For those of you who write crime novels, I would like to share my story with you regarding human trafficking. Apparently it’s really simple…
As you may have read in my previous blogs, my children recently toddled off to the other side of the planet for a nice, short holiday. We, their parents, couldn’t come with them, so they travelled as unaccompanied minors. Most airlines don’t take thirteen-year-olds unaccompanied, but Singapore Airlines does. There were forms to fill out, of course, that needed to be witnessed and shown when requested. As we live in Scotland and Singapore Airlines doesn’t frequent our local airport we had to escort them to London, which we did.
Forty-eight hours before travelling it appeared that we couldn’t check-in our kids online, because they were unaccompanied minors. That’s okay, we understood. We were concerned, though, that the seats would be fully booked by the time we got to the airport and the kids would not be sitting next to each other. My husband called the airlines and was assured that all would be sorted once we checked-in on location.
Once at Heathrow airport, we went to the Singapore Airlines desk to get the unaccompanied minors forms witnessed, but hey didn’t want to know any of it. ‘They will take care of you at the special check-in,’ they told us. So we queued up at the special check-in. My DH showed the lady the forms he filled in, but again, she didn’t want to know about them. ‘They will take care of that at the gate,’ we were told again. My husband stood there, with his passport and papers in his hand, flabbergasted. The lady didn’t check his passport, nor the forms. We could have picked up any kids of the street, who happened to carry their passports, and shipped them to some obscure country! But, then again, there was always the gate…
We said goodbye to our children and told them that we would hang around the departure hall until they had boarded the plane, just in case there were problems at the gate because the paperwork wasn’t witnessed. We kept in contact with them through our mobile phones during that time. As soon as our kids were through customs and the security check, they went to the gate. And lo and behold, nobody wanted to know about the forms there either!
The rest of the journey went uneventful. We had given our kids very strict instructions on how to behave whilst travelling (just contact me if you want more specifics) and they arrived safely on the other side, being picked up by my friend there.
On the way back the story was slightly different. At the check-in desk at the airport the lady behind the desk did have a look at the forms, signed them and made copies of them and offered our children to go through customs with the other unaccompanied children ‘so they wouldn’t be patted down.’ Of course they did go through a security check (fast lane), but it sounded very much like you can let your kids smuggle whatever and let them travel unaccompanied as they will be able to get away with it.
The only other person taking some interest in them being unaccompanied was the customs officer back in Heathrow. This is the conversation they had. Are you accompanied by an adult? No. Do your parents know where you are? Yes. Where are they? Dad is at work an Mum is on her way to collect us. Have you contacted her? Yes. Where is she now? I don’t know. So you haven’t contacted her? Yes, we did. Why don’t you know where she is then?Because she is still on an airplane. So what are you going to do when you get through customs? Go to Café Nero and wait for her. Okay, here are your passports, enjoy your day. So parents, bring your kids to Café Nero, apparently your kids are totally safe there!
As you can tell I am not impressed by the way unaccompanied children are dealt with during international flights. Maybe you say that I should have organised somebody from the airlines to accompany them. But if you have a connecting flight with another airline you need to inform both of them who is doing the drop off/pick up and nobody wants to give names. We tried. Fortunately our kids are mature beyond their age and have travelled internationally multiple times. We picked Changi airport for the stopover as we knew they know it well and they had no trouble finding their way. Nothing went wrong this time, but I am not taking my chances another time!