An item on last night’s news told of how an unaccompanied 11-year-old child, without benefit of identification, ticket or boarding pass, was able to pass through a UK airport’s entire security network and board a plane bound for Italy. It made me wonder about all of the energy that our clients put into obtaining proper travel authorizations for their travelling children!
As everyone knows, or thinks they know, some form of written permission is required whenever a child is travelling by air or internationally, and not in the company of both parents. The underlying concept is to provide some assurance to the airline or border crossing guard that the child in question is legally in the custody of the accompanying adult and is not being abducted.
An inquiry from a client, whose teenage daughter was about to travel internationally unaccompanied, lead us to turn our mind to what the true requirements for parental consent in such circumstances are. I know that I used to travel internationally quite routinely from age 15 onwards, with nary a whiff of parental consent, but I suppose those were simpler times (and how far can you get in a bi-plane anyway?).
The problem begins with the fact that there are no rules per se about what is required in the nature of the travel authorization, and there are no prescribed or statutory forms, so everyone is pretty well left to their own devices. Many parents arrive at our office with a hand-scrawled note, which we duly notarize. Pity they didn’t take the time to visit our website, since we have created a downloadable form, which includes information that we think a proper authorization should have.
We are often asked to give our opinion as to whether a particular form of authorization will be adequate, and unfortunately, and to the frustration of our clients we have to demur, there is no prescribed form and no benchmark as to what constitutes a proper travel authorization. One government website offers a curious form of authorization that doesn’t appear to require notarization by the authorizing parents, but does require the signature of the accompanying adult, resulting in at least one missed flight, when an airline attendant refused to accept an authorization without the embossed notarial seal.
Part of the problem is that the gatekeepers of the system are not government agents but rather the airlines, who are tasked with verifying the identities and status of all of their passengers, so the person scrutinizing the travel authorization is not a government official, but rather a harried airline stewardess trying to quickly embark an unruly mob of tourists onto aircraft.
So where does that leave our unaccompanied teenager about to embark on a solo adventure in Europe? Well frankly we are not sure; legally she should be good to go – she has a passport and is old enough to fly unaccompanied according to airline regulations, but can she (and need she) convince the airline clerk at the boarding gate that her parents have authorized the trip? We erred on the side of caution and notarized the authorization.