United Books Unaccompanied Minor On Flight That Bans Unaccompanied Minors

United Airlines has a simple enough policy regarding children flying alone (unaccompanied minors, as airlines call them.) They cannot travel on the last flight of the day. This makes sense: no one wants an unaccompanied minor to become a stranded unaccompanied minor if their flight is canceled. But when Hannah booked a flight for her 12-year-old son to travel unaccompanied, no one mentioned this rule, and United phone agents placed him on the last flight of the day. This meant that he was turned away at the airport, and his departure delayed until the next day. Hannah thinks that the family deserves some kind of compensation for this inconvenience due to United’s screwup.

She writes to Consumerist:

I booked a flight for my son as an unaccompanied minor, but not one of the five different phone representatives I spoke with over a six week period informed me that he was booked on the last flight of the day. When we arrived for his flight, the ticket agent informed us that he would have to fly the next day. This was a huge inconvenience. My son missed his cousin’s the birthday party, one of the purposes of the trip.

But we arrived the next morning to fly. The ticketing agent was rude and did not have any of our unaccompanied minor information, even though I had spent an hour on the phone the day prior making sure that all the drop off and pick up information was correct. And that was the second phone call to United to arrange the UM information. So I filled out yet another form.

The ticketing agent scolded me for not having an ID for my son and informed me that in second grade all children are given an ID. I informed him that my son does not attend public school.

Anyway, the point is that no one was kind, empathetic, listened and/or apologized. I feel incredibly frustrated. Even when I tried, three times, to fill out the form on united.com/appreciation, I got error messages.

The whole experience with United has felt like an HMO — a big corporation more concerned with its profits than its patients (customers). I could not be more displeased. I reach over 1,000 per week with my social media network. I will share this experience if I continue to feel ignored, unimportant, and disrespected by United.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident with United, but it is not. I haven’t filled out one of these forms before, but I have come close. This experience just pushed me over the top. I would like an apology and to know that their phone representatives are being trained to triple check whether or not the UM that they’re filling out the form for, is booked on the last flight of the day or not. That would help resolve this, as would some kind of compensation.

I’m grateful to consumerist.com for at least providing a place where I can share my story. My tip to other parents is: ask them to check whether or not this is their last flight of the day before booking.

Good to know. This information is available on United’s unaccompanied minor page, but are parents or guardians expected to know which flight is the last of the day? Shouldn’t people whose job it is to book customers’ tickets know the rules, or at least have a computer system set up to keep unaccompanied kids off the last flight of the day?

While it’s a good idea to make sure that a child gets on a plane carrying some kind of ID, United’s own policies state that it isn’t required until kids turn 14. But until Hannah’s son turns 18, a copy of his birth certificate or even a library card would suffice, and those are both documents that most school-age children should have no matter where they’re educated.

Before storming social media, though, Hannah should carefully consider what kind of “compensation” she would like for her trouble. A travel voucher? A refund? It should be a fair request, but a reasonable one.

Consumers Get Screwed Because Airlines Can’t Agree On Unaccompanied Minor Policies


Edit Your Comment

  1. Hi_Hello says:

    compensation: apologies from each employees at fault and a day of their pay.

    • bar_foo says:

      The principal fault lies with the programmer who failed to implement this check correctly in their booking system. And he/she was probably on a subcontract …

      • bbb111 says:

        “The principal fault lies with the programmer who failed…”

        Not the programmer, but the person who designed the system. If it is not in the specification, how would the programmer know about the restriction?

  2. henwy says:

    It seems she went through a lot of effort to have never looked up the policy. Maybe she’s just a people person and likes talking on the phone but I would much rather read a website of the policy rather than talk to a single customer service rep, much less five of them. Getting in touch with the company is always a last resort for me when I can’t find the info I need on their site.

    • Auron says:

      But it was never made clear to the OP until they got to the airport that the flight booked was the last one of the day. Since United kept that vital piece of info from the OP, it wouldn’t have mattered how many times the UM policy was read. Whereas the 5 different phone reps could have very easily seen that the flight booked was the last one of the day.

      • henwy says:

        I don’t see how they kept the information from her when it was on the website. If she had asked and they had lied to her, it’d be a different story. Maybe it’s just me, but I always check the policy beforehand. I find I run into less screwups in my life that way, especially with time sensitive events.

        • Anathema777 says:

          Right, but even if she knew the policy, she wasn’t told that they booked her kid on the last flight of the day. So she didn’t know that the flight was subject to that policy.

          • FashionablyDoomed says:

            But if I’ve read the policy, and know that he can’t fly out on the last flight of the day, I will go out of my way to ASK if it’s the last flight of the day. I don’t leave something that important up to a customer service agent to tell me about it.

            • taaurrus says:

              Why should you have to “ask”?? I, for one, would think that United’s own employee’s would know United’s policies; therefore, even having read the policies and knowing that my UM can’t fly on the last flight of the day – I would expect that the United employee I’m talking to, when booking a flight for my UM, would know the policy as well and would not put my UM on the last flight of the day.

              • FashionablyDoomed says:

                We shouldn’t have to ask, but the reality is, underpaid and overworked customer service agents often forget all the details. Or they’re too lazy. Or they just don’t know. It’s not right, but after being misled once or twice, you learn to ask the important questions yourself.

                • taaurrus says:

                  Then it seems to me that if United employee’s aren’t going to – be troubled to/care enough to/aren’t required by United to – learn United’s policies and then if United is going to expect their customers to learn their policies, because they don’t expect their employee’s to learn it, and then not compensate their customers,or even apologize, when something like this happens – then I suppose the least United could do is put stuff in place to prevent it – like having the computer reject the reservation when an uninformed United employee tries to book an UM on the last flight of the day.

                • who? says:

                  It’s not the customer’s fault that the employee is underpaid, overworked, or improperly trained. The customer shouldn’t have to know the details of the UM policy, and shouldn’t have to check the ticket agent’s work every step of the way.

                  • chesney09 says:

                    Considering that when you book a flight for a UM, it is an additional $100 fee for each way of flight, in addition to the airfare.. So, if I have to “ask” to make sure I am within each of THEIR policies… Exactly what am I paying for?
                    I recently booked a flight for a UM, and paid the extra $200 in fees. This allows ME to accompany them to the gate to board and an adult to meet the UM at the other end of the flight. So.. In all reality, I paid $200 to be able to make sure that the Child gets on the plane and is picked up at the gate when arriving. It’s really nothing but a money grab!

          • CrazyEyed says:

            I agree. It’s not easy determining which flight is the last of the day. Depending on location, airline, it could be 4pm, it could be 9pm. Who knows? At the very least, if she had read the policy beforehand, wouldn’t she have asked 1 of the 5 people she spoke with if their flight was going to be the last one for that day? Certainly the employees could have been proactive but its not always their job to predict every variable situation.

            • taaurrus says:

              Employees do not “predict” when the last flight of the day is. Flights are already scheduled and they are staring at a computer screen with all flights listed – one of those flights being the very last one for that particular day.

              • spartan says:

                And flights get canceled. If she books the 5 pm months in advance, and sometime later on United decides to cancel the 8pm; then the 5pm becomes the last flight of the day.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that flagged a flight as the last flight of the day. How does a consumer know? Personally, when i fly, I have no idea if there are any flight on that airline arriving after me. The policy is not the problem…

          How, short of researching every flight United makes into that airport for the day, does a consumer know that the flight an airline rep booked for her over the phone is the last flight, and therefore not valid for an UM?

          This was a booking screw up on United’s side.

          • henwy says:

            Really? You must be someone who doesn’t book online then. I’ve always booked my flights online so I can see the full spectrum of flights. It makes it tons easier to know all your options. I can’t even imagine how cumbersome it must be to do it over the phone, unless you’re willing to just let the rep pick a flight for you.

            • Red Cat Linux says:

              You seem to be hung up on the online booking concept. I book exclusively online. However, she did not, so it does not apply in this case.

              And she likely paid a phone booking fee for this “convenience”. The onus was on the booking agent to not screw up the flight. When you book online, you are acting as your own agent, and the onus is on you not the screw it up.

              Do you see the difference?

              • henwy says:

                Nope. Since I was responding to your assertion that you’ve never seen a flight listed as the last of the day and wondered how’s a customer to know.

                • Red Cat Linux says:

                  Well, at least you admit to a willful reading comprehension fail.

                  • yagotme says:

                    I find it amusing that he is actually going to try to blame the OP in some way. I guess in order to make sure this never happens again we should all have to take a test on an airline’s policies prior to being allowed to pay for services. If a person is paying for a service they should be informed of any company policies that may affect said service. There is also no reason the OP should have researched to see if it was the last flight of the day.

            • ChuckECheese says:

              Dear Prepubescent,
              Not so long ago, picking up the phone was exactly how people bought air travel. The agents on the phone did all the research, informed the customer of their options, and the customer then made the final decisions. Just because some info is available buried on some screen in the intertubes does not mean it’s the customer’s responsibility to dig it up, or even to know that it exists.

            • taaurrus says:

              This is CLEARLY a case of United employees not knowing United’s policies and then not caring if customers suffer for it. Stop trying to blame the OP. Do you work for United or something?

            • taaurrus says:

              So, are you now trying to say it was the OP’s fault because she booked over the telephone instead of online? Then, once again, if United isn’t going to require their employees to know their policies but are going to expect their customers to – then they should put rules in place to prevent things like this from happening; like, in addition to having the computer reject the reservation when a United employee tries to book at UM on the last flight of the day, then United should also then require their customers to book online exclusively. Ridiculous right?

            • who? says:

              When you book an unaccompanied minor, you book over the phone. Unless the agent told her the list of flights over the phone, she would have no way of knowing it was the last flight, unless it took off at midnight or something.

              • nybiker says:

                Ah, there’s the missing piece of info. I didn’t know that a UM booking HAS TO BE DONE over the phone. thank you.

            • chesney09 says:

              You can NOT book flights for a UM online.. Because of all the ‘extra’ info needed for the adults taking and picking up the child at the gate.. You are required to register names, addresses, etc. with an agent.

        • Kitamura says:

          The information regarding the policy may have been on the web site, but was the information that the phone agent was breaking policy and booking the kid on the last flight of the day listed on the web site?

          I’m not sure what information about flights is available on the site, but if you plug in the flight information, will it tell you if it’s the final flight or not?

      • econobiker says:

        http://www.untied.com/ tells it all.

    • bitslammer says:

      It’s their policy and they know which flights are the last of the day, as well as the age of the traveler so they should not even allow the system to book something like this.

      Add to that the fact that airlines are constantly cancelling flights so a customer would have no good way of knowing the last flight.

  3. Lyn Torden says:

    A major corporation with too many managers and minimum wage or outsourced customer service reps screwing up? How can that possibly happen?

  4. StarKillerX says:

    Personally I’m surprised they allow unaccompanied minors at all, it just seems like a no win situation.

    • The Cosmic Avenger says:

      Yeah, stupid divorced parents should live closer together or just never separate and stay miserable.

      Or buy a round-trip ticket every time the child goes to visit the other parent or other family.

      • msbask v2 says:

        You think this rule should be in place simply to make the lives of divorced parents easier? Okay…..

        Not that this matters because this kid wasn’t being shuffled between divorced parents. He was going to a party.

    • jeremymiles says:

      They don’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to pay for it – and if they make money at it, why shouldn’t they?

    • yagotme says:

      Hahaha! No win situation? They charge $100 each way. I think that is a win. Extra money for a passenger that is likely going to be less demanding than most adults on flight. Why wouldn’t they take unaccompanied minors?

  5. colpuck says:

    She had me until “I reach over 1,000 per week with my social media network.” then I stopped caring.

    • kranky says:

      Ditto here!

      I’m sure you have United quaking in their boots now, OP!

      “Social media network,” that’s a hoot.

    • j2.718ff says:

      My first thought was 1,000 what per week?

    • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

      LOL — I can’t even get 95% of the people that I “connect” with in FB to really care.

    • Azagthoth says:

      Came here to make sure the OP was shamed for such a ridiculous statement, left happy.

    • MarkFL says:

      A thousand people in her social network? That’s nothing. Try dealing with “I have 200 people living in my retirement condo community.” Much scarier. Especially with an unreasonable demand, because if you don’t give in, they will all threaten to boycott your store. But if you do give in, now 200 people with a condo mentality know that you are an easy mark.

  6. Misha says:

    The ticketing agent scolded me for not having an ID for my son and informed me that in second grade all children are given an ID.

    What? Where is this? Seriously, I read that and thought this must be taking place somewhere outside the US. And even if this were in the US, in a state that does give all children an ID in the second grade, there’s this thing where people move to new states after the age of seven, or cross state lines to take a flight, and seriously, this ticket agent is made of the dumb.

  7. Lombard Montague says:

    I’m also wondering what kind of “compensation” she would like. If she has had problems with United before, why does she keep using them?

  8. highfructosepornsyrup says:

    So did the original flight get cancelled?

    If yes, then… this isn’t any different from any other cancelled flight and justifies the rule.

    If no, then this is dumb since the point is to keep the kids from getting stranded no?

    • Murph1908 says:

      I liked this point.

      But I think there would still be a possible issue due to layovers or flights requiring an unscheduled landing once in the air.

      If the plane did take off, but had to land in Atlanta or somewhere due to some warning light, the kid would be stranded, possibly overnight. If it wasn’t the last flight, the kid could get on another from Atlanta, presumably.

      Just because the flight took off, doesn’t ensure the situation the policy is designed to prevent wouldn’t still happen.

  9. Sarek says:

    The kid’s age is irrelevant. How can you let any child travel without any kind of ID? That just seems to be asking for trouble.

    Note: I traveled a few times as a tween/ young teen, and I never carried ID. Looking back, that was a big mistake on my parents’ part.

    • Captain Spock says:

      Letting a child travel alone without ID is indeed illogical.

    • MarkFL says:

      Forget that it’s a minor, doesn’t the TSA require ID anyway?

      • chesney09 says:

        TSA does NOT require ID for a minor. We generally carry a copy of the BC just in case.. But traveling as a family, kids tend to stay with their parents through the screening process. What kind of ID, aside from a BC which really doesn’t ID anyone, should a 5 year old have?

  10. Tegan says:

    I can appreciate that she and her son had an unpleasant experience with United, but this lady’s attitude is rubbing me the wrong way. Honestly, United’s responsibility is to resolve your issues, not to make you feel important. CSRs are a million times more likely to be nice and polite to you if you are nice and polite to them… something makes me think this might not have been the case.

    • henwy says:

      That’s it. She’s going to turn her 1000 social media followers on you too now.

      • Tegan says:

        OMG nooooooo!! My social media presence will be ruined, whatever shall I do? Life will never be the same, no one will care what I’m eating for breakfast or when I poop anymore :(

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        Yeah I don’t think United cares what a few readers of some mommy tips blog think.

        “Put lemon peel through your disposal for a fresh, clean scent in your kitchen. Also, United Airlines messed up my child’s ticket. My CHILD’S ticket. CHILD!!!!

        • who? says:

          I’m actually pretty sure United doesn’t care what anybody thinks, mommy blog or not. They certainly don’t behave like they care.

    • taaurrus says:

      It is also United’s responsibility to TRAIN THEIR EMPLOYEES TO KNOW UNITED’S POLICIES. I don’t expect to specifically be made to “feel important” by companies that I deal with – but I DO expect that these companies require their employees to KNOW THEIR OWN POLICES.

  11. andsowouldi says:

    We don’t want your son’s flight to get cancelled and leave him stranded, so we’re not going to let him on this flight…leaving him stranded.

    Customer service should have realized the screw up was on their side, verified the flight was not going to be cancelled, MAYBE ask the mom to remain at the airport until departure, and let the kid on the flight.

    • msbask v2 says:

      I guess I understand the rule, but I agree with you. If the flight wasn’t cancelled, why not just let him on? Tell his mom not to leave the terminal until the flight is in the air and none of this would have happened.

    • chesney09 says:

      Part of the whole “unaccompanied minor” fee is that you are able to take your child to the gate. So, you DO watch them get on the plane.. and then an adult is at the gate of the other end of the flight to pick up the child.

  12. galaxirose says:

    Unnecessary rip on HMOs! What is this, 1985?

  13. dreamcatcher2 says:

    How does a birth certificate or library card serve as “identification”? The former would suffice for employment purposes to determine if a person who was already identified was eligible for work, but does not identify a person. The latter doesn’t certify anything other than that a library trusts them to take some books out of a building and return them; it also does not identify a person.

    • who? says:

      Not sure what sort of “ID” a 12 year old kid would have, unless they have a school ID, which would depend entirely on whether or not the kid’s school issues ID cards.

    • jessjj347 says:

      You’re right – they’re not. For someone of the age of the OPs child, a school ID card with photo, school records or report card would be proof of ID (according to fed govt). Of course, if the child is home-schooled then those don’t help. Any state-issued ID would work as well but it appears the child doesn’t have those either?

  14. llsee says:

    Almost 8 years ago, I worked at a class B west coast airport for a couple of years. In my job, I worked with airline staff from all areas, from the Operations manager, to ticket agents, gate agents, baggage handlers, ramp and maintenance workers. To a person, the United employees were not just unhappy, they were angry, palpably angry. And they took their anger out on everyone. Airport management, staff, security personnel, food court workers, and their own customers. It was so bad, that no one wanted to work with United. If an airport issue came up that needed to be addressed with United, we all tried to avoid having to be that contact person. By contrast, the Southwest employees were without a doubt, the friendliest, most accommodating, easiest to work with people at the airport. I once asked a United ramp worker why they were so unhappy compared to Southwest, considering that the Southwest employees were paid so much less than the unionized United employees. He said “… because they work for a company that gives a sh*t about their employees!” So, apparently, 8 years later, United has not solved their employee morale problem,

  15. Uncle Don says:

    OK, let’s blame everyone else in the world before putting it exactly right where it belongs; the parent that let a 12 year old fly anywhere unaccompanied. If they can’t go with the little one, the little one shouldn’t be going. Sorry. Also, when she saw that the lovely little one was on the LAST flight of the day, did she even consider what would happen if that flight got cancelled? Not unheard of these days? No….never occurred to her. No, sorry folks, it’s simple. 12 years old is too young to be flying alone. He can catch his cousins birthday next year when she can afford to buy TWO tickets and, instead of making UAL babysit her little one for free, she can do it.

    • MarkFL says:

      You’re kidding, right? You’re saying if Dad lives in another part of the country, Mom has to fly with the kid and go back the next day? And then fly out to pick up the kid at the end of the visit? Completely unrealistic, although it ounds like a huge money-making opportunity for the airlines.

      When I was 4, I lived in NY with Mom, and Dad moved to Phoenix. The first couple of trips I was able to fly with my grandmother, but by the time I was 6, I was flying alone twice a year. This was in the 1960s, before the airlines had any sort of policy on unaccompanied minors, and most of the time they didn’t even have anyone to escort me through the airport. When I was 9, it got more complicated when we moved to Florida because I had to change flights twice, once in Atlanta (the old airport, with the bubble buildings, which was a mess), and once in Dallas. I never had a problem. By the time the airlines started assigning an employee to meet me at the gate (maybe I was 11 or 12), I knew my way through an airport as well as any adult, and I was actually annoyed by the escort.

      • GodfreyOriole says:

        Yes I agree with them. What if the flgiht the kid is on makes an emergency landing in an airport that does not have that airlines employees and the passengers have to disembark? You could have the kid wandering around in a different state and nobody knows until the plane actually makes it to its intended destination.

      • Firethorn6 says:

        I used to fly down to my grandparents every year back in the ’80s. My parents paid the fee for the airline attendant to make sure I got to the next plane, and to make sure I was picked up by the specified people. I fail to see this as being all that different than hiring a sort of specialized daycare/babysitter. I wasn’t unattended, I was delivered into the care of a stewardess and they had a system in place to keep track of me.

        And just like you, I was quickly to the point that I knew where to look and where to go to get to the next plane, often faster than the stewardess.

    • VintageLydia says:

      I flew by myself all the time from the age of 8 or so on. 12 is more than old enough to handle it, especially if they aren’t new to flying. And now that kids that young routinely have cell phones? Easy peasey!

    • sherrietee says:

      Seriously? My children started flying unaccompanied when my ex-husband moved to Texas. We had to pay a fee for the flight attendants to “keep an eye” on them on the flight and make sure they were handed off to the correct person that was in the paperwork. I don’t get this whole “last flight” nonsense – I had to wait in the terminal until the plane was in the air. If it didn’t take off, I didn’t leave, unless I had my children with me. There were many times when I’d be sitting in the terminal for a good 45 minutes after they boarded the plane, simply because the plane was still on the runway, not in the air.

      As for compensation – refund the UM fee. I got mine back once, when my daughter, age 9, came skipping off her flight from Texas without her assigned attendant.

    • chesney09 says:

      Wow, Uncle Don.. I am certainly happy you are not my Uncle. I can’t say I know of many times it IS necessary, but it does come up.. Perhaps a cousin that moved a few years ago.. and wants to visit family during summer vacation? Crazy to think it would be a possibility isn’t it? I mean really.. What safer way for a child to travel where the parent sees the child board a plane and then is picked up at the gate when getting off the plane. “Babysitting”? Come on… We aren’t talking about a 3 year old here. Besides.. I think kids flying are far easier and accommodating than many of the adults, pilots, and attendants, these days.

  16. MarkFL says:

    I’m not quite sure how the last-flight rule helps. Suppose the child is flying to New York and there are three flights leaving later that day. If those three flights are going to Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, they’re not going to put the child on any of those flights.

    • Firethorn6 says:

      Wrong sort of ‘last flight’. Most airports have multiple planes to the same destination every day. At my airport there are 3 flights going to Seattle every day. By their rule, you wouldn’t be allowed to schedule a kid on the last one.

      There’s probably more to the policy – an exemption for destinations that only have ONE flight(less likely to be canceled), ‘last flight’ is okay if it’s the first leg of the trip(so parents can see the leaving, at least), etc…

      • MarkFL says:

        I thought of it being last flight to the destination, but I ruled that out as there are a lot of cases where there would be one flight during the day. But I didn’t think of the possibility they meant there could be another flight on another airline. This would actually make the original scenario more likely, as one airline might not be aware of changes on another airline.

        Actually if it’s a non-stop it shouldn’t really be a problem as long as the person dropping off the child stays until the plane is in the air. It’s really the multi-leg trips that potentially pose the problem — UM stranded at the hub overnight. Although, either way there is the possibility of a flight having to turn around after it’s in the air.