Unaccompanied 10-year-old's PE school holiday ends badly as he boards wrong flight

2018-07-17 13:54 - Saara Mowlana
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boy on plane

A 10-year-old unaccompanied minor was put on the wrong flight - find out what happened and key kid-travel policies you ought to note. (Photo: iStock)

Ten-year-old Wiam Bezuidenhout was set to meet his family back in his hometown of Johannesburg, but routes got crossed when the youngster landed up the Cape Town instead, from his starting point in Port Elizabeth. 

Bezuidenhout was on vacation, visiting his family in Jeffrey's Bay and was dropped off by his grandparents at PE International, for his flight to take him back to his parents. 

Netwerk24 reports Bezuidenhout's grandparents had a minor concern about him needing to board his British Airways flight, operated by Comair, a half an hour earlier than expected.

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They made sure to ask the airport personnel about the situation who then assured them that "it was the correct flight".  

The realisation that he was on the wrong flight dawned on the boy once he had caught sight of Table Mountain through the airplane window.  

Understandably Wian was a little emotional during the situation but his mother, Nicoline Bezuidenhout statesshe was in direct contact twice with the captain during the debacle to rectify the situation.

Bezuidenhout commended the Cape Town airport staff on handling the situation well. 

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British Airways spokesperson William Smook, told Traveller24 that they have been in direct contact with the family regarding the issue.

Smook could not confirm the details of how the boy was boarded onto the incorrect flight, but added, "The incident is of serious concern to us and we’re working to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

Port Elizabeth International Airport staff had also called Bezuidenhout to apologise about the mishap and said that they are in the process of investigating the situation.   

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What you need to know about your unaccompanied minor flying in SA:   

UNACCOMPANIED MINOR SERVICE FOR COMAIR: Operators of kulula and British Airways Domestic

British Airways (operated by Comair) and kulula.com accepts unaccompanied minors between the ages of 6 and 12. British Airways doesn’t accept unaccompanied children under 16. 

Kulula also states on its website that for every five kids (under the age of 12 years) travelling, they require at least one adult to accompany them and they allow kids over the age of 12-years-old to travel unaccompanied.   

British Airways' unaccompanied minors' policy:

General rules:

  • British Airways have put into effect a new policy that sets the minimum age for unaccompanied minors travelling alone at 16-years-old - this came into effect for all bookings made from May 1, 2018.
  • If a younger minor is accompanied by someone 16-years-old or older, they will be permitted to fly.
  • All young flyers aged under 16 and travelling are required to complete a parental / guardian consent form before travel - regardless of when the booking was made. The form is available to download here. A copy of the parent/guardian’s current passport (or other form of photographic identification showing a signature) must be attached to this form.
  • Bookings made for a person under the age of 16 travelling alone cannot be made on the British Airways website. You'd have to contact British Airways directly to make the booking - their partner airlines may have different regulations, age limits and charges so be sure to check these with them directly beforehand.

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The parent / guardian should ensure that the young person carries with them at all times:

  • Any necessary travel documentation such as valid passport(s), visas and proof of return travel (as required).
  • A signed British Airways consent form and copy of parent / guardian's passport or other form of photographic identification showing a signature attached to the form.
  • Any required medication and / or health certificates.
  • The ability to communicate with their parent / guardian and / or the person collecting them at the destination (please ensure all phones / mobile devices are fully charged, with sufficient credit and roaming is activated).
  • The means of payment should it be necessary for any expenses. It is also important to note that on short-haul flights British Airways offers a drink service and refreshments from Marks & Spencer which require payment - only doable by debit or credit card or Avios.

If a young flyer is travelling on their own - be aware that they will be booked to travel as an adult. Therefore, they will be making their way through departure and arrival airports and boarding their flight(s) without a chaperone.

According to the British Airways' site, "they cannot accept parental responsibility for your minor" - they recommend that the parent or guardian accompanying the young flyer to the airport waits until their flight departs before leaving the terminal.

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While the minimum general unaccompanied minor age is 16-years-old for British Airways, other SA airlines'policies vary:

When travelling, an unaccompanied minor has to present: 

  • A valid passport;
  • an UBC or Equivalent Document;
  • Parental Consent Affidavit;
  • a letter from the person who is to receive the minor in the Republic containing such person's residential and work address and full contact details in the Republic,
  • a copy of the identity document or valid passport and visa or permanent residence permit of the person who is to receive the minor in the Republic.

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UNACCOMPANIED MINORS FOR SAA

SAA recognises an unaccompanied minor as a child between 5-11 years old who is travelling without the supervision of a parent or guardian who is 16-years or older on an SAA flight.

It says children, under the age of five, are not accepted for the Unaccompanied Minors service, even if they are accompanied by a guardian who is 16-years or older.  A young passenger is a child who is at least 12-years-old, but under 16.

For the purpose of fares, any passenger between the ages of 12-16 is considered an adult says the ariline; therefore, no special handling is required unless requested by the parent.

For safety and security reasons, SAA says it has the right to refuse travel if the child is not booked as an unaccompanied minor.

Contact their call centre here: 0861 606 606.

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS FOR FLYSAFAIR:

FlySafair says it does not provide unaccompanied minor assistance for children younger than 12-years-old.

It offers a special Meet and Assist policy for passengers older than 12-years-old stating the service is for passengers requiring assistance to and from the aircraft, but no wheelchair is required. Its policy states that this facility will only be available from the FlySafair check-in counters and from the aircraft to the arrival hall.

To ensure the efficient handling of the passenger's travel requirements, FlySafair centralises all passenger communications to its call centre special needs department - Monday – Friday – 08:00 – 17:00 by contacting the FlySafair call centre on 087 135 1351.

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UNACCOMPANIED MINORS FOR MANGO

Mango says it allows child between the age of 12 and under 16-years-old to travel alone, but they cannot stand in as an adult companion for another child who has not yet reached the age of 12. Its policy also does not allow for them to be seated in emergency rows/seats. Children aged two-years-old (2) to 12-years-old must be accompanied by an individual 16-years of age or older.

They also include a small fee for infants to travel with Mango:

  • A fixed fare of R117.54 plus 14% vat - which has been in effect since May 21, 2012
  • And R16 Civil Aviation Aircraft Passenger Safety Charge per flight.

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Travel admin eases as DHA upgrades SA kids' passports:

In case you haven't yet heard, the procedure of procuring an unabridged birth certificate will soon be a thing of the past for many. 

As the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) speeds up its modernisation programme to a paperless system, a key change will see the printing of parents’ details on their children’s passports. 

This change will see the last page of the child's passport having the details of the parents, meaning that parents will no longer be required to travel with an unabridged birth certificate.

When you apply for the passport of the child, the system will automatically go into the National Population Registry - confirming the details of the child's parents and making the process for it to be print at the back of the passport efficient and simple. It also means parents or unaccompanied minors will no longer need to carry a birth certificate - which previously confirmed this information.

Read more on this here