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More Evidence That Airlines and Families Don’t Mix

Matt Villano

Not a week goes by these days without proof that airlines and families mix about as well as oil and water.

The latest debacle: News that United Airlines lost a Bay Area couple’s 10-year-old daughter.

I’ll spare you the details (especially since you can read them here or find them pretty easily on Facebook). The sordid gist: The couple’s daughter was flying solo from San Francisco to summer camp in Traverse City, Mich., and along the way—imperceptibly, IMHO—United lost track of her.

What happened after this involved a series of frustrating phone calls, a heap of misinformation, the airline’s attempt to pawn blame on the third-party to which it outsources unaccompanied minor services (this apparently is common practice), and a pathetic, half-hearted “apology.”

In the end, (thankfully,) United found the girl safely. Still, the incident begs the question: Would you send your child as an unaccompanied minor on a plane today?

For you literalists, I know the notion of children flying sans parents technically isn’t “family travel.” Still, this most recent episode—and the airline’s blatant mishandling of it—speaks to a larger recurring issue of airline companies flagrantly giving families the shaft.

This egregious treatment has been documented here over the last few months; one airline disallowing young kids in certain cabin classes; other airlines charging premiums to let families sit together. I’ve even ripped United for discontinuing the privilege of early boarding for parents traveling with young kids.

If we mothers and fathers can’t even rest easy when we pay the airlines to look after our unaccompanied kids, when the hell can we expect the carriers to do anything right?

Sadly, the answer is simple: We can’t.

In my book, air travel has de-evolved to a point where families must look at most commercial airlines as nothing but a means to an end. Gate-checking a stroller? Expect them to destroy it. Flying with an infant? Expect to have to change him or her on the galley floor.

Sure, there is room for surprises—the kind and gentle flight attendant, the random in-lav changing table, the airline that actually gives a damn.

By and large, however, even when we pay a premium, we families are nothing on commercial flights; the lowest of the low in the eyes of these big conglomerates. There has to be a better way, people. We need them (to travel long distances with our families). They need us (and the future customers who are our kids). When and how does the madness end?

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