July 23, 2008
How Horrible Will Airlines Have to Become Before We Stop Flying?
Posted by Christine Hurt

My six year-old is stomping around the house changing, "I hate United Airlines."  I'm sure he's not the first person to have said this, but he is forming at a young age a hatred toward a major airline.  We all know that fares are higher this summer, and that in recent years airlines have begun charging for things that seemed to have included at one time:  meals, then tickets bought by talking to an actual person instead of online, then luggage.  So, what was the straw that has broken our family's back?

For years, grandma has been suggesting that when our older two were of age, that they should fly unaccompanied to see her.  In the summertime, this seems like a great suggestion, giving the kids longer time there without parents who otherwise need to be working, etc.  Our kids are now 9 and 6 1/2 (5th grade and 1st grade).  We all agreed to try flying them nonstop from Chicago to Roanoke, Virginia.  Well, first, nonstops to small markets don't come cheap these days, so getting there nonstop is double what a one-stop ticket would be.  Ouch.  But, nonstop it has to be.  But, we can't reserve unaccompanied minors online, so we have to call, realizing there will be a $25 per ticket "ticketing fee."  Smaller ouch.  But the big shocker is that unaccompanied minors will be charged a $99 each way fee (we call that the $200 fee).  And that means that the kids will not be flying to see grandma and that Luke will continue chanting his song. 

Out of curiosity, I looked around the Internet, and it seems that American charges an amazingly similar fee ($100 each way), but Southwest, which seems to serve a lot of unaccompanied minors, does not.  I understand that unaccompanied minors require extra attention, just like some other groups of passengers.  (My grandmother always requested a wheelchair when traveling, even though she was ambulatory for normal, short distances.  I wonder if there is a charge now?)  Besides just normal monitoring, if there is a problem, such as the plane being diverted enroute, then the headaches with unaccompanied minors may be larger and the costs of housing/rerouting greater.  I can see the desirability of an additional fare.  However, as we all know now, airlines are very concerned with weight and fuel costs.  Children weigh less.  A plane full of children will cost less to fly than a plane full of adults with their adult luggage.  All this aside, I wonder why Southwest determined that they would market themselves to the unaccompanied minor market?  Southwest probably has less downside risk -- their flights are shorter, for one thing.  If your child is rerouted on the Houston-Dallas flight to Austin, at worst you drive to go get him, I guess.  But not all flights are shorter.

Anyway, unless grandma flies to a Southwest destination, I guess Luke's unaccompanied minor dreams are deferred to another day.

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