Metro-East News

Caseyville couple finds out the hard way how weather can affect kids flying alone

Allegiant Air helps MidAmerica one flight at a time

This video from February of 2018 shows Allegiant operations at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah.
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This video from February of 2018 shows Allegiant operations at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah.

It’s not unusual for airlines to keep unaccompanied minors off flights for weather-related reasons, but rescheduling can be tricky when dealing with small, low-cost carriers that fly less frequently.

Just ask Paul and April Durr.

The Caseyville couple spent hours Monday morning trying to figure out how to get their 17-year-old daughter, Marianne Fowler, home from Florida after she was prohibited from boarding an early morning Allegiant flight affected by a weather advisory.

”Somebody somewhere needs to address this issue and make sure it never happens again,” said Paul Durr, 43, an electrician and candidate for Caseyville Village Board.

Marianne eventually booked a flight to Bloomington late Monday afternoon, requiring her parents to make the five-hour round-trip drive instead of picking her up at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah as planned.

Allegiant spokeswoman Hilarie Grey said the airline was following a policy on travel by unaccompanied minors that’s stated on the company’s website and common in the airline industry.

”It’s all very straightforward, and it’s all for the safety and security of our passengers,” she said.

Marianne is a Collinsville High School graduate who spent two weeks with her great-grandmother in Florida. She was scheduled to leave St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport about 6:15 a.m. Monday and fly back to MidAmerica.

But the flight became affected by a weather advisory, and according to Allegiant policy, unaccompanied minors can’t travel on such flights.

“It could be headed into weather where there’s a chance that the flight could get diverted,” Grey said. “Our policy is to not carry people under 18 traveling alone when that’s the case because we wouldn’t want a minor to be stuck in an unfamiliar city.”

Allegiant Airlines is the only passenger carrier at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. A data analysis showed it had the worst in-flight mechanical failure record of the 11 largest airlines, with 12 failures per 10,000 flights. Zia Nizami

Allegiant has strict policy

Allegiant has a stricter-than-normal policy on children traveling without parents or guardians. Those 14 and under can’t do it at all. Ages 15 to 17 are subject to the rule involving weather advisories.

On Monday, Allegiant offered to book Marianne on its next available flight from St. Pete to MidAmerica, but that would have been Friday, four days later.

”We fly a little less frequently than other carriers,” Grey said. “That’s how we keep our prices low.”

Friday wasn’t going to work for the Durrs because they wanted Marianne home before Thursday, when her mother was scheduled for foot surgery.

Paul Durr said the couple gave permission for Marianne to board the weather-advised flight Monday with other passengers, but Allegiant officials wouldn’t allow it and declined to send her home on another airline.

“I’m not looking for a reprimand,” Durr said. “I just want to let parents know what’s going on. There could be other people out there that this has happened to.”

An Allegiant plane at MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah. BND file photo

Major airlines have similar rules

All airlines have different definitions and rules for children traveling without parents or guardians. Many decline to book a child on the last flight of the day to any city for fear that a cancellation could cause him or her to get stranded in an airport overnight.

Southwest designates ages 5 to 11 as “unaccompanied minors” and ages 12 to 17 as “young travelers” if they’re flying alone. Both can be affected by a policy related to weather advisories.

“Southwest Airlines reserves the right not to allow travel on flights that may be delayed, diverted or canceled due to weather or other operational disruptions,” it states.

“It’s actually a really positive policy that protects unaccompanied minors,” said spokesman Brian Parrish.

Delta and American offer services for unaccompanied minors up to age 17, but parents can choose to allow those 15 and older to travel as adults and therefore not receive special care or be subject to added restrictions.

Delta has the following policy for unaccompanied minors that could apply to weather advisories: “If we have any indication that your child’s flight may not operate as scheduled, we’ll advise you and suggest that you book travel for another day.”

“Everything’s on a case-by-case basis,” said Delta spokesman Michael Thomas. ‘”We will work with a parent or guardian as best we can.”

Airport Director Tim Cantwell (left) assists Allegiant Airlines Director of Planning Lee Warren in unveiling the newest destination from MidAmerica Airport.

American will rebook childrens’ flights if they are scheduled to go through hubs affected by inclement weather, according to spokesman Ross Feinstein.

“We don’t want a child to get stuck in transit,” he said.

Getting unaccompanied minors home after delays involving weather advisories is easier for larger airlines because they have more flights available each day than small carriers, according to the Southwest, Delta and American spokesmen.

The U.S. Department of Transportation allows airlines to make their own rules when it comes to serving unaccompanied minors, but it has published a report called “When Kids Fly Alone” to help parents prepare and make decisions.

“You should check with the carrier that you plan to use for a description of its rules and services and any additional charges that may apply,” it states.

Allegiant Manager of Airports Daniel Meier discusses new airline flights from MidAmerica St Louis Airport to Fort Myers Fla. The airline now offers three Florida destinations and Las Vegas flights.

Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.