Air New Zealand doubles prices for unaccompanied minors

Air New Zealand has doubled its fees for unaccompanied children on flights.

For children aged between 5 to 16 the charge per one-way domestic flight rises to $30 (and $45 if not booked in advance) and on one-way international flights the charge rises to $80 and $120 if booked at the airport.

The children — unaccompanied minors — will now have to have a seat-plus-bag ticket on domestic flights and “the works” fares for international flights which typically costs $40 more than seat-only fares across the Tasman. The airline was also phasing out a fee-free trip after 10 flights for children.

Air New Zealand says its unaccompanied minors service had not risen in price since 2015 and the increase was justified.

Leanne Langridge, general manager customer, said it was still less than what other airlines charged and was not part of a move to increase the price of other ancillary services.

About 75,000 unaccompanied children travel on the airline every year.

“These are our most important customers in my view and keeping them safe is our number one priority.”

During the summer holidays the airline had set up a dedicated team of between 10 and 15 to look after the children through domestic and international terminals at Auckland.

The decision to require seats and a bag on domestic flights was taken because many children turned up with hand luggage which was too heavy for them to manage.

“What we were seeing was little kids turning up with carry-on bags which they couldn’t carry and the staff would have to get them to the aircraft and the crew would have to lift them into the overhead lockers. It makes the transition through the airport and on to the aircraft so much easier,” she said.

Seat-plus-bag fares typically add $20 to seat-only fares in domestic flights.

The requirement to pay for “works” tickets on international flights was for children’s welfare, Langridge said.

“What we saw was people booking kids on seat-only and the crew would have 15 to 20 unaccompanied minors on board without food. The poor little things were without any food.”

Last December the airline set up a dedicated unaccompanied minors’ squad to look after the increased number of young travellers to and from Auckland over the summer. After reviewing this squad and how well it was received throughout the summer, the airline is in the process of rolling this out to many other airports.

Langridge said many of the squad were students who went over and above their job.

A tracking device on kids’ wrists sends messages to a list of recipients at different stages of the journey and staff stay with them until the designated adult collects them.

“We’re very comfortable where we’ve landed with this. We see this as a justifiable charge — we have a lot of people who use this service and we’re proud to offer it.”

She said the unaccompanied children didn’t cause any problems. Many had become seasoned travellers.

“Kids are incredible, they’re resilient. Most of them know the gig, they’re moving between families — they’re geared up for the trip.”

The fee-free bonus trip for minors would be phased out over the next year and the airline would honour any in the system.

She said it was not well used and difficult to administer.

Qantas charges A$50 ($54) per unaccompanied minor (aged 5 to 15) per destination. The Australian airline charges A$90 on international flights.

Jetstar says on its website a young passenger is regarded as being able to travel independently if they are currently attending or enrolled in secondary school.

United Airlines charges US$150 ($209) for children aged 5-14 on one-way flights.

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