Airline junk fees come in all shapes and sizes, but this one may rank among the most bizarre. It comes to us by way of Andrea Hogan, who recently flew from Kauai to Dallas on Hawaiian Airlines.
"My eight-year old daughter and I had seats in first class, while my other two sons, ages 10 and 12, were in coach" she says. "My boys' seats were literally four rows away from mine with absolutely nothing dividing their seats from mine."
A Hawaiian gate agent told her it didn't matter. She had to pay a $100 "unaccompanied minor" fee.
Hawaiian insisted she pay more, even though she could see and supervise her boys.
Sure enough, that"s Hawaiian's policy.
Your child is an unaccompanied minor if he or she is:
5 to 11 years old, and traveling without a companion on the same domestic flight and in the same compartment who is 15 years of age or older, or traveling without a companion on the same international flight and in the same compartment who is 18 years of age or older.
So, no dividing the family between first and economy class.
On one level, that's an understandable policy. No one wants someone else's little keikis running around the main cabin and causing a ruckus. But what if there's no real partition between classes, and the parent can see their offspring? In other words, what if they are supervised?
"When the agent at the American check-in desk saw that I had paid an unaccompanied minor fee to Hawaiian she was shocked and said she had never heard of such a thing as having a parent on the same flight being forced to pay that fee," she says.
So Hogan did what any self-respecting passenger would do in that situation: She complained.
Here's what she wrote:
I was made to pay an unaccompanied minor fee for my child even though I was on the same flight. I was in seat 1A and he was in 12 A. There were 3 rows of first class and then his row was the 2nd row of coach directly behind first class. There was no divider between the cabins.
I do not feel your airline was just in charging me the $100 fee.
I have attached a picture of my child in the seat to show how close of contact I had during the entire flight. Please let me know what you can do to resolve this for me.
Here's the response:
We're sorry for any misunderstanding about our Unaccompanied Minor fees and when it would apply.
Although I understand you were on the same aircraft, since your child was seated in a different class/compartment (First Class vs. Coach Class), the Unaccompanied Minor fee would need to be assessed.
A child is considered an Unaccompanied Minor when he/she is not traveling with a companion on the same domestic flight, in the same compartment. Again, we apologize for any confusion regarding this policy.
As a "gesture of goodwill," the airline offered her a $50 ticket credit.
Hogan wasn't happy with that response. Here's her rejoinder:
I understand you have a policy. However, two things do not sit well with me.
First, the tickets should never have been able to be booked without paying the fee at the time of booking.
Second, even though two seats were coach and two were first, there was nothing separating the cabins. The separation came several rows after the coach seats my sons were in.
It is the most ridiculous thing ever that I could see my children the entire flight, yet had to pay $100 for someone else to watch them.
I do not want a travel credit. According to this policy, my other two seats could have actually been past the divider, yet I would not have had to pay anything because they would have all been in the same "class."
I want my money back.
But Hawaiian took a hard line:
We're sorry you disagree with our policy.
When booking a child through our website, there is an alert notice that's posted. This notice probably would not have alarmed you since you booked the same flight.
Currently, there is no partition between First Class and our upcoming Extra Comfort Seats. As we mention via our website, you paid for two separate classes of services, a First Class and a Coach Class seat, and the fee was charged correctly.
The travel credit was not intended to reimburse you for the fee, but as a courtesy to let you know we hear your concern. Regrettably, we are unable to provide you with a refund.
Hawaiian Airlines considers its decision to be fair and appropriate. Respectfully, this matter is considered closed.
I can see both sides of this. But the best airline policies are flexible and allow for some common sense.
By "flexible," I mean that they allow for waivers when parents are sitting close enough to their children so that they can reasonably supervise their kids. And by "common sense," I mean, do you really want to slap a first-class passenger with a fee like this? (Take a long view, Hawaiian. She's worth more in the long run if you just refund the entire $100 as a goodwill gesture.)
Still, rules are rules, and technically, Hawaiian's policy was correctly enforced. But is its policy right?
After you've left a comment here, let's continue the discussion on my consumer advocacy site or on Twitter, Facebook and Google. I also have a newsletter and you'll definitely want to order my new, amazingly helpful and subversive book called How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). Photo: Shutterstock