As independent as they may be, letting your child go alone anywhere these days can be nerve wracking. Let alone, sending them nearly 1,000 miles away on an airplane.
Many airlines require unaccompanied minors to be escorted by an airline employee...a service which they charge extra for. It helps cover the extra responsibility for the airline and gives parents peace of mind. But what happens when things don't go according to plan? We found out.
It was a flight they had made on their own before.
13-year-old Autumn and 7-year-old Aiden traveling from their mom's home in Orlando, Florida to visit Dad and his fiancée in Northeast Ohio for Christmas.
"It's just not financially feasible for him to fly down and fly back with them and so we do the escort service," said dad’s fiancée Ayla Glen.
It’s a process, which according to Frontier Airlines, is airtight.
The form they use for 'Unaccompanied Minors,' requires the name of the person meeting the child at the airport, plus their address, telephone number, signature.
"And they are very specific to mention that they will only release the children to the designated recipient," said dad Aaron Antonio.
In fact, here's where the airline employee is supposed to sign that they checked the photo I.D. of the person picking up the child.
The cost for this peace of mind?
$110. Per child. Per direction.
A small price, if you get what you pay for.
"So nobody asked for your I.D.?” I questioned. "No," Aaron and Ayla answered.
And that's only part of this story.
You see, according to Ayla, the kids' flight arrived 30 minutes early.
Making matters worse, Ayla, who was the one picking them up, got held up in security because of her glitter sweater.
"I know Autumn was uncomfortable because she kept texting me. 'Where are you? Where are you? Where are you? You're supposed to be here,'" said Ayla.
But nothing could prepare her for what she saw when she got to the arrival gate.
"They were sitting by themselves in a corner. I said 'where's the guy?' She said, 'well he just told us to sit down and he left,'" according to Ayla.
No phone call. No text. No nothing.
"And then the fact that Ayla goes in and takes children straight out of airport with no proof of identification, my concern ultimately is not that she got them. I'm glad she did. But that someone else didn't," he said.
And that's not far-fetched according to the Department of Justice.
More than half a million children, under the age of 15, are reported missing every year.
Then of course, there's signs all over Hopkins airport, reminding fliers that human trafficking happens right here.
"What was Frontier's reaction when you told them what happened?" I asked,
"No clear response, text book, canned answers that I was getting,” Aaron said.
Well that wasn't flying with us, which is why we called Frontier.
"A, I think that's a violation of your policy, and B, there should be recourse for the family," I said.
So what do you think landed in the couples inbox one week later?
An email offering a $200 travel voucher for each of the children and a refund for the unaccompanied minor fee paid for their flight to Cleveland.
Although the couple says the days of flying solo are probably over.
"I'm going to have to escort them myself so this won't happen to them again," said Aaron.
Frontier Airlines also apologized to the family, including the kids. And says it's also going to take steps to make sure this type of incident doesn't happen in the future.
Here is some helpful information about unaccompanied minors:
The Department of Transportation’s Guide to Unaccompanied Minors Policies
Airlines for America Lobbying group offers Tips for minors traveling Alone
If you have a complaint about an airline:
Regulations for the Domestic Airlines