Have your children ever flown solo? For many families who live, work and study across different countries it is an everyday reality. Air France are a company of reference for kids flying solo, they look after over 300,000 unaccompanied minors a year, more than any other airline. Having made her very first flight as an overexcited and slightly nervous unaccompanied minor, Penny jumped at the chance to travel to Charles De Gaulle Airport Paris to walk through the Air France Solo Kids service.
Over on Penny’s blog, parentshaped, you can walk through her experience and read her personal perspective, here she interviews Jean-François Darbier, Family and Special Needs Passengers Customer Experience Manager, about what parents can expect from the Kids Solo service.
1. As parents we often feel nervous about leaving our children in the care of others, especially for the first time. What is the best thing you can say to reassure someone feeling apprehensive about letting their children fly unaccompanied? Why should we choose Air France?
Air France really do take care of everything, once you hand your child to us, they are continuously supervised and their comfort and safety ensured by staff. We have solutions to every issue and have thought through everything, our service is shaped by young people and by the trained staff who accompany over 300,000 of them each year. We find unaccompanied minors are generally much less afraid than their parents, even when flying for the first time, with Air France there is plenty of fun and distraction.
We know young people don’t like queues and that this can be a source of worry, so we fast track unaccompanied minors through security, passport control and boarding.
On intercontinental flights, whether your child flies with you, or flies solo, they can enjoy games, films, cartoons, radio programs for children, and receive fun gifts to play with. For children making journeys including transits, there is lots for children and young people to play with in our unaccompanied minors transit lounges. Sony Playstations, table football, books, magazines, children’s TV shows all help pass the time.
The rooms are designed to feel homely and child friendly. Our brand new lounge at Charles De Gaulle has bean bags and lots of tech charge points. We know children need regular healthy snacks and drinks to keep them going, we provide healthy meals and snacks, with organic ingredients where possible.
As the airline who carries the most children yearly, we are seen as a company of reference and are continually innovating with little but important details. We’ve even thought of providing USB charger points in the UM transit lounge at Charles De Gaulle, so that children don’t need to worry about adaptors for their tech and they can stay connected. Our staff devised and built their own computer programme to enable us to track all the children in our care, their movements and travel times, via a colour coded board. The new lounge has windows between all rooms making it easy for staff to monitor children and for children to nap, chill out or play without disturbing each other.
Unaccompanied minors often fly with siblings or with other unaccompanied minors, and we always find children deal brilliantly with the new adventure of flying solo together. Some of our unaccompanied minors have flown more than many adults, on a recent flight I took it was great to watch one young boy who had flown lots of times helping a fellow unaccompanied minor who had never flown before.
2. Can you describe to us a typical experience for an unaccompanied minor with Air France Kids Solo Service?
Parents bring their child to the airport check-in counter at least 30 minutes before the check-in deadline for the child’s flight. We provide a meeting time and place from which our staff will greet and escort your child to the aircraft, at Charles De Gaulle for example, this is a screened off lounge area in the arrivals hall. UM can be checked in online or at the airport. Our staff will provide continuous supervision and ensure your child’s comfort and safety at all times.
We ask that you check in any baggage item that your child cannot carry on his or her own.
Parents are required to wait until they receive our text message confirming the actual departure of their child’s flight before leaving the airport. If the flight is cancelled, you may need to stay with your child while waiting for the new flight. The person designated to pick up your child will also receive a text confirming the estimated arrival time.
Upon arrival, your child exits the aircraft after the other passengers. A member of our staff accompanies your child to the person designated for pick-up or to the UM transit lounge if your child has a transfer. This person receives an SMS confirming the flight’s estimated arrival time. This person must arrive at the airport with valid photo ID.
3. What’s your favourite part of your job?
Every day is new and involves meeting new people and new children. I love creating those magic travel moments. For example this summer I met with children travelling long haul on the last day of the school holidays. They were sad to be coming home and going back to school, but we suprised them with treats and big smiles. This was an idea suggested by a staff member in our call centre. The large number of young travellers, both travelling solo and with families is unique to Air France and our staff are always coming up with new ideas and distractions for them.
4. Can you give us a top tip when it comes to preparing a child for an unaccompanied flight?
Even better than one tip, check out the Unaccompanied Minors section of the Air France website, here parents and children can fully understand what will happen at each stage of the journey. Parents can use this handy reference to explain the process to their child and check they have prepared everything that is required, such as paperwork, luggage and meal requests.
5. What do you do to ensure that both children and parents are happy and have enjoyed their flight, solo and as a family?
As well as all the facilities and provisions you saw in your tour Penny, we take feedback very seriously, each year we carry out either an ‘Unaccompanied Minors’ or a ‘Family Travel’ survey with our passengers, this involves both quantitative surveying and qualitative interviews with 2000 travellers. We always take on suggestions and new ideas to help refine our service, although we are proud that in our 2015 survey 91% of children and 84% of parents would recommend Air France for unaccompanied minors.
Air France also provides assistance for children with disabilities or reduced mobility, some conditions apply. For more information, please contact Saphir, their service for passengers with reduced mobility.
Thanks for Jean-François for taking the time to explain Kids Solo. For more insights why not check out Penny’s walk through of the Kids Solo service here.