Unaccompanied Minors At Airports: Steve Cunningham Upset After Air Canada Leaves Grandson At Pearson

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Steve Cunningham is upset with Air Canada after he accuses them of failing to take care of his grandson. Earler, seven year old Ava Diamond watches travellers arrive at Toronto's Pearson International Airport during a busy day of travelling ahead of the Christmas holidays on Friday, December 21, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young | CP

A grandfather is accusing Air Canada with failing to live up to their standards after his 13-year-old grandson spent the night alone at Canada's largest airport.

The boy was flying out of Pearson International Airport in Toronto and heading to Saint John on Dec. 27 when poor weather caused the plane to head back to Pearson. The boy then spent eight hours unattended with a $10 food voucher before catching his rescheduled flight the next morning, reports the CBC.

Steve Cunningham, the boy's grandfather and a local of Saint John, N.B., said that according to the policy on Air Canada's website, youths between the ages of 12 to 17 who are travelling alone without a parent or guardian, and who have not opted for a separate service for chaperoning minors, will be taken care of by Air Canada staff.

"To me that's not taking care of him, leaving him alone in an airport for that amount of time,” Cunningham told the CBC. "I hate to see someone's child go through what my grandson did,” he said.

According to Air Canada's website, the airline says it will "arrange for accommodations, meals and transportation if needed." Instead the boy was left alone to sleep in a chair, according to QMI News Agency. Air Canada does offer what they call an "Unaccompanied Minor service", where for $100, parents or guardians can leave children in the care of a staff member who will escort the child from when they arrive at the airport until they reach their destination.

The boy's mother decided not to opt into the service, as the 13 year old has travelled from Toronto to Saint John, N.B. alone before, notes the CBC. The response from the airline says the incident is regrettable, but showcases why parents may want to buy into the service in the first place.

“This is a very unfortunate situation, but it underscores the value of our unaccompanied minor service, which the parents in this case elected not to purchase,” wrote Isabelle Arthur, Air Canada spokeswoman in an e-mail addressed to QMI News Agency.

A service charge to have staff watch over unaccompanied minors is fairly standard in the airline industry. Airlines like United, WestJet and British Airways all have a similar service, but the rules and conditions vary.

For parents concerned for the safety of their children flying alone, there's a few things they can do, says Veda Shook, the Portland-based international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, like arriving early at the airport, flying only on non-stop flights and knowing the limits of flight attendants. She adds there's some things the adult picking up the child must do as well.

"You have to have that ID to sign off for the child," Shook said in an interview with Oregon Live. Parents should also tell whoever will pick up your child that unaccompanied minors are the last passengers off the plane. "They'll be escorted off by the flight attendant."

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