This former flight attendant is helping airlines stop losing children

  • Airlines “frequently” lose unaccompanied children amid disruption, says a former flight attendant.
  • Shelly-Ann Cawley quit her job after seeing vulnerable passengers being left unattended.
  • He says it is not safe for children to travel alone as they too often become a second priority.

Thousands of travelers have had their flights cancelled, flights delayed and luggage lost in part due to staff shortages amid this summer’s travel chaos. In some cases, children suffer the consequences as a result of the feast.

American Airlines lost a 12-year-old child traveling alone at Miami airport last month and closed the terminal to find her. That same month, the airline canceled a 10-year-old girl’s flight but did not inform her parents.

A former flight attendant, who has more than 20 years of experience in the industry, told Insider that it is “very common” for unaccompanied children to go missing or be left unattended.

“Airlines try to minimize it and cover it up, but it happens quite often and I’ve seen it on all airlines,” says Shelly-Ann Cawley.

“It’s happening more than people think or know. At this point in time and during the pandemic where procedures are being performed, the child becomes the second priority.”

Cawley, who has worked for five airlines, says it’s not entirely safe for children to fly alone because there have been so many bad situations that go unreported. Most airlines outsource the care of unaccompanied minors to agency workers, which he says can cause problems.

“It happens all the time because of misinformation and communication breakdowns. If they don’t have access to the system the airline is using, the staff are going off what someone said.”

After dealing with unaccompanied minors and vulnerable passengers throughout her career, Cawley decided to set up her own company, Travelers Care, three years ago to help them travel safely.

She had a bad experience when her mother was traveling alone from Jamaica back to the US. She needed to use the restroom, but there was no one there to help her.

In another case, a passenger was disembarked at the airport but appeared to have Alzheimer’s and was just dropped off at the airport and expected to be able to travel alone. “That was the final straw for me, so I quit my job and started Travelers Care and started flying vulnerable passengers myself,” Cawley said.

The way the service works is like a passenger flying with a loved one, in that they buy an extra ticket for a companion and pay for their return as well as a fee that starts at $275.

Travelers Care will take photos of the child or vulnerable passenger during the journey and send updates via WiFi. They let their family know when they have eaten to reassure them and keep them informed of their every move.

There are a number of reasons why these incidents happen, Cawley says, with the reason often coming down to staff deviating from airline policies and procedures in difficult circumstances. “There may not be enough people there to help, or staff working long hours and tired of making mistakes.”

It can also be a result of ineffective communication by not documenting or sharing information between agents. This is confusing and can result in children being left off the plane alone or left to wander through baggage claim.

Flight attendants may be on their last leg home and accidentally drop off an unaccompanied minor thinking other staff will be responsible for the delivery, Cawley says.

In other scenarios, an older child can remove their lanyard identifying them as an unaccompanied minor so they can join other passengers.

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