Before I had kids, I traveled quite a bit and spent my fair share of time bouncing around airports all over.
I know firsthand just how confusing, busy, and even dangerous it can be to travel alone, even as a seasoned, adult globe trotter.
But now that I’m a parent, the idea of sending my child through an airport unaccompanied sounds even more frightening.
Still, every year, kids do fly by themselves, up to 7 million of them in the United States alone, which is why airlines have policies in place to make sure that kids who travel sans a chaperone get from point A to point B safely.
One mom took to TikTok to share a horrifying story of how her 12-year-old daughter was recently flying alone on American Airlines and the airline lost her.
Totally lost this child. As in – Could. Not. Find. Her.
TikTok user @relativelymonica from Chattanooga, TN, posted the video that has been viewed 1.2 million times and received 101.2K likes, and 13.5K comments.
The caption reads,
“The utter failure by @American Airlines,#tsa, and #mia is absolutely unforgivable. The complete abandonment of a minor in their care, and the negligence displayed today, is criminal. Parents beware.”
We can see @relativelymonica looking into the camera with a serious face as she begins her story.
“This morning I put my daughter on an American Airlines flight from Chattanooga to Miami to go see her dad at 6:00 am. And if you’re not familiar with unaccompanied minor flights, they have to wear a necklace that says they’re an unaccompanied minor, it’s got all their information of the boarding pass and the information of the parent picking them up so that they can verify that the person picking them is who is supposed to be.”
Now, before anyone comes for this mom in the comments (as they did in her TikTok), millions of kids fly alone every year and for a wide variety of reasons.
For many kids of divorce, flying alone is a necessary part of a custody agreement, and not every parent can afford recurrent plane tickets to chaperone their kiddos.
For other kids, there are educational or medical reasons why they would be left with no choice but to fly alone.
Without knowing the particulars of any story — including this TikToker who does not specify why (and frankly, it’s not anyone’s business) we simply don’t know the circumstances.
And that does not make what happens next the parent’s fault. Not even a little bit.
“Almost an hour after her flight landed, I got a call from American Airlines. It was the manager [in Miami] and he says, ‘Your child is missing. We’ve shut down the terminal, we don’t know where she is.'”
Yeah. Let that sink in.
“It turns out that the flight attendants waived her off the place and said, ‘Bye!’ and she said she didn’t know what to do, so she kept going since they were telling her bye. She kept walking.”
Remember, this is a young kid, and even if she had flown many times before, traveling in a major airport is hectic and confusing for even the smartest and coolest under pressure among us.
Monica goes on to explain that after her daughter left the flight attendants, she got in touch with her dad, who was trying to get access to the gate to pick her up.
He decided that given the chaotic nature of the situation, it would be best to stay put in one location, stay on the phone with his daughter, and talk her through navigating the airport to get to him.
“He thought the best thing to do was stay in one spot and talk her through the signs to get her to him as safely and as quickly as possible. So, she, going through the airport, with that billboard on her that she was an unaccompanied minor in one of the largest human trafficking hubs in the country.”
Listening to her tell this story, my pulse rate went up as I tried to imagine the fear that the father must have felt while trying to talk his daughter through an airport as massive as the Miami International Airport.
“They finally got her there, but on the way out not one American Airlines employee stopped her to see if she had an adult. Not one Miami airport employee stopped her, not even the TSA security agent [before she left] the secured area and went into baggage claim…they didn’t stop her either.”
It is clear that she is straining to tell this story without being emotional, but by the time she got to the end, I was ready to cry for her.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else and if your child is flying an unaccompanied flight with American Airlines then consider that. It’s not ok, it shouldn’t happen.”
The comments section is 13.5K comments deep, and essentially has two camps; those who are relentlessly shaming this parent for sending her child on a flight alone. And those are relentlessly tagging American Airlines in defense of the parents.
Some took issue with the fact that a parent would even consider allowing their child to fly alone.
And to be clear, in the United States, children as young as five years old are permitted by federal law to fly unaccompanied.
Like this TikTok user who sparked some backlash by insinuating that the parents in this situation not only have a choice (we don’t know that they do or don’t) and that they are being reckless with their child.
@user6087220314132 wrote, “There is no way in hell I would ever send my child on a flight alone, for this reason exactly.”
Not everyone was super stoked about that judgmental response and many pointed out that not only are the parents not to blame but that kids flying alone is a pretty common occurrence.
Courtney wrote, “I flew unaccompanied my whole childhood. That is not a weird concept. The airline LOOSING her is the problem!”
And Stephanie Tibbs added, “All these ‘perfect’ parents. Some parents don’t have a choice. Sometimes it’s court ordered! This is one the AIRLINE!”
And some took a different view of the situation.
Erin Rochelle points out that yes, this is definitely the airline’s fault, but she ponders the responsibility of the parents writing,
“Yes AA is 100% at fault. But IMO both parents should’ve been tracking that plane at all times. And dad should’ve been there to watch her exit the plane.”
The only problem with this assessment is that @relativelymonica1 said in her video that the flight landed early.
It could be possible that the parents did not or could not have known that. It’s possible that both parents were indeed sticking to a routine and plan that they predetermined.
It’s also worth noting that this newly minted 12-year-old had been told “goodbye” and waived to walk off by the flight crew. She may have been doing what she thought she was supposed to.
But yes. Let’s blame the parents…
You can watch the full video here. And remember, if you have a child flying alone for whatever reason, it is worth heeding the core message from this TikTok video: be vigilant about making sure your child is safe.