Thursday's Style Plus story on children traveling by air should have stated that the Department of Transportation has joined with the National Child Safety Council, the airline industry and air travel organizations in publishing the pamphlet "Kids & Teens in Flight."
There was the fastidious little girl who, having introduced her Cabbage Patch doll to the flight crew, rang the attendant's call bell at regular intervals after takeoff to pass off her doll's "dirty diapers."
And the boy who snuck a live chipmunk on board in a paper bag. A few deft chews and the animal was out, scampering up and down the packed plane, now at cruising altitude. It took the anxious crew 20 minutes to restore order and contain the creature in an airsickness bag.
But the zinger was the boy who locked himself in the toilet at the rear of the plane and held up takeoff while crew members pleaded with him to come out. The problem? The drawstring had become knotted on his jogging pants, and he couldn't pull them back up. A male flight attendant finally got him to open the door and escorted the 10-year-old, wrapped in a blanket, back to his seat.
Airline industry spokesmen insist these incidents are the exception when handling children flying alone. Nonetheless, flight crews are learning it's a good idea to expect the unexpected when dealing with junior flyers. And they're getting plenty of opportunity.
A record number of children are flying alone this year -- half a million or more this summer, according to the National Child Safety Council, prompting greater government and airline industry concern for preventing mishaps and beefing up service and safety.
In the peak summer season, the number of children flying alone is up 25 percent over last year on some airlines, with Continental, for example, averaging 800 children a day systemwide, and United 500 a day at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport alone.
Among the reasons for the rush: fare wars and divorce. Says Nancy Pond-Smith, coordinator of special projects at Continental and a flight attendant for 19 years, "The cost of flying is less; more families are divorced and living apart; in a lot of families, both parents are working, so they send the kids off to camp for the summer or to see the grandparents." Today's young people also show a space-age nonchalance about a form of travel that was exotic for children a generation ago and almost unheard of for children a generation before that.
"Kids have grown up with it," says Charles Novak, manager of corporate communications at United. "They're very blase' about it . . . At least, they appear to be blase'."
"I was not scared," says Andy Pressman, 6, of Rockville, about his flight alone last year from Washington to New York to join his grandparents for a trip to Disney World. "I got as many Cokes as I wanted."
Julian Duggin, 8, and his sister Tiffany, 13, of Malvern, Pa., have been flying on their own for the past few summers to visit grandparents in Mobile, Ala. "They love to fly," says their mother Diane Duggin. Julian, a shy soon-to-be third-grader, says, "I like sitting next to the window and looking out the plane."
For some children, flying alone -- especially on East and West Coast divorce routes -- is evidence of family disintegration. "I personally think it's very sad," says Edith Hitchcock, a reservations agent for Pacific Southwest Airlines. "It upsets me when I have to make a reservation to shuttle them back and forth between parents."
In at least one case, airline staffers had to counsel a distressed child en route from one parent to live with the other. And in another reported incident, a parent couldn't complete an airline ID form for her child because she didn't know her ex-spouse's phone number at the other end.
Fortunately, there have been no tragedies to date -- no children lost. Misplaced briefly, perhaps, but not lost.
But the Department of Transportation's Intergovernmental and Consumer Affairs Division has received about 30 complaints from parents concerning their children's air travel experiences. A California couple went to one airport to meet their grandson while, unknown to them, the 6-year-old waited anxiously at another, 75 miles away. An 8-year-old New Yorker, flying to Florida, was mistakenly left alone by flight attendants at the Florida lounge when the people scheduled to meet her failed to show up on time. In rare instances -- some involving reroutings in bad weather -- employes at American and United have even taken children home to spend the night with them until friends or family could arrive. "We're not uncaring, you know," says United's Novak.
Still, the situation is not ideal -- for parents or airlines. "We're hoping a heightened awareness will help prevent the few complaints we get," says Allaire Williams, DOT's deputy director of consumer affairs. "It's an emotional issue. It's not like losing a bag . . . I still think air travel is the safest form of sending a child."
To help maintain that standard -- and compete for a share of the profitable kiddie market -- a number of airlines have found new ways to improve comfort and security.
Continental, Western and Ozark have opened supervised children's waiting rooms at their major hubs, some of them equipped with games, toys and televisions. Some airlines, including American, Delta and Continental, have printed their own guides to parents of children traveling alone. Continental enrolls young flyers at no extra cost in its Young Travelers Club. Membership entitles children to cards on their birthdays and a sweat shirt after two flights.
Meanwhile, government and the industry have begun calling for greater parental cooperation -- notifying airlines in advance of their children's travel plans, arriving at least an hour ahead of flight time, completing required identification forms and guaranteeing a child will be met promptly on arrival. A public service announcement just filmed by Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole asks parents for help. DOT has also joined with NCSC and Continental in publishing a pamphlet, "Kids & Teens in Flight," with tips for parents of young flyers. And they have drawn up what they hope will become an industry-wide ID form for traveling children.
The new form, which must be completed by a parent or guardian in advance of a flight, asks the child's name and flight information as well as the name, address and phone number for both the person placing the child on the flight and the person meeting the child. Many airlines will not accept an unaccompanied child as a passenger unless this information is complete, says Continental's Pond-Smith. Airlines participating in the ID program so far include Continental, Pan Am, TWA, Piedmont, Delta, Midway, America West and United, according to NCSC consultant Barbara Wyatt. Other airlines still prefer to go it alone.
But some general policies are standard throughout the industry. Children unaccompanied by an adult pay full adult fare. They must be at least 5 years old. Children age 5 through 7 are permitted on nonstop or direct flights only and may not change planes. Some airlines -- including United, American and Continental -- charge an additional $20 for assistance to children making flight connections. Some, such as Delta, have no extra charge. Assistance is also available to older children upon request.
Susan Morse is a Washington writer.