Monday, July 16, 2007

stupid parent tricks

I know we're in the middle of my two-part series on airports, but we're interrupting that to discuss an outrageous case of parental neglect and irresponsibility. It also has a link to aviation, so I am kind of staying on topic.

Perhaps you have already heard about siblings Blake and Briana Sims. The 15-year-old boy and his 10-year-old sister were flying unaccompanied from one parent's home in Dothan, Ala. to the other parent's home in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Along the way, they missed their connecting flight in Salt Lake City, where they were marooned for nearly 24 hours with no supervision. Cue the hysterical mother, Adriana Ables. Read the complete story in today's Salt Lake Tribune for full background.

As a preface, I'd like to think there aren't many people who are more critical of the airline industry than myself. I've made all the requisite jokes about flying U.S. Scare and how Delta stands for Doesn't Ever Leave The Airport. I penned this furious missive to United Airlines. (Scroll down to June 17, 2002). I've written numerous other angry letters to Continental, Frontier, and still more to United.

Mrs. Ables described an experience that was "beyond incompetence," words that I probably have used myself to articulate airline travel. Except in this case, this person should have been describing her parenting skills, not the airlines.

She clearly has no concept of accountability.

From the very beginning of her children's ordeal, she showed extraordinary lapses in judgment and indifference toward the transport of young Blake and Briana. She deserves the blame she is so vocally directing at the airlines.

Let's look through the facts here. According to the Trib:
Ables' ex-husband, who purchased the tickets for almost $2,000, said his Alabama travel agent explained he didn't need to pay an extra $75 fee for unaccompanied-minor service for Briana because Blake was older than 12.
Except they did need to pay for the service. Delta policy clearly states any unaccompanied child under 15 must have purchased the service. It is the airline's safeguard to prevent just the sort of calamity that followed when the Ables/Sims family skirted the policy.

This willful disregard started the chain of errors that led to Blake and Briana checking into a SLC hotel by themselves.

I don't know if the family ignored the policy to save the $75 fee -- essentially trading their children's security for spare cash -- or if their claims their travel agent misinformed them are true. Either way, this is not Delta's fault.

Errors: Family 1, Delta 0.

The next moronic mistake came when the children were booked on flights that gave them only a 28-minute window to connect in Salt Lake City. That's a Mission Impossible squeeze for most adults. Chances are there's going to be a delay. If the travel agent chose those flights, the parents should have immediately objected. Do these parents have their head in the tarmac?

Errors: Family 2, Delta 0.

The flight from Salt Lake City to Fairbanks that was to take the Sims children home was the last flight of the day. Luckily, Delta has guidelines in place to prevent unaccompanied minors from being booked on the last flight of the day, thus preventing them from being stranded in a connecting city. A pragmatic fail-safe. But wait, the parents flouted that rule. How was Delta supposed to know?

Errors: Family 3, Delta 0.

Sure enough, the plane is leaving Atlanta more than two hours late due to high winds. Here is the part of parental stupidity that really gets me. Blake dutifully calls home from the plane on the ATL tarmac to report they are ready to depart after the two-hour delay.

Does Mom put two and two together and say to herself, 'Hey, if they are delayed two hours in Atlanta, I guess that 28-minute window in Salt Lake City is going to be a wee bit of a problem?' Of course she doesn't. She's a moron. An absolute imbecile. Her quote on that phone call: "He said, 'We are OK, but we'll be late.' It didn't occur to me that they were going to be stuck in Salt Lake."

Well, lady, it should have occurred to you. Too bad Delta doesn't have a policy against stupidity.

Errors: Family 4, Delta 0.

When the flight arrived in SLC, 30-something passengers were re-booked on flights after missing their connections, including Blake and Briana, who stood in line with the rest of the crowd and received their hotel and food vouchers.

They took the shuttle bus to the hotel, checked into their room with a credit card, and ordered food. Let's look at that another way: The airline provided them with transportation, food and lodging, the kids never telling the agent or hotel they were in over their heads -- and only calling home to mom when they were waiting in line for the shuttle bus.

No errors here. The airline provided its passengers with exactly what it should have.

I might remind you the older brother is 15. As one reader pointed out in the comments of the story, this kid is going to be driving a car next year. The circumstances are unusual and admittedly not ideal, but I think he's old enough to handle them. Hell, at 15, I was booking my own trips to Cleveland so me and my dad could fly out for Browns games. Pops VFR went on the trip, but left all the reservations and planning to me.

Which brings me to another point. Pops? Mom? You were sending your kids on a three-legged journey -- Dothan to Atlanta, Atlanta to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Fairbanks -- that spans the continent. I'm sorry you felt the urge to divorce and move halfway around the world from each other, but for an undertaking of this size, one of you should have made the trip with the kids, especially if you were already worried about them fending for themselves, although obviously not to a point where you would chalk up the extra $75 for that protection.

Errors: Family 5, Delta 0.

The kids handled the day just fine, watching TV and eating pizza in their room. Mom, on the other hand, was busy flying off the handle, blaming the airline for her own poor parenting skills and summoning a lawyer.

Short of outright physical abuse, I cannot imagine a worse parent. She took no interest in the kids' travel plans until something went wrong, after deliberately ignoring all the safeguards designed to stop just such a goof.

She sounds like the type of mom who blames the teachers when her kids get bad grades at school, the type who blames everyone but herself for the circumstances that she is 100 percent accountable for.

Mrs. Ables, an airline is not a babysitter, nor a parent. Those roles falls squarely on your shoulders. If you are unable to properly care for your children, I suggest you contact your local Division of Youth and Family Services, if a Delta representative has not already deservedly done so.

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