How American Airlines Treat Unaccompanied Minors Says a Lot About America.
One can tell a lot about a society by how it treat its most vulnerable. This is that one more piece in the puzzle on how people and children are treated by people who work in large corporations.
I have a daughter in another country. I see her as often as I can. Usually I fly to her. This year she is almost ten and we decided to try to have her fly to me. We didn’t worry too much because airlines routinely fly kids over the age of six alone. In fact her mother had done so several times domestically in her country and the process had gone smoothly. She drops her off, an attendant takes her to the flight and all through the process she gets regular updates on the status of her child. Something like USPS tracking.
We assumed the worlds largest airline would have something similar or better. The process for buying a ticket was not terrible, you call, they take the info and charge you $300 for the “shipping and handling” of the child.
There are no emails, nothing to really prepare you for the process but it’s ok, you call, you figure it out. On the day of the flight, her mom took her to the airport and at that point, our daughter disappears.
For the next twelve hours there is no word, not from the daughter or the airline. She arrives in Dallas at 3am and there is no word. 4am I begin to get worried and start trying to figure out how to contact the airline. Their phones are not answering. American Airline “voicemail is full” at their hub and no one is picking up the phone. I begin tweeting. I get their attention. Their attention might be a bot. An unfeeling automated tone of “we hear your frustration.”
I respond, I DM and silence. No response. So one has to take matters into their own hands. I call the airport where they transfer me to an Office for Unaccompanied Minors where she had been for over an hour. At that office no one bothered to check her in, get the information on her parents or people waiting for her, help her get on wifi to text her parents. They do patch me through to her, like a kidnapper that lets the parent know that the child is alive. I’m actually shocked to have it “that easy” and finally hear her cheerful voice.
After I get off the phone with my daughter I ask the lady if I can get some kind of update on my daughters status. They offer to call me when she is on the plane. When I ask for the persons name, the person pretends to not hear me and nervously hangs up the phone. She is afraid and finds it strange that I would want to know the name of the person in whose care happens to be my child.
It’s a crazy system. It’s a crazy inhumane system where I can know more about a package flying across the country for $2.99 than I know about my child where I spend $300 for someone to help them fly. It’s a crazy society where people who work for these companies don’t think to have some kind of notification and communication with the parents. It’s a crazy society where there aren’t more parents upset with this system to create change in it.
I thought of the “customer service agents” and of the employees and even executives at American Airlines. How detached they are from the customers, the kids and the parents. How little empathy they have for the parents and kids and how little awareness they have of the trust placed in them by the parents. It makes me realize how they treat the children as simply walking luggage. No desire to consider the human aspect of a six, seven or ten-year-old child flying across the sky, going through customs, being in a massive airport.
How simple would it be to have an automated platform for these employees to hit “arrived”, “customs completed”, “at gate”, “departed”. How simple would it be for them to guide a child to WIFI, so the child can talk to the parent. It’s simple, but only in a society with empathy and value of that child and the parent and fellow human being. I guess empathy and humanity is a little too much to ask from the “world’s largest airline”.