How did three children manage to buy tickets and board a Southwest airliner from Jacksonville to Nashville last Tuesday without identification or parental permission? That’s the question on many parents’ minds as the incident begins to get the sort of publicity you might expect.
The three—ages 15, 13, and 11—apparently had $700 in babysitting earnings, took a taxi to the airport, and managed to buy the tickets and get through security without showing I.D. Their goal was to visit Dollywood, but when they arrived in Nashville and discovered that the amusement park was several hundred miles further away, they became disenchanted by their escapade and phoned a relative, who paid for their return airfare.
Surprisingly, no laws or airline policies were violated. According to Southwest’s policy on child passengers, anyone 12 or older can purchase a ticket and travel without an adult, and anyone under 12 can travel with someone over 12 without being subject to unaccompanied minor rules. “We aren’t going to change our policy,” said Ashley Dillon, a Southwest spokesperson. “People like the fact that a 16-year-old can travel with a 9-year-old sibling and go visit Grandma.”
Equally surprising is that TSA security checkpoints have a policy that allows travelers without I.D. to pass through the checkpoint if they can otherwise verify who they are. And children aren’t even required to do that much. Passengers without I.D. may be subject to additional screening, like pat-downs or hand-checking of carry-ons.
And yet alarm bells should have been ringing like Notre-Dame Cathedral on Bastille Day. Three young kids on their own paid cash for one-way tickets without having any I.D., and no one thought to question them. Or even ask if their parents knew where they were. Obviously, if nothing else, there was a serious breach of common sense.
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also the international editor at Travel + Leisure.