British Airways says NO to Unaccompanied Minors (UM)
As a working single mother, I have been traveling with my child since she was 10 days old. She recently took her first unaccompanied minor (UM) flight on Southwest Airlines. And most of the world’s legacy and low-cost carriers have policies for handling UMs under the age of 12 — except for British Airways.
So the recent announcement by the UK flag carrier about a change targeting new parents has raised some eyebrows. BA’s new program protects a flyer’s elite status in its Executive Club frequent flyer program for up to a year for new parents traveling less due to maternity, paternity or adoption leave (see the full TravelZork story here). New parents can even create a baby@ email address and receive an Avios mileage bonus when adding a new child to a BAEC Household Account.
In February 2016, BA announced the end of its Skyflyer Solo UM program for children 12 and under, citing costs. In a statement, the carrier apologized for the change, noting that while customer numbers have risen in the past 10 years, demand for its UM program dropped by two thirds, falling 21 percent in 2015.
So for UMs under the age of 12 booked on multi-city itineraries on Oneworld alliance tickets, this can a problem. For example, a UM under the age of 12 traveling from Miami to Boston to London Heathrow can fly alone on the American Airlines segment from Miami to Boston, but cannot fly as a UM on BA’s Boston-London segment.
Policy also impacts children 12 to 16 years old
Parents with children aged 12 through 16 still paid BA for UM services, especially on international flights to ensure there was help available to navigate processes including the inevitable long lines in immigrations and customs. But under the airline’s current policy, this age group is now being forced to either fly with a parent or guardian or fly alone, with no UM services from BA. Having flown many times in my own travels, international travel can still be stressful and sometimes confusing to me. So can you imagine what it might be like for a 12-year-old?
BA’s own subsidiary, OpenSkies, allows Unaccompanied Minors
But in an ironic twist, BA’s own subsidiary, OpenSkies, does allow children aged between six and 12 to fly as UMs under the Solo Flyer program for a £150 fee. Among BA’s sister carriers in the International Airlines Group — Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling — only the Irish flag carrier doesn’t accept UMs under age 12.
Further, Aer Lingus doesn’t allow UMs under age 14 on its codeshare flights with JetBlue and under age 16 for codeshare flights with United Airlines. Looking at BA’s partners in the Oneworld alliance, only Finnair does not allow children under the age of 12 to fly as a UM.
All of BA’s full service competitors on United States flights to London — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic — offer UM services.
So it begs several questions. One, isn’t it a contradiction for BA to offer a free family-friendly program to protect a new parent’s elite status but not retain one for travelers’ older children that brings in money? Two, how does the carrier resolve the conflict that its UM policy causes when children are flying on Oneworld alliance carriers? And three, how wise is it to force children under the age of 16 to not fly as UMs when they need to travel solo?
The change garnered some press coverage in February 2016, but there has been little mention of it since. One can assume that parents who have children under age 12 who need to fly alone are flocking to BA’s competitors. So if BA can come up with the new protected status program for new parents, why not come up with a new UM policy that satisfies its customers and its bottom line?