Alone, unaccompanied, and without ID, the oldest (15) took her $700 in babysitting money and let her 13-year-old friend choose a place.
Nashville it was! (Did I mention they brought an 11-year-old little brother along for the ride?)
Unquestioned, they took a taxi, purchased tickets, made it through security, flew two states away, and called their parents once they got there, stranded with $50 left in their pocket. Apparently $50 was not enough to get to Dollywood.
They said no one asked for identification -- not once.
Besides the horror and embarrassment I'm sure I would endure as a parent if these were my kids, I'm also at a loss for the security implications for domestic terrorism that these children exposed.
Apparently, I am not alone ...
The Seattle Times reports:
"In an age of heightened security and terrorism threats, some were concerned that three youngsters could so easily board an airline without parental consent."
Richard Bloom, an aviation security expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., said that while this incident amounted to a childhood jaunt, it highlights legitimate safety implications.
"The moral of the story is, at least in other parts of the world, young people are engaged in weapons, planting bombs, testing security," he said. "The point is terrorist groups, insurgent groups, other kinds of transnational groups, what have you, they read the papers, they watch TV, they look at the security lapses. And they take that information as they develop their own terrorist operations and anti-government operations."
TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz, however, dismissed the idea that children would have an easier time of getting weapons onto a plane than anyone else.
“Our mission is to make sure that all passengers, regardless of age, are screened thoroughly to make sure they don’t pose a threat to the aviation system.”
I agree with Mr. Bloom. I'm sure terrorist groups are already putting a scenario into their training for a teen bomber considering the lax -- dash that -- gaping holes in security.
Southwest Airlines, the teens' airline of choice for this trip, issued this statement: "Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor policy covers children from ages five through 11 traveling alone. In this case, the 11-year-old Customer was accompanied by two older companions. A 12-year-old passenger can travel alone without a parent. Many airlines have similar policies on minors traveling alone."
Ah...the Cure for Teenage Boredom These Days!Um ... "older companions" ... at thirteen and fifteen?
How is it I have to fill out huge permission slips for my kids to go to the local zoo on a school field trip, but they can fly across the country, unquestioned?
I find this is criminal negligence on behalf of TSA and the airline. What if these kids were abducted? What if they hadn't called home when they got there? What harm could have come to them without adult supervision in a strange city?
As a mother, I see huge problems with Southwest's policy -- not just for possible terrorism, but just for peace of mind that my own 14-year-old doesn't get just as bored and take off for Minnesota, Paris, Texas, or New York City. Without permission or ID.
I'm sure this story is spurring many a mischievous preteen mind as well as less benign terrorist-leaning teen minds as I write ...
In the meantime, what would you do if these were your kids? Grounded for life? Sue Southwest? Laugh it off as an adventure?
Image via by UJMi /Flickr