boy running in the airport

How Can Kids Flying Alone End Up on the Wrong Flight?

In the last two weeks we’ve seen two different kids flying alone around the holidays ending up in the wrong destinations. First, Spirit Airlines sent a child to Orlando rather than Ft. Myers, Florida. Then just a few days later, Frontier Airlines sent a child to Puerto Rico instead of Ohio. A much larger gaff.

How can this happen?

Children flying alone, commonly referred to as “unaccompanied minors,” can end up on the wrong flights due to a variety of reasons, often related to mishaps in airline procedures or communication breakdowns. Here are some common causes:

  1. Check-In Errors: Mistakes can occur during the check-in process. If an airline employee inputs incorrect flight information or misreads the child’s itinerary, this can lead to the child being directed to the wrong flight.
  2. Gate Changes or Flight Delays: Airports often experience gate changes or delays. Unaccompanied minors may be misdirected in the confusion, especially in large, busy airports, or if there’s a last-minute change that’s not effectively communicated to the child or the airline staff supervising them.
  3. Miscommunication Between Airline Staff: The handover process of unaccompanied minors between different staff members can sometimes go wrong. If the staff does not communicate effectively or if there’s a misunderstanding about the child’s flight details, the child may end up on the wrong plane.
  4. Boarding Mishaps: Boarding is another phase where errors can occur, especially if flights are boarding in close proximity to each other. A child might mistakenly board the wrong flight, and if boarding passes are not checked carefully, this mistake might not be caught in time.
  5. Airport and Airline Policies: Different airports and airlines have varying protocols for handling unaccompanied minors. Inconsistencies in these policies or failure to adhere to them can lead to mistakes.
  6. Human Error: Simple human error is also a factor. Misreading flight numbers, confusing similar-sounding destination names, or misinterpreting a child’s itinerary can all lead to errors.

To mitigate these risks, airlines have specific procedures for handling unaccompanied minors, which usually include:

  • Wearing a badge or wristband for identification.
  • Accompanying the child to the gate and ensuring they board the correct flight.
  • Handovers between specific airline staff responsible for their care.
  • Confirmation of the child’s itinerary at multiple points.

Despite these precautions, mistakes can still happen, and it’s crucial for airlines to have protocols in place to quickly and safely rectify such situations. Parents can also help by ensuring their child knows their flight information and by confirming all details with the airline multiple times before and during the travel process.