyone.

  5. Karen

    People who criticize your decision to allow your daughter to fly in the unaccompanied minor program obviously don’t know how it is supposed to function. As you point out, the child is safer than in many other situations in which we routinely allow 10-year-olds to find their way alone. Unlike playing in the park, walking to a friend’s house, etc., children who fly UM are always supervised by an adult. I think some of these critics think that you allowed a 10-year-old to navigate an airport alone, and she got on the wrong flight! Also, even with Continental’s colossal, inexcusable screw-up, your daughter was never in danger. I understand your panic at not knowing where she was, but she was safe at all times. Many parents would react to an occurrence like this by never letting their children out of their sight again. The fact that you are able to keep things in perspective is wonderful and means that this will not be a traumatic incident for M…. Kol hakavod.

  6. Tammie

    I love your wife! You are both obviously good parents and also surround your family with morals and values. The airline was wrong and grossly negligent. In saying the word negligent, that does not mean all people sue to point out negligence. Some just want to prevent further incidents and possibly a worse outcome. You already ‘won’ in having your child safe at her destination (finally) and back home – now it’s time to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  7. Leo

    Agreed with Jik and his wife. Thank you.

    And on the lighter side: Should be nagging your kids more “watch where you’re going” 😉

  8. Paul W.

    Wow, talk about getting to the heart of the matter. Bravo!!!!!! I’m positive that your children are going to be very self-confident and an ability to think for themselves in a rational manner thanks to the manner in which are showing them how to interact with the world. You both sounds like parents who most definately ‘get it’.

  9. Kelly

    Amen to both the wife’s comments and to Ben! I am not a parent, but I can imagine it takes great courage to let your children grow and gain independence. I am very thankful that my parents allowed my siblings and me to spread our wings without hovering, smothering, or otherwise hindering our growth (and fun!) I started traveling alone as a child at a young age. I have a brother who is one year older than I am, but my parents held back on allowing him to solo travel for a few more years. They knew their children. I was a confident child eager to get out in the world, respectful, but also able and willing to speak up if I were in danger, trouble, lost or confused. My brother was not as responsible and was shier, so not as likely to speak out if he needed help. Back then, there were no unaccompanied minor services. If you had divorced parents and had to fly to visit, often you were alone or with siblings, as we were.

    As this mother suggests, it is important to supervise your children when possible and to teach them the skills they need to be able to protect themselves when it isn’t.

  10. Ben

    Thanks for taking the time to post this. There’s a generally irrational attitude towards kids and parents these days – one where you never, ever let them out of your site and protect them from all dangers.

    Sure as parents we try to keep our kids safe but we also need to let them grow, have experiences of their own and learn.

    Walking to a friends house, traveling the air through an airline’s program, staying a week at a camp can all be valuable to building a child’s self esteem and allowing them to experience the world on their own terms.

    Hovering over your kids every hour of the day is not valuable to anyone.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *