Empire Editorial: Teens shouldn't fly without permission

Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2007

Brian and Elise Pringle knew they were looking at a recipe for disaster: a runway child, the lure of an Internet boyfriend in another state and an airline that allowed their teenage daughter to board a plane to the Lower 48 without their consent.

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Teenagers shouldn't be able to board an airplane at Juneau International Airport without some form of parental permission.

Yet the Pringle's 15-year-old was able to do so on Aug. 15 and got as far as Seattle in an attempt to meet up with her online boyfriend in North Carolina. The girl took advantage of a loophole that - in an age of predators who use the Internet to lure impressionable children - should not exist.

To its credit, Alaska Airlines announced Thursday it is reviewing its unaccompanied minors policy, which allows children between 13 and 17 to fly without an escort and or parental permission.

The airline doesn't need to make draconian changes in its policy. Instead, the simplest solution is to require teens who travel without their parents to have a permission slip for boarding, similar to those needed for participating in high school field trips. And it's not unreasonable for the airline to turn away a child attempting to buy a one-way ticket with $700 in cash.

Some have criticized the airline and federal government for not requiring those under 17 to have photo identification. Nevertheless, requiring teens to show identification is impractical because there isn't a universally accepted card for children. Unless they are eligible to drive, they're unlikely to have an ID card.

Creating a mandatory identification card or requiring children to have passports is unnecessarily heavy-handed and cumbersome. Government offices are already overburdened by new border requirements, and obtaining a passport is often taking much longer than it did in the past.

The Pringle case brings to light a host of issues involving children's safety. But the danger shouldn't be blown out of proportion. There needn't be a flood of new regulations or legislation. Permission slips and extra care at check-in can solve this particular issue.

Fortunately for the Pringles, their daughter safely returned to Juneau because they took action. They escaped the troubles that could have followed if their daughter made it to her destination. But other parents should not have to go through what they did. Alaska Airlines should close the loophole so other parents can rest easy.

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