Child with disabilities flying unaccompanied???

Discussion in 'disABILITIES Community Board' started by Mickey'snewestfan, Jan 29, 2007.

  1. Mickey'snewestfan

    Mickey'snewestfan DIS Veteran

    Apr 26, 2005
    I have a wonderful soon to turn 12 year old niece with pretty severe learning disabilities, including language delays, memory deficits, and dyslexia. She's a sweet, well behaved girl, who in many ways, both academically, socially and in terms of judgement is more like an 8 year old than a 12 year old.

    I am hoping to have her come out to visit me for a few weeks this summer, and am looking into the option of having her fly here unaccompanied. The logical airline to fly (by far the cheapest for our particular route) is Southwest. However, here's where things get difficult. SW's policy is that unaccompanied minor status is reserved for children 5 to 11. Since she's over 11 she doesn't qualify. Her mom and I can take her to/meet her at the gate (SW allows that for any child under 18), and we can request that she get preboard priviledges because of her disability (which we'd use because it would mean that she would be able to sit where the UM's sit -- very close to the flight attendant in case they need something. But there are other UM services -- like them not releasing her without a specific adult with ID being there, and them watching her if the plane is rerouted for some reason, that she doesn't seem to get because of her age.

    I'm not really worried about them releasing her to someone else -- it's a short flight and I'd be at the airport -- at the gate in fact before she got on the plane, but it's the slight possibility that she'd be rerouted (e.g. if the plane ran into trouble or if there were an evacuation at our airport) that has me worried. Her reading skills are still so poor that there's no way she'd be able to navigate an unfamiliar airport.

    Is there some way I can get her these services? It seems silly that I can send my 7 year old son to visit her and her parents, but she can't come here simply because of her birthday.

    Oh, and in case someone suggests lying, no I'm not "above" that but SW requires proof of age when you check in a UM.

  2. Forevryoung

    Forevryoung DIS Veteran

    Jan 30, 2005
    I started thinking about your post and I have two thoughts-

    #1) Call Southwest. I think that their customer service is amazing and you can bring up the following fact.

    #2) IF someone requests a wheelchair (any age) in the airport they are transported from the ticket window, through security, directly to their gate. I hate lying as well but if someone needs an "escort" from point A to point B who cares if it is in a wheelchair or not? Does that make sense? It might be a good thing to bring up... and if they demand that she would have to use the wheelchair, for the 10 minutes in transit, I would agree to it knowing that she is safe.

    P.S. I love southwest, I think that if you keep bringing up the issues she would have in a strange airport and that she can take care of herself but in an emergency, she would have difficulty with x and y, someone will help you.
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  4. stitchlovestink

    stitchlovestink DIS Veteran

    Dec 19, 2006
    I saw that you were specifically mentioning Southwest in your post. Can you not use another carrier? Do you have AirTran in your area? It appears from their website that when you make her reservations, you would need to provide the person to whom she should be released and that that person would need ID for pick up. the only stipulation appears to be that unaccompanied minors cannot fly on the last flight of the day and that they need to be in the boarding area one hour prior to flight time for pre-boarding purposes and to identify the minor to the flight attendants that will be responsible for them. They only age stipulation seems to be that they need to be at least 5 to be unaccompanied and at least 8 if it's not a direct flight. So it looks like it would probably work with them. Just a thought... :confused:
    I have used AirTran 3 different times and have been completely satisfied each and every time . :cutie:
    Good Luck figuring out a way to make it work.
    Only thing I would keep in mind with Southwest is if the reservation agent says that they can do it...I would still be careful because they are just answering the phone calls...they will not be the ones who would actually be responsible for watching your niece. Just a thought
  5. Mickey'snewestfan

    Mickey'snewestfan DIS Veteran

    Apr 26, 2005
    Unfortunately SW is the only airline that flies direct between the two cities -- connecting flights would just make me much more nervous. There's also a huge price difference -- SW can be as low as $49 each way and there's no extra fee for unaccompanied minors, Airtran is $200 plus $80 UM fee. Even if I was OK with the plane chance (which I'm not) $280 is almost enough to buy 3 RT tickets on SW, one for an adult to bring her out, and one for an adult to bring her back.

    As to the wheelchair -- my issue isn't in the airport (SW will let me and her mom go to the gate for drop off/pick up), and it's not really on the plane (I figure if we tell the FA that she's barely 12 and flying alone for the first time they'll probably look out for her anyway) it's if something goes wrong -- e.g. an emergency landing in another city. SW would then not be responsible for supervising her, contacting us, etc . . .
  6. Hannathy

    Hannathy <font color=darkorchid>When I stop laughing I will

    Jan 24, 2006
    My DD flew a lot as an UM and from what I've learned all the airlines I checked charged it used to be $50-$75 so I can see $80 now. And neither USAir or United would take them as a UM when they were over 12. Didn't matter to us because as my DD said all they did was walk you on and walk you off. I guess it would come down to does she know enough to get off the plane and stay put if you were late, and if they were rerouted to go to an airline employee and explain and possibly give them a prepared note with the facts. Does she know how to use a cell phone? Rerouting is pretty rare. I would make sure whoever takes her stays at the airport till the plane is past the point it could turn around and return, not just pulled away from the gate. ( like in the air for 15 minutes )
  7. WildGrits

    WildGrits DIS Veteran

    Mar 16, 2002
    What do her parents think?

    I have a 11 year old average Jane. There is no way I would put her on a plan alone. Yes, I am very protective. She goes away to summer camp and I cry.

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