Summer holidays are upon us. For some, that can mean putting the kiddies on a plane to stay with family during the summer months.
So what to expect when shipping the kids off to Grandma's place in Calgary for summer holidays? The answer is: Expect to plan and that you should either confirm with your airline in advance or have your travel agent at the ready - each airline is entitled to make its own rules and may even charge for the pleasure.
Are there fees?
You might be asking yourself, "but why the fees? Why should I pay? Why isn't there a rule for this!" Let's consider the alternative - universal rules thrust upon the industry that account for every possible travel scenario. Travel isn't just a one-size-fits-all, otherwise we'd all be driving around in the same, perfect car every day, wouldn't we? There would be no need for competition as we'd be flying national carriers every time we crossed a border...
Unlike the size of your carry-on luggage, something which does have a standard in most regions of the planet, oversold seat issues, unaccompanied minors, pets in the cabin, etc. aren't exactly the needs of the average traveller. Further, the practicality of enforcing such standards would probably mean increased cost. Costs which would in turn be shared among all ticket classes rather than through any savings of time or single category of ticket. In a nutshell, my guess is that everyone would pay more.
Why isn't everything the same on every airline?
Universal practices also remove an element of competition. Figure that if the fees were higher to send your children with a budget airline versus the free services offered with a higher priced ticket on an airline of perceived higher quality, you might opt for value over price and suddenly everyone is a winner, kids included. Not to keep alluding to pets/children in the same category, but the fact that Air Canada allows small dogs and cats in the cabin for $100 is the deal maker for many people who travel with the family pet.
United hasn't been so popular in the press these days, but they also conveniently sent me an update regarding their unaccompanied minor policies, so here we go: United considers an unaccompanied minor to be between 5 and 15 years of age and they have a fee of USD150 (at time of writing) for each flight for the service of ensuring your child travels safely.
Some rules and restrictions as defined by United:
- the service is not available for under 5s (not clear if that means there is no such service or just that it falls under another category of service)
- flights must be non-stop (learn the difference between direct and non-stop) and operated by United or United Express
- not accepted on connections
- for minors travelling together, the age of the youngest of those under-18 will qualify the need for the service. That is, a 14 year old travelling with a 17 year old will still require the service even though minors 16-17 have no requirement
In the end, my feelings on the matter are a mixed bag. I'd like to think we live in a Brady-Bunch society of happy do-gooders, that you could simply drop your kids off with a friendly, trained staffer at the check-in desk and 1 x hug good-bye later you'd be back to life without kids for a week/summer/however long the wine lasts. Perhaps that time has passed, perhaps that time never existed in the first place.
Would you normally pay for childcare?
Let's not forget liability, you would pay for childcare on a night out, placing liability for their needs on the sitter. Airlines are also taking the responsibility to keep your child happy, entertained, and otherwise well looked-after.
Lastly, I ask you to consider accountability. By paying for the service, you and your minors have become a new status of client, that works both ways - making parents and guardians more accountable, more involved in the well-being of their children. It also makes airlines more accountable to the added levels of service for which you've paid. You've both now got "skin in the game", as it were.
My ultimate suggestion is to arm yourself with information in order to make an informed decision. Give the airline a call or talk to your travel agent to find out what it is you need.
Have a travel question? Write us and get it answered! - Shy