At what age should children be able to fly alone?
A 12-year-old girl's "first big flight" was cut short at Christchurch Airport this morning when Jetstar boarding crew told her she was too young to fly alone.
The incident forced her mother Fiona Fidow to pay more than $100 for a guardian fare so she could accompany her daughter Brianna to Wellington, where she was heading for a much-anticipated weekend with her auntie.
On Wednesday Fidow went online to book Brianna's tickets with Jetstar. On the main screen the options were "Child - age 2-11", or Adult.
The next page had a button for more information on unaccompanied minors but the page was down and Fidow tried unsuccessfully "off and on for about an hour" to access it.
She was unsure whether she should book her 12-year-old daughter as a child or an adult.
Seats were selling out fast so after calling her sister in Wellington for advice, Fidow guessed her daughter was able to fly alone.
"I went and booked it. I was pretty confident that 2-11 as a child would mean therefore anyone else who was not 2-11 would be considered an adult."
At the boarding gate for a 10.30am flight today Brianna was asked for identification. She did not have any, so was asked for her age. It turned out she needed to be 13 to fly independently.
She texted her mum, who came to pick her up.
"She was obviously very upset," Fidow said.
"It was her first big flight and independence and all that sort of stuff."
The Jetstar staff back at check-in were "lovely and trying to be as helpful as they could be", Fidow said.
But the only options were a full refund or for Fidow to travel to Wellington with her daughter on a $114 guardian fare. Fidow decided to fly there and come straight back, as required.
Fidow said Jetstar staff told her web-page link with the vital age information was "a problem, it's a really big issue particularly during school holidays, it's a nightmare" for people.
"Obviously there's a lot of people doing what I did."
One of the airline staff suggested perhaps the different age for unaccompanied flying and their definition of adult was related to international rules for young, solo passengers.
Jetstar staff suggested to Fidow if she was having trouble getting to their unaccompanied passengers page she should have called the airline's 0800 number.
"Well, yes, I probably should have, but actually it should be a lot clearer on their booking form. Especially, if I'm doing and a lot of all these other parents are (making mistakes)."
"Really...if it's an ongoing issue... I mean they're making money out of it and they should have a website with a lot clearer details."
Air New Zealand allows children to travel unaccompanied from the age of 12 and Fidow could have booked their next flight out for $380 but she thought that was too dear.
"She was quite looking forward to the trip where she was going to be independent . . . ringing me before she got on the plane flying down and auntie meeting her at the airport. Yeah, it's just a bit embarrassing, actually. The ladies weren't very kind to her when she went to go on the plane. She was just a child and they were quite abrupt, I think is the word she would use. She's quite upset."
Brianna is now flying to Wellington on a Jetstar flight this afternoon and will be flying home with her grandparents on Monday.
JETSTAR SORRY FOR INCONVENIENCE
A Jetstar spokesman said the airline "had a clear policy regarding children travelling independently which was disclosed on its website and during the booking process".
"All children travelling independently on Jetstar flights must carry proof they are currently attending secondary school," he said.
"If they are not yet attending secondary school, they are required to travel with an accompanying passenger.
"When a flight has been booked but the passenger does not meet the independent-traveller requirements, Jetstar offers specially priced guardian fares for someone to accompany the passenger or a full refund."
The airline "apologises for any inconvenience the family experienced", he said.
Jetstar allows children to fly alone in Australia from Year 7, while in New Zealand they are allowed to fly alone from Year 9.
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