Transport companies watch out for children Care: Kids, especially those traveling alone, get watchful treatment on planes, trains and buses.

June 09, 1996|By Naedine Joy Hazell | Naedine Joy Hazell,HARTFORD COURANT

Travel providers say that although they have cut costs, they have not cut corners when it comes to caring for children, especially those traveling alone.

Recognizing that nothing can take the fun out of a vacation like anxiety, a handful of airlines and some airports have even created children-friendly areas or programs.

For example, if you are flying in or out of Boston with children, visit Kidport, Logan Airport's free play area for youngsters at Terminal C. It includes climbing toys such as pretend airplanes and cars and tables full of Legos and blocks.

Delta has reopened its Dusty's Dens in major airports for families with children or for children traveling alone. The dens include games, computers, books and videos.

Air Canada has play areas for its Skyriders -- all passengers ages 4 to 12 can join the free club -- in the Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Edmonton airports.

Or, if you are passing through Pittsburgh Airport, look for USAir's day-care/play area.

Of concern to airlines, bus lines and train operators are unaccompanied minors.

They all have policies limiting the age and conditions under which a child can travel alone and policies for how to handle these younger customers.

Staffers are particularly attentive to children traveling alone or with families, most travel providers say.

"We will do whatever we have to do to keep that child occupied and amused," said David Castelveter, director of public relations for USAir.

Staffers keep careful track of children traveling alone, sometimes taking them to airport lounges during layovers, said Castelveter. "Our flight attendants have a tremendous understanding for this level of discomfort, and they take them up to see the captain or the cockpit. They spend time with them."

Gary Grulich, customer-relations employee for Southwest Airlines, says children must be at least 5 years old to fly alone on Southwest, and they can travel only on direct or nonstop flights.

Most airlines charge an escort fee for unaccompanied minors.

Like most travel providers, Southwest requires that parents or guardians of an unaccompanied child provide their names, addresses and telephone numbers to the carrier as well as the same information from the people who will meet the child at the end of the trip. They will not release the child to anyone other than the people identified.

Amtrak allows minors ages 8 to 11 to travel alone if the trip is made during the day and the station at both ends of the trip is open and staffed.

Maureen Garrity, spokeswoman for Amtrak, said that an employee talks with the child before the trip starts, warning them to stay in their seat, not to take out any money and to tell a conductor if anyone talks to them.

The social climate is such that Greyhound is re-examining its policy regarding unaccompanied minors, which is fairly complicated but allows minors 8 and older to travel alone with several restrictions.

"With how things are today we just feel that it is socially responsible for us to raise our age limit," said Amy Engler, a spokeswoman for the bus company.

Currently, any child under 8 must be accompanied on Greyhound trips. An unaccompanied child between 8 and 12 can take a trip that is five hours or less, occurs during daylight hours and does not involve transfers.

Southwest Airlines, which relies on its attendants to pay particular attention to unaccompanied minors, allows them to board the plane early and to sit up front.

Some airlines offer even more. Once on board an American Airlines flight, for example, children can choose their meals from a children's menu and enjoy games and an audio channel with classic children's stories.

And some established air carriers go from nice to nifty in their treatment of young passengers.

Just as Air Canada has a Skyrider club for children, Delta has its Fantastic Flyers club .

Fantastic Flyers has more than 800,000 members from 155 countries. They receive a quarterly magazine, in-flight meals upon request, a poster, patches, stickers, an official membership card and an annual birthday card from Dusty the Delta Air Lion.

Newly enrolled members of the Fantastic Flyer program also receive discounts, coupons and other benefits during the year. To enroll, call (800) 392-KIDS if your child is between the ages of 2 and 12.

Skyriders get treated like VIPs from the moment they check in. They receive ID tags, log books, stickers and airport maps.

These young jet-setters also receive a travel logbook, an official travel certificate and, after the journey is over, the "Aerogram," a biannual newsletter for young jet-setters, and a personalized birthday postcard.

The program includes access to a library of children's books and games, an audio channel and videos and a menu featuring hamburgers, lasagna and chicken strips.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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