How would you react to finding your seatmate on a 12-hour flight to China is a talkative eight-year-old boy whose father had ditched him to go sit in business class?
Flyertalk member steveo posted the following question in the United forum:
Hi Flyertalk. Just got off [Chicago] to [Beijing] and to my delight I had a maybe [an] 8-year-old boy sitting next to me the whole flight while his dad was in Polaris. I had the distinct pleasure of entertaining this kid who wouldn’t shut up for 12-hours. Should I complain about this?
Short answer: yes.
Flight attendants appear to share blame here. Steveo added:
Just to clarify the dad was sending stuff back to the kid from Polaris; and the kid even told the flight attendants that his daddy was up in Polaris class.
They knew it wasn’t my kid.
This is was also one of the worst crews I’ve ever seen from United. For example they rammed a guy with their cart and yelled, “You need to keep out of the aisle” and the guy was like “are you even going to apologize?”
There’s two big issues here. First, the father’s actions. Is it appropriate for a father to ditch his young son on a long intercontinental flight? I tend to think the answer is no, though I may be singing a different tune when my son is eight. 😉
On a serious note, it does appear the father checked in on the son during the flight, but wouldn’t you want to fly with your child? Is entrusting him to the strangers seated next to him wise parenting?
The kid apparently talked for nine hours, eventually to himself after the seatmate put his headphones on and tried to sleep.
I mean, I can think of some ways to entertain the kid, but really…
Second, what is the responsibility of flight attendants in this case? According to United rules, a child is PERMITTED to travel in a different cabin than his guardian or parent…but will be considered an unaccompanied minor.
Unaccompanied Minor means a Child/Minor 5 to 14 years of age when traveling alone or not accompanied on the same flight and in the same compartment by a companion Passenger at least 18 years of age or with a Legal Guardian or parent.
While we don’t know for sure whether dad paid the unaccompanied minor fee, I suspect not because the child was left alone after landing and the father had to go back and get him. Had the boy been an official unaccompanied minor, he would have not have been left alone after landing.
Earlier this week I wrote about a couple in New Orleans traveling with their granddaughter who was detained because a fellow passenger thought they appeared suspicious. What about this flight? Here a father ditches his son for 12 hours. Isn’t that more suspicious than two men traveling with a girl? Or is that just more commonplace than I think?
In some ways, I’d love it if my eight-year-old son was able to travel alone without any issues. But even if he was able, I would not want to separate from him on such a long international flight.
The poor man next to the boy should not have been subjected to nine hours of “entertaining” the little fellow. At the same time, a complaint to the FA or request for re-seating may have solved the issue.
One of my best experiences on a flight where I was upgraded to first was being seated next to a nine-year-old whose parents were a row away. For real! Delightful kid, and he and I chatted most of the way. His parents checked in to make sure he wasn’t bothering me, and I told them no, he was great! I feel like business class or first class is mostly wasted on little kids (especially the free booze) but if they enjoy it, no problem.
I know when I’ve been traveling and get upgraded, a travel companion has gotten upgraded, too. (That’s probably space dependent.) Did the dad get a last-minute upgrade and decide to take it? Or did he intentionally book himself and the kid in different cabins?
When I was 7 I flew by myself four times a year back and forth between my parents. Glad I never sat next to someone bitching about how talkative I was.
Didn’t you ditch your kid in a hotel room to eat at a restaurant?
I didn’t dump him on someone else to take care of. He was sleeping.
I’m glad you didn’t subject the first class passengers to a kid especially in first or business class. Sounds like your kid is maybe not one of the kicking screaming nightmares people are sick of
Yikes! You left your sleeping kid alone while you went out to eat? I would have worried that he or she might have woken up alone and scared to death. Glad it turned out OK, but I couldn’t have done it and been relaxed enough to enjoy a meal. Guess I watch too many news programs.
We had a baby monitor and were just downstairs.
Does he get a Sky Kit?
Maybe not when he’s 8 but you bet if the kid is at least a teen. My kid haven’t done shit to deserve to be flying in business. If they want to fly in business class, work and earn it.
I see you have lots of love for your kid, Ron. Maybe you can teach him to be a good human, good humans always deserves business.
This story has me thinking of George Costanza in first class saying: “was that wrong?”
I hope he’s not expecting a nice gift next father’s day.
Have totally seen this on a international flight. There were six adults up with us in business and a handful of their kids back in coach. How did I know this? The ENDLESS stream of kids coming back and forth to talk to their parents it was ridiculous. It would never even occur to me to dump my kid in coach and ride up front. Who does that?!
Kids are smaller and can handle the economy class better than adults. That seat is paid for, so whoever sits there is none of your business.
You’re just jealous you are not sitting in the nice reclining seat up front and eating meals on fine china.
I agree with Chuck, the ability to justify younger ‘self managing’ children sitting up in the pointy end of the plane is difficult, especially when they are perfectly happy to be eating economy food in economy seats.
We have done this when travelling as a family with the three children able to team up ok in Economy /Coach class.
In saying this, there is a question of unaccompanied minor status, especially in this case where a young child is sitting completely alone.
Years ago, a couple used miles for First and planted their eight and ten-year-old daughters in Business. After take-off mom demanded the kids come up front and stand in the aisle, expecting us to feed them the same menu as their parents. I suggested we could not entertain visitors from another cabin, that Business was not full and I’d gladly arrange for everyone to sit together there. Mom threw a screaming tirade and said she’d “have my job.” I reported them to our frequent flier staff and never heard another word.
Was I right for wrong to insist two kids couldn’t just stand and eat in First Class?
Good for you! I really don’t have a problem with kids separated from their parents on a flight if the kids behave and the kids’ behavior is often a matter of the parents’ expectations. The mother expecting you to feed her kids with meals in a class they didn’t pay for and you weren’t provisioned for was simply ridiculous. I hope the FF department told the couple in question their patronage is no longer desired.
First of all, hats off for the dad to put his kid in economy rather than spoil the kid in first class. Also, travelling alone gives the kid valuable exposure. Agree, if the person seated next to the child looks dicey, use your judgement to make sure the kid is safe.
It’s a sad state of affairs when pretty much any acknowledgement of the presence of a child by an adult male can be, often IS, taken as potential pedophile interest. It’s one factor in the extreme difficulty in attracting males to train as elementary/primary teachers.
Had I been seated next to this kid, I would have set him to work organising my IPad and other complex IT problems. It’s amazing just how much they know about such things.
Oh, Paolo. The main reason we can’t attract males to elementary school is that the pay is too low. And the pay is low because mostly women teach elementary school. Catch 22. But, it IS sad indeed that men are viewed as potential pedophiles.
So you are upset because you were in cattleclass and the boy’s father was up front? Get over your petit sorrow and act just as if an adult decided to talk to you for 9 hours. Earplugs or headphones and a sincere, “I am not a available now” does wonders. Stop being a victim. If the kid was up front and the dad was next to you doing the same… you would be fine, right? Life… live your own!
I don’t get why this is a big deal, I was in economy many times while my parents flew in first. You’re all on the same plane, it’s not like you’re going anywhere. Pop cilte reference: the parents also did this in Home Alone.
Yes, but the little guy (had he made his flight) would have with all his older siblings.
Is this news? My parents did this for my family and no one batted an eyelash back in the 90s. But I guess when you’re desperate for content/relevance…
Not a very nice comment Charles. Consider my blog like your Amtrak trip reports. The content may not always be useful, but it is enjoyable to write…thanks for reading.
No one forced you yo talk to the kid , tell him you are tired and go to sleep .
Also his dad’s body needed a bigger seat ,kids don’t mind flying economy.
Really,really redundant article.
Matthew, I am surprised by some of the snarky responses. Sounds like your followers include a good number of non-parents or bad parents. Of course an 8-year old should not be sitting alone…in any cabin. As you noted, it is contrary to United’s own rules. If he had been booked as an unaccompanied minor, he would have a conspicuous lanyard around his neck, and he probably would have been seated in the bulkhead, where the FAs could regularly check on him. Sadly, some parents cannot stand to be around their own children. When my two daughters were little, we flew fairly often. I would always sit with them in economy, and put my wife up in Biz/First, because nobody deserves it more than she. Keep up the good work!
Absolutely inappropriate for the dad. Absolutely, if an 8 year old is flying alone (and with dad in a separate cabin and barely checking on him, yes, he’s flying alone), then they should be a UM. I get that there are some 8-year-olds (though probably a very limited amount, in general) who could take care of themselves, but probably not ona flight that long, and the assumption, that they can’t is the right one. This is why airlines require kids that age be UMs. What should have happened, since the FAs knew this all along, is they should have treated said kid as a UN, providing the same service as any other, etc. and then UA should have billed the father the UM charge, plus a penalty fee for not reporting his kid as such.
The blabbing of the kid is a bit of an aside, because I’ve seen adults do that, too. But what if there was a real issue. Who is responsible for the kid?
So let’s say, god forbid, there is an emergency, and the masks come down. Who is supposed to be responsible for this child? Or is he supppsed to fend for himself. Dad isn’t able to help the kid. Would you trust random pax to help them?
Sorry, dad is clearly in the wrong here, and I feel bad for the kid here.
Daughter is 11 and we’re going to start doing this, no question. Not going to deprive ourself or (overly) spoil her
Of course you wouldn’t want to “deprive” yourself. Just shove your brat back of the bus and let strangers take care of them, eh? Contemptible.
Hello this is SteveO from Flyertalk. Thanks for writing about my ordeal putting up with this kid for 12 hours from Ord to Pek. Tuning the kid out was really tough because the IFE was not working, and the flight attendants did not give a damn. I did complain to United and they completely ignored me! No compensation or even sympathy.
My wife and I we’re talking about this not long ago. In our opinion 8yr is too young for this scenario but pre-teen and teenager on a long haul? We would do the same not only for our comfort as we get older but also in our minds biz travel is something you should earn.
I feel exactly the same, 8 is too young. 11 and older? You bet you’re flying coach, it’s a pretty sweet deal for them to vacation for free already.
The author has absolutely no touch with reality. He may make plenty of money. People can work years even 10 years to earn points needed for an upgrade to business class. My business class upgrade took about six years to get the points as I don’t use that many credit cards. There is nothing zero zip wrong with leaving the kids in coach if they are mature. It’s a complete waste putting that child in business class. It’s amazing how the author doesn’t give us a news story. Rather he just gives us of view piece. Please don’t write stories unless you actually want to write about something real. Don’t try to defend yourself. That would be sad. As Trump says, FAKE NEWS.
Ketch, you and several people having stated that there’s no problem if the kid is mature. The whole point of the story is that he wasn’t. You have no touch with reality, don’t try to defend yourself, that would be sad, FAKE HUMAN.
You are one too, idiot ：）
thats normal and we do it every time because we are old and we can’t set on economy class for long time but the kids they are happy and in one day we will book for them on business
Terrible father…. when i was 14 i flew with my parents to Beijing from Paris. my father was upgraded to first class because we had a booking problem caused by our long surname. unfortunately my mother got a seat far from mine. after take off my father discovered that there were two empty paired seats on economy. so he returned in economy class to fly next to me. i think that parents have to fly in the same cabins with their children. when you are a parent your main business should be to take care of your children and spend the time with them…
Can you even get a free upgrade into Polaris? I thought that was United’s elite, premium service. If this dad purchased himself a premium seat and planned on leaving his kid to the care of strangers that’s super entitled. I’m an educator and kids this age have short attention spans and lots of energy. That kid should have been packed up with a bag of about 8 million options to keep him entertained during a 13 hour flight. Also from a safety perspective, it’s not a good idea to leave your kid unsupervised for this period of time. One in six boys are sexually abused. Do you really want to trust that your kid’s potential seatmate is not a pervert with those kinds of statistics?
About six years ago, I flew from Europe home to the US, and there was a man that ditched his kids to go sit in business class. He boarded with the families that have smaller children (these kids were about 5 & 7ish), and stayed with them until most everybody was boarded. He sat in the seat next to them until that passenger arrived. Then, he whispered something to them, and left to go sit in business class. He was luckily, within eyesight of his kids, but he promptly went to sleep and left the kids very much unattended. The flight attendant thought the kids belonged to the family next to them. With an overnight flight, we had an “interesting” experience, since the kids were not that great about going to sleep, played their devices without earphones until they were told to use earphones, and just were too young to know appropriate airplane etiquette. I don’t blame the kids for being annoying. They were trying to be good, and honestly didn’t make any disturbance besides playing their video and giggling a lot. However, I was severely disappointed in their dad, who made no attempt to make sure the kids were okay until about 30 minutes before arriving, when he came back to check on them. I was also disappointed in the flight attendants for not really doing anything, either, except their normal duties. We were a row behind them, so we could see the family next to them trying to help them with locating earphones, and with the snacks that were delivered.
I will absolutely ditch my kid for business class. He is not a baby, he is paying full fare as an adult. I will subject this situation as to any other adults drinking too much and talking too loud on the plane. You can fully eye roll however you want, but that kid is fine by himself. What about the parent sitting 10 rows behind him, would that make any difference? It has nothing to deal with class at all.
Lets all try to be rational…what sort of terrible things are going to happen on a plane at 38,000 feet, staffed by attendants and with the father 75 feet away. When I was 8 I walked 2 mikes to school alone I, the winter…no wolves are me. I have a son who flies with me, has since he was five. We have been separated a few times..and he was just as happy…actually..he felt like a big boy. Time to start teaching kids independence, not dependence. Otherwise expect the worse.
We seem to have two opposing views here.
1. Condemn the Dad for bad parenting.
2. The Father earned his polaris seat the kid didn’t.
However I believe the issue here is who ultimately looked after the child’s needs,
the flight attendants? not so much, well to be fair he is one of hundreds passengers.
The father? apparently not.
The passenger sitting beside the child? perhaps
Clarity from the airline on their policys to everyone and an apology to the passenger sitting beside the kid would be a good start.
For the Dad I would say kids have very good memories and they never let you forget your errors.
from a Dad and experienced flyer
I’m just trying to get my head around why anyone but a masochist would book a long-haul international flight on United.
We see the problem here. The people defending irresponsible parenting.
I always was taught YOU sacrifice ALL for your kids. That means sitting with them in coach.
It is not society’s responsibility to raise YOUR offspring. You made that decision, parent up and deal with it. Do not dump them on others while you are relaxed in business or first. That is just RUDE, spoiled, entitled behavior.
I suppose all those supporting this bad behavior are the ones doing it. There is this mindset that they need to pamper themselves over the needs of the child. If you want your kids along for the trip, then SUFFER with them. Make the personal sacrifice. Spend some quality time with them.
Another benefit is it builds character, something obviously lacking by many here!
So the seat is “paid for”, but the exhausting chatter and non-stop activity of a kid — especially on an international flight — that is definitely NOT paid for. How the parents come by their FC seats is irrelevant. Their kids are THEIR responsibility and no one else’s. It seems typical today for parents to foist their parenting duties on others. If they don’t know any better, the FA’s should, and they should have tried to ameliorate the extreme imposition of having an unaccompanied 8 year old next to a passenger for 17 hours. Shame on the parents, and shame on the attendants. Airlines need to devise a policy that respects the right of a passenger to to fly in peace, free of responsibility for other passengers’ kids.
Consider if the flight had an emergency or crashed; WHO would be responsible for taking care of the little brat?
IT was and IS the FATHER’S OBLIGATION to sit near his child and to be ready to care for him in an emergency; suppose the cabin depressurized, who is responsible for the oxygen mask on the kid; The STRANGER next to him or the Parent.
Sounds to me like the parent is nothing more than a greedy pig and total idiot; Hope his kid ignores HIM when he is an old senile cripple in a old peoples care center.
What an interesting topic and boy has it elicited a range of views!
As an older father of a 7 year-old, I have a very strong sense of wanting to ensure the wellbeing of my daughter. Similarly, I also need my comfort and conveniences on long(er) flights ( I always travel biz or first when flying solo long haul ).
On family trips, I take the view that the family is a “team” and I dont want my teammates having to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, so that means that – ceteris paribus – we all fly the same class. If I dont have sufficient points or there are not enough (reward) seats in biz (or first) to do so , we would all fly premium economy. If that wasn’t available for the planned flight, I’d rework the schedule/itinerary until I could achieve one of the above.
At some future point, I’m sure I’ll feel sufficiently more relaxed about my daughters well being to allow for some degree of separation between her and my wife and I. When that will be I dont know. What I do know is that right now, I want to spend as much time with her as possible as we dont have it to share indefinitely.
When we (my mum, sister, brother-in-law, twin nieces who were probably 11 and I) flew from Rome to Halifax, my sister and her husband sat in first class. Mum and I sat with the girls. Now, personally, I think we adults should have switched seats halfway through but, really can’t complain since my bil had paid for our seats AND just taken us on a 2 week cruise around the Amalfi Coast and multiple islands on his family’s yacht.
Best paid babysitting gig ever. Not to mention, my nieces are awesome company (they are now 16 and still great company).