A week ago, one mother received a horrifying phone call: “Your child is missing. We’ve shut down the terminal. We don’t know where she is.”
Monica Gilliam had arranged for her 12-year-old daughter Kimber to fly in an American Airlines flight from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Miami, Florida, to visit her father. But an hour after the flight landed, Gilliam received a call from the airline saying they had lost her daughter. “How did you lose my child? How do you lose an unaccompanied minor?” Gilliam said.
“Your child is missing”
The mother explained that Kimber had flown unaccompanied twice before when she was five and when she was six. This time, Kimber sat in the middle seat and when she got up to allow the other passengers to disembark, she felt like she had to leave as well. She said a flight attendant even waved goodbye to her as she passed. “She was seated in between two people on row eight. And when the person at the window got up, she felt like she was supposed to get up, too, and move into the aisle,” Gilliam said. “And then they just waved her on and she said, I didn’t know what to do, so I kept walking.’” 
Although the family hadn’t discussed the unaccompanied travel process with Kimber beforehand, she was told she’d be looked after during the flight until she meets her father. Plus, she was familiar with flights in general. Gilliam explained that the family flies together often “and so [Kimber] knows that our typical protocol is that we get off the plane and we go to baggage claim together”.
Unaccompanied minor service, according to American Airlines’ website, costs $150 and includes, early boarding for the child to get settled and meet the flight attendants, an escort to guide the child to the gate for connection flights, and an escort to the adult authorized to pick them up after the flight. 
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“We don’t want this to happen again”
However, Kimber ended up wandering through the airport by herself. Her father was trying to get a gate pass and her flight had come in early. Kimber called him and they video called as he helped her navigate her way through the airport to find him. Despite the tag around her neck that indicates she was an unaccompanied minor, no employee stopped her or checked on her, not even the TSA agent, who she passed on the way to baggage claim. “She just turned 12,” her mother said in a TikTik video where she warns other parents about this predicament. “She wasn’t allowed to be walking out there anyway.” 
In response, American Airlines released a statement. “American cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for them. We take these matters very seriously and are looking into what occurred. A member of our team has reached out to the customer to learn more about their experience.”
Gilliam said the airline have refunded Kimber’s ticket and the unaccompanied minor fees. They offered the family free flights and limo service but she rejected them. “We want American Airlines to tighten up their policies and put more training in place so this doesn’t happen again,” she said. She explained the airline was very apologetic but Kimber is now too scared to fly again. 
Tips to Prepare a Unaccompanied Minor
Emily Kaufman, a travel expert and the CEO and founder of “The Travel Mom,” encourages parents to prepare their kids before traveling on their own. Proper preparation can ease stress and prevent unnecessary complications. “Inform them about the plan on the plane, getting off the plane and when they’re in need of something that they can ask a flight attendant,” Kaufman said.
She also recommends parents give their child a list of contacts and phone numbers to put in their pockets and in their carry-on luggage. They can also use a tracking tool like “Find My Friends” to monitor the child and keep close tabs on the flight in case it’s early or late. When parents brings the child to the airport, they should point out the uniforms of flight and airline personnel and tell the child to only ask for help from them.
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- “Mom says airline allowed unaccompanied daughter to exit plane alone after flight.” Good Morning America. July 8, 2022
- “Unaccompanied minors.” American Airlines.
- “Mom hits out at American Airlines for losing her unaccompanied daughter in Miami airport.” Business Insider. Jyoti Mann and Sam Tabahriti. July 9, 2022
- “‘Your Child Is Missing’: Mom Says Airline Lost Unaccompanied Daughter After Flight to Miami.” NBC 6. Kim Wynne. July 9, 2022.