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Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Illinois
posts: 9,402
reviews: 16
Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Some of you may remember me asking questions about the Unaccompanied Minor Program on Delta. We are back from our vacation so I thought I would report back since things didn't go as well as I would have liked. The trip was to Paris then Amsterdam then home from AMS. I had arrived about a week earlier and then my 15 year old daughter was flying to meet me after school got out for spring break. The flights were booked through Delta, and she flew from our regional airport to Atlanta and then from there on a code share with Air France to CDG in Paris. I booked online and then called Delta to add the UAM program. I'll add that the UAM program is optional (at least on Delta) for 15 year olds and the only reason I put her in it is that you can not check yourself into a hotel in the US (AFAIK) if you're under 18, and I didn't want her sleeping in ATL (airport) in case of flight cancellations. It costs $100 each way, IIRC.

We got off to a bad start initally when I asked them what paperwork I would need to fill out since my mother was dropping her off at the airport and I would already be in Paris. They said I didn't need to fill out any. Fortunately, I got a link to the form online from an Air Travel forum poster so I had it filled out. I told them that the UAM was only supposed to be for the trip to Paris as she would be flying home with me and they said that would be fine.

Dropping her off at the airport went fine. They gave my mother a gate pass and she was allowed through security to the gate to wait for her flight. DD did not really want to fly UAM, but agreed when I told her she didn't have a choice. She was not overly pleased by the fact that she had a 7 hour layover in ATL because she was not allowed to fly from here on the last flight of the day (which would have given her a 3-ish hr layover) due to being a UAM. In ATL, she says they put her in a room that had only a couch and a TV in it, and the TV was showing Spongebob, which she doesn't like. Fortunately, she was prepared with ipod, books, and Kindle, so could amuse herself. I'm not sure if there was wifi there or if she only listened to music (she's a musician so can listen to music for hours). She said there was a boy about her age there that she talked to for a while and a couple of younger kids. I guess there could have been toys for younger kids that she didn't tell me about, I didn't actually ask her that. They did take her to the food court to eat, but she wasn't so happy about that either as she doesn't like fast food and would rather have gone to a real restaurant. (Although I don't really expect them to have staff available to sit with her while she eats a real meal.) TBH, this was really about what I expected from the layover and wasn't the main issue.

The main problem arose when I went to pick her up at CDG. Her plane was due into terminal 2E at 0830. I arrived there a little before 0830 and the board said the plane was now expected at 0837. No problem, I thought. I proceeded to the Arrivals area (where you come through after customs) and saw large blue signs saying that the meeting point for Unaccompanied Minors was farther down by Door 16. So I continued to Door 16 and found a large (like 4ft x 6ft) sign on the wall with line drawings of 2 kids with tags around their necks saying UM. Great, I thought. I’m in the right place. Now, I wasn’t expecting her to be there yet as she of course had to go through immigration, so I sat down to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally at about 0930, I decided to walk down to the regular arrivals area again and make sure she wasn’t there. Nope, not there. The arrivals board had now changed from arriving at 0837 to arrived at 0837, though.

Well, maybe the immigration lines were long, I thought, so I went back to the meeting place. Still no daughter. Finally at about 1030, I went down to the information desk to ask what was going on. The woman there asked me if I had been waiting by the sign. When I said yes, she called Air France and said they would have her there in 5-10 min. So I went back to the sign. 30 min later, still no daughter. I went back to the information desk again, and a different woman asked me if I had been waiting at the sign. When I said yes, she called Air France again. This time they said they were on their way. Finally at about 1120, they brought her to the sign. DD said when she arrived they came out the normal exit and the Air France guy had her look around the arrivals area for me for about 30 seconds and when she didn’t see me, he took her to some office somewhere and had her sit there. She said she had never been taken to the meeting place until the time when we actually met up.

She was under the impression that whoever was supposed to meet the plane to take her to the meeting place did not show up and so a flight attendant took her off the plane instead, so maybe he didn't know where to go. I'm not sure of that as no one explained it to her, but that's what she thought from listening to them talk in French. (She doesn't really speak French but actually understands it surprisingly well from taking Spanish, my teaching her a little, and previous trips to France.)

Inconveniently, the SIM card I had gotten for my Europe cell phone did not work, so she could not call me. She had another cell phone with her with a UK SIM card in it, and she managed to call my mother using that, but then I think it ran out of credit (it’s expensive to pay for calls to the US since it’s roaming) because it wouldn't call out anymore but DD said she was able to get texts from my mother.

In retrospect, I should have put more effort into getting a working SIM card. I probably could have found one in Paris, but we use the phones so rarely in Europe I figured we'd just use the one she was bringing with the UK SIM card. Of course, this didn't help us meet up at the airport. I also think that if this comes up again, I would have her fly with me to Europe and fly home UAM, as then theoretically she would be in our home airport when she needed to be met and she would have already gone through immigration so could be met at the gate (I think). It's also a smaller airport and would be difficult to lose someone in. (Someone suggested we do it this way, but not for that reason, so I guess whoever it was was right. DD wanted to do it the way we did as she'd been to CDG before so was more familiar with it. I think now that she's been to AMS she might change her mind - she was afraid people would be talking to her in Dutch.)

I was also concerned about how long they would keep a kid in an office before they just sent her back home. Does anyone know? She did say that she got to skip the line at immigration, so I should have started having them call earlier. Are you supposed to check in with someone when you pick up a UAM? There was no staff at the UAM meeting place sign and no one at the Air France desk on the arrivals level, so I would have had to go to check in. I think you're supposed to do that if you're meeting them at the gate, but I couldn't go to the gate due to immigration. I've reread both the Air France and Delta UAM info on their websites, and it doesn't say anywhere that I could find.

I guess at least she was kept in a safe location, but if I could work out how she could register herself for a hotel room alone, I wouldn’t pay for the UAM service again. She’s more than capable of navigating an airport and then I would have been waiting for her at the normal exit like a normal person and we would probably have met up 2 hours earlier. TBH, I’m uncertain whether it’s better to pay for it or not after this experience. DD actually said that it was bad enough that she'd rather not go on vacation than fly as a UAM again. My mother said she sounded tearful on the message she left her (as it was the middle of the night in the US), but she seemed ok when we met up. I hate to think what this would have been like for a more nervous, younger, or less experienced child.

A more minor adverse effect of the UAM program was that when I tried to check in online for the return trip I could not check DD in online. When we got to the airport (AMS) the self service kiosks would print her boarding pass, but her seat had been moved to the last row of the plane and there was no set of 2 seats for me to move us to except the one she was in. (It was a 2-4-2 configuration and there were only middle seats or the aisle seat next to the window seat they moved DD to - even though she started out with an aisle seat.) I asked at the bag drop desk, and the agent there said her seat was moved to the last row due to her being a UAM so they could keep an eye on her. She couldn't find anything but what I saw and told us to ask at the gate. The gate agent couldn't find anything either, so we ended up in 2 middle seats. We were together though. As I said, relatively minor, but annoying. I wonder if I had called them when I tried to check in if they could have taken out the UAM so I could check her in online. Does anyone know?

I’m debating on whether or not I should write to Air France (or Delta as that’s actually who I booked through. It seems like Air France personnel should know where the meeting point is at CDG – isn’t it their main airport?

Park City, Utah
Destination Expert
for Utah, Travel Gadgets and Gear
posts: 10,019
reviews: 194
1. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

While your intentions are understood, our experience is that UAM is not a cool or necessary experience for a 15 year old today. We've been flying our grandkids for years and there's no way they would tolerate it at that age.

London, United...
posts: 14,887
reviews: 22
2. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Again, to tumbleweed and cactus, I am not sure that answers the question.

Btgm I would have also booked my daughter, also 15 in unaccompanied minor, simply as she was travelling alone and I would like to ensure an adult was looking out for her. Her friends are also fifteen also and their mothers would so the same, being " cool" is irrelevant, it's the " what if" scenario.

The only lesson as you say is making sure she texts on arrival, it's a good point re roaming, and the seating issue. Overall though, even though you had meeting issues, at least she got there safe and sound and had the plane been diverted or any major issues, which do happen, she would have been taken care of and not struggled to book a hotel or being forced to sleep in the airport,

Sometimes as responsible guardians our roles expand past being " cool" and involve us being responsible in the " what if" category, without being overly cautious,

Illinois
posts: 9,402
reviews: 16
3. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Thanks for the replies. Froggy, I agree, if I had it to do over, I would book her as a UAM again. She says she could just drink Red Bull and stay up all night in the airport, but that is not where I want my 15 year old.

TumbleweedandCactus, I'm glad the flights for your grandchildren have all gone as planned. However, I have heard of kids who have had to sleep in airports when their flights were cancelled and they were not booked as UAMs. I personally have had to spend the night in a hotel by the airport when not one but 2 flights to my destination were cancelled.

I did not expect the experience to be "cool", and as I mentioned I did not have a problem with how the layover was handled. If she could check in to a hotel or if she were changing planes somewhere that I had friends or family who were able and willing to come to the airport and get her in the event that she had to spend the night, she would be more than capable of flying on her own. However, that was not the case. Perhaps if it had been a nonstop flight I would have considered not sending her as a UAM. However, you can not fly nonstop to Paris from where we live.

My post was more in case people want to tell their kids what to expect, and to reinforce the need to have some method of communication. Normally we would have had that, but the cell phone issue was complicated by the arrival in Europe, which would be another reason for me to have had her fly UAM on the return flight.

As I mentioned, my daughter did not want to fly as a UAM, but as I am the parent and she is the child, she will "tolerate" whatever I tell her she has to tolerate.

Bangkok
Destination Expert
for Bangkok, Air Travel, Thailand
posts: 13,631
reviews: 71
4. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Hi,

"I was also concerned about how long they would keep a kid in an office before they just sent her back home. Does anyone know?"

==> This issue is *usually* one that it not governed by the carriers themselves, but by local authorities.

From the airlines viewpoint, they don't have the statutory authority to essentially forcibly repatriate someone without either their voluntary consent or upon lawful order from a governmental agency, or valid court order.

I've been in that case before - a UM who was not collected as planned, albeit at a US domestic location. In that location the law required that we notified the local law enforcement, who in turn were required by law to involve the State level Child Protective Services who took physical and legal custody of the minor from us until the responsible party materialized.

I've asked a colleague who manages our ground operations at a foreign city as to what would be the "norm" in these case - foreign cities... . He reports that it would be a similar process but - there are a few extra issues present..

One would be determine what is the definition of adult in the jurisdiction where the passenger is presently? That then, to a degree determines what steps can the airline or other non-governmental bodies do, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to or on the behalf of the passenger in question. It might be that the airline or airport cannot legally retain control of the passenger IF they choose to leave. Again, lots of questions here that would need to be addressed.

The second part is that it would be customary for either the airline, airport or local law enforcement to contact the Embassy, Consulate or other Protective Power of the nation of which the passenger holds citizenship or travel documents.

While their ability to intercede or otherwise demand a specifc action by the local officials is limited, they are one of the best tools or resources for making urgent contract with a qualified adult who may be present in the origin country and asking for assistance or guidance if need be.

The whole issue of what happens is very case specific, but when it involves a minor (as defined by local law) it usually requires the intervention of either law enforcement, child services or other similar agencies.. When the "minor" really is a legal adult, it becomes a bit more complex.

Travel Safe,

Illinois
posts: 9,402
reviews: 16
5. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Thanks for the info, GOPBI. It sounds like a really complicated process, so I'd imagine they'd wait a pretty long time before starting it. I can't imagine it's pleasant for the airline staff to deal with that, so I'd think they'd avoid it if at all possible. I've been involved in similar situations involving Child Protective Services, and it's always been an ordeal to get anything accomplished.

Do you know if the UAM is generally met by someone at the airport to take them from the flight attendant? I just wondered if my daughter's understanding of someone not showing up and the flight attendant having to take her somewhere made sense. If the flight attendants don't normally do that, I guess that could explain why she was never brought to the actual meeting point.

Bangkok
Destination Expert
for Bangkok, Air Travel, Thailand
posts: 13,631
reviews: 71
6. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Hi,

It is usually *not* the FAs who actually accompany the UM off the plane and to either the designated meeting point or holding room, if on connection.

The reason is that for all US carriers the law requires the full minimum compliment of cabin crew to remain physically on the aircraft until all passengers are physically off.. Even if there is one last passenger, the FARs require the minimum crew compliment to remain and physically be on the plane. Plus most airlines require them to mke a last check or sweep of the aircraft to inusre everyone's off and that doors and other emergency equipment is promptly stored ..

As this takes time, it behooves everyone to get the UM off sooner and not wait for the crew.

So, most carriers a use an agent - be that a 3rd party contract company or direct carrier employee - to take custody of any UMs and take them to the next stop in the process.

Deplaning is a fast-paced event and the crew has certain things they've got to be aware of and watch for, so there is a predisposition to, and most carriers have it set-up procedurally, to get the UM transferred to the ground agent ASAP right after door opening.

Travel Safe,

Illinois
posts: 9,402
reviews: 16
7. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

That makes sense, and if that's what happened, I guess it could account for some of the confusion.

RiverCity
posts: 46
8. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Interesting that they skipped customs/immigration.

Marrakech
Destination Expert
for Marrakech
posts: 3,223
9. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

It surprises me that parents actually arrange for their children to take domestic or transatlantic flights alone. Surely the best option is for the parent to travel with their child.

Bangkok
Destination Expert
for Bangkok, Air Travel, Thailand
posts: 13,631
reviews: 71
10. Re: Report of not so good UAM experience on Delta/Air France

Hi,

"It surprises me that parents actually arrange for their children to take domestic or transatlantic flights alone. Surely the best option is for the parent to travel with their child."

==> I think that if money weren't an object, many would do so... But I think in many cases, the simple economics of it renders this concept just not feasible.

I also think that in some cases there's logistical limitations such as parent 1 lives in City A, and parent 2 lives in City B, and they child/minor, travels between the two and neither parent has the time or funds to effectively fly a return/round-trip as a means of accompaniment.

Again, if time or money wasn't an object many parents would travel with their kids- but for a variety of reasons, limitations or circumstances, I think this just isn't a viable option.

Travel Safe,

Edited: 1:50 pm, April 21, 2013