Update on unaccompanied minor horror story
Perhaps calling it a horror story is hyperbole, but not if you judged by the reaction from callers on Tuesday's show.
My older children have to travel to Florida three times a year to have their visitation time with their biological mother. A week at Christmas, a week at spring break, and at summer. They fly unaccompanied minor which, if you're not familiar, is a service where for a fee you have airline personnel get them on and off the plane from and to the hands of a parent or legal guardian. It is an intimidating prospect when you first do it. Things can happen on planes, but they flight crew is supposed to keep an eye out for them during the flight. Also intimidating is the thought of some protocol being breached and them ending up in the wrong hands.
That should never happen. The parent/guardian gets a security pass to bring the children right to the departure gate and they are required to stay with them until staff comes and brings them onto the plane, and then remain at the gate until the plane has actually left not just the gate but the ground. On the arrival end, the parent/guardian gets the same security pass to wait at the gate or in smaller airports such as Trenton-Mercer at the baggage where passengers will be brought through. There, an airline representative who has escorted your kids off the plane brings them to you and they check your photo ID against your name which is already designated on the unaccompanied minor form as the only person allowed to take custody of those children.
I have never had a problem in the few years I've been doing this until Monday night. They were escorted off the plane not by airline personnel as they were supposed to be but by some guy who worked for the airport. Not the airline, but the airport. A guy in a yellow vest looking like the men you see throwing baggage into the belly of the plane and guiding jets into gates with the flashlight cones. I had my photo ID ready for him and instead of taking it from my hand he said, "Nah, that's okay, I don't need that."
I was stunned for several reasons. One, he had been distracted by another passenger asking him a question the same moment my son greeted me so you couldn't even go by the argument he could tell he knew me. Two, it doesn't matter if the children seem to recognize the person. It could always be someone they may know but NOT someone who is authorized to pick them up. Ever hear of parental kidnappings for example? Three, when I pointed out that he is supposed to check my ID he doubled down and said, "It's okay man I don't need to see it."
I signed the paper but just had to say something more. Handing the paper back to him and now free to walk off with children I knew belonged with me but him having no way to be certain of that, I said, "I honestly can't believe you're not checking my photo ID against your paperwork. You're not supposed to hand over kids without doing that."
He arrogantly, stupidly, dismissively waved his hand in my face and started walking off. I called to him that I wanted his name. "You ain't need my name!" So here is someone who was just put in charge of my kids, broke protocol, and now refuses to let me know who he is. "No sir, I need your name." He repeated that he refused to give it to me. There was a sheriff's officer standing nearby watching the whole thing. I called to him and he told me he didn't know the man's name but said he saw and heard all of what happened and gave me the name of the company yellow vest guy worked for. I took my kids and went home but thought about this all night.
I knew my children belonged with me. That was never my point. My point was if he continues to do this sooner or later he runs the risk of putting children into the wrong hands. Perhaps a family member they are not supposed to have contact with due to a custody dispute. Perhaps a meddlesome mentally unstable family member or friend who intercepted the real guardian at the airport. Or God forbid perhaps some total stranger looking to harm a child who's too young and inexperienced to speak up for himself.
So I brought this incident up on-air on Monday's show and we had an avalanche of unanimous opinion (and when does that ever happen?) that this was outrageous and that I needed to report this to the airline. So I did. Last night after the show I spent 20 minutes on the phone with an airline representative who was horrified. She confirmed that under no circumstance should it ever have been an airport ground worker who brought my children off the plane and to me, only an airline employee, and that it was a complete violation to not check photo ID. The airline is launching an investigation into the matter.
Will I ever hear back? Who knows? They have my email and my phone number and I expect I'll get some sort of form letter apologizing for any 'inconvenience' and that the matter will be handled appropriately and 'internally'. That's my suspicion. It isn't that I am looking for someone to lose their job. It's just that the unaccompanied minor system works well only if procedures are followed. I don't want someone else's younger child to end up in the wrong hands. I did what I can do.
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