Helping Airlines Cope with Children

Qantas and Air New Zealand could greatly improve their online booking process when it comes to children who need to fly unaccompanied.

There’s many reasons why children need to fly alone. Their parents might live in two different cities; a child might be going to spend the holidays with their grandparents; a child might be attending boarding school.

So why do major airlines such as Qantas and AirNZ make the process of booking flights for children so confusing? I never realised how laborious the process was until I read an article in The Dominion Post which said:

A mother says she will never fly Qantas again after her two unaccompanied children were bumped off an overloaded Wellington to Sydney flight and sent to Auckland instead.

A Qantas spokesman said it was not policy to offload children travelling on their own. “If we had been aware of it, we would not have offloaded them.”

The tickets had been booked on the Internet, the spokesman said, and there was no indication the children were travelling alone.

Apparently one reason why this occurred is that the mother had booked one of the children under an adult code.

But was she forced to book the child as an adult?

I think the online booking system is at fault…

Currently, the online booking system won’t allow the user to select only a child – they must select at least one adult.

This is confusing…

If the goal of the user is to book a flight for their child, then logically, why would they select an adult?

 Pictured Above: The current system forces the user to book an adult - confusing if they were trying to book only a child who will be travelling alone.
Pictured Above: The current system forces the user to book an adult – confusing if they were trying to book only a child who will be travelling alone.

The work-around the airlines use is a link entitled ‘Children travelling alone?’ – selecting this opens a pop-up window

This long list of criteria would be confusing for many people. It turns out that bookings cannot be made online for children travelling alone. I suspect as a workaround some customers are simply booking children as adults.containing a long list of complex list of criteria and conditions.

It turns out that you can’t book a child travelling alone via the website – you must visit an visit a booking agent in person and fill out a paper form!


So why won’t the airlines let people book children travelling alone online? Is there some sort of legal requirement? (add a comment to this blog if you know the answer).

Primary reasons customers book online is cost savings and convenience – they might be in a rush – they might need a specific flight day and time – so, for some people, once they discover they can’t book a child they will book them as an adult instead (the cost difference isn’t significant for children, but it is much cheaper for infants).

My Solution

Even if there’s a legal requirement to force customers to fill out a paper form (and making the booking in person), I believe the online system can be improved by:

  1. Allowing the user to select one or more children and no adults.
  2. Asking the user some simple questions.
  3. Presenting back the options specific to the child’s age, needs and the type of flight (travel duration, and domestic vs international).

Here’s some quick prototypes I’ve created to show an alternative pathway.

Programmatically this is simple, far less confusing for the customer and would fit in with the current way Qantas handles offline bookings for unaccompanied children. This solution would also be easily extendable to allow full online bookings at a future date (by making the consent form available online).

Step 1 – Let the user select (only) children!

Step 2 – Recognise the children are travelling alone and ask a few questions!

Step 3 – Get some details so you can present the options specific to their situation!

Step 4 – Make an assessment and explain what to do next.

Note: The prototype shows a way it could work with their current system. An even better solution would be to put the whole process online by allow the user to complete the ‘unaccompanied minor’ form and carrying on with the booking.

This solutions means:

  • The system intelligently “speaks” to the customer.
  • Customers are less likely to get confused when trying to book an unaccompanied child.
  • Customers are more likely to follow the instructions (even when they might feel frustrated that they can’t book a child online).
  • Qantas can enhance the process over time by adding an online consent form.

PS – The winner of the Smorkin Labbit was Alison (Webweaver) who described a very similar solution (see Make Qantas Smarter)