If you’re a parent who considers sending their children traveling as an Unaccompanied Minor (UM) this case might reflect a serious and valid concern: How does the airline care for and protect your child inflight?
In this case a 13 year old girl was booked on American Airlines which charged her parents a 300$ UM Fee but once on board the child didn’t receive any special seating and became the victim of the 26 year old child molester.
Based on news reports the plane from Dallas to Portland had many empty seats yet American Airlines did not block the seat next to the young girl to keep it open or place her close to flight attendants for supervision. Neither did the flight attendants re-seat the girl or the passenger next to her even when he suspiciously declined a change from his middle seat which the flight attendant offered him.
I read about this yesterday in the Washington Post (access here).
The first warning sign came before the plane had even taken off.
Chad Cameron Camp had his choice of seats on the half-empty American Airlines flight from Dallas to Portland, Ore. But Camp, 26, curiously chose a middle seat — right next to an unaccompanied 13-year-old girl, the FBI said in a statement.
Flight attendants offered to move Camp to another seat where he would have more room, but he declined. “No, I’m fine,” he said, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Washington Post..
When a flight attendant returned for drink service a half hour later, she saw Camp’s hand on the teenager’s crotch, according to the complaint. She also saw “a single tear coming down the victim’s cheek.”
Flight attendants separated Camp and the teenager for the rest of the voyage. And as soon as the plane landed, the unaccompanied minor was rushed off the plane.
When Camp exited the plane, he was arrested and charged with abusive sexual contact, according to the FBI.
There are multiple things wrong with this situation. For one, unaccompanied minors that are given into the airlines custody are subject to a steep fee (in this case 150$ per way as the family’s attorney revealed) and this should include personalized attention and safety mechanisms on board. In other words: Duty of care.
Already before the suspicious behavior of the criminal during boarding, proper procedure (especially on a light booked flight) should have been to seat the girl in a row of empty seats by herself, in the very lest having the middle seat actively blocked so it can’t be selected for another seat assignment. Part two, even on full flights would be not to assign a male as her seatmate. Not saying that only men abuse children but the statistics speak for themselves.
The attorney for the family found strong words for the situation as well.
The teenager’s attorney, however, says that the airline failed to protect its vulnerable passenger.
“This was 30 minutes of hell for this young lady,” said Brent Goodfellow, a lawyer representing the girl, who scoffed at the idea that his client had been saved by a heroic flight attendant.
“If I have my tray table down or my seat back two inches during the improper time, those guys are going to be on me immediately,” Goodfellow told The Post. “This girl got abused for 30 minutes and no one was to be found.”
“The family paid $300 extra and this is what they get?” he said, adding that his clients are “absolutely going to sue the airline.”
American Airlines said it takes “these matters very seriously” and is fully cooperating with law enforcement.
He definitely has a point here. All too often you see flight attendants sitting in the galley reading a magazine for long periods of time without checking on the passengers. Especially in a case where there are passengers such as young children on board that booked the extra care service this is unacceptable.
This is what American Airlines promotes on their website (see here):
Our unaccompanied minor service is to ensure your child is boarded onto the aircraft, introduced to the flight attendant, chaperoned during connections and released to the appropriate person at their destination.
Considering the airlines lack of proper attention is there anything the parent or guardian who drops the child off of the airport can do to ensure a safer environment? Yes!
I suggest to follow the following steps which is what my family did when my sister traveled as a UM:
- Contact the airline before reservation and request detailed information about their Unaccompanied Minor Policy and what their services include.
- Pre-Arrange the seat for the UM if the airline allows seat reservations for such reservations.
- When checking in at the airport ask the check-in agent (or supervisor) to double check who sits next to the child. Ask for a seat blocking or re-arrange the seat next to a female passenger.
- Many airlines offer a gate pass for the parents to stay with your child until boarding when then child is handed over to the flight attendant in charge. Ask the flight attendant to please check on the UM in regular intervals.
- Remember that you pay for this service so you can absolutely get a bit demanding if you feel the staff doesn’t take your requests seriously.
- Most important: Talk to your child, explain how the trip will go for them and reassure them that they can contact the flight attendant at any time.
A situation such the one that happened here is unacceptable and apart from that will leave a long lasting impression on the victim. No doubt American Airlines acted negligently in this instance.
Hopefully this man will be dealt with appropriately and also be put on the No Fly List to protect passengers and people around him. American Airlines should also incur a heavy penalty.
For your own reference, the steps as described above are a good guideline on how to prepare for a situation when your child has to go on a trip alone.