Advice Airlines children on tour

January 2020 we were asked to share our views on childtrafficking and UM services with KLM CEO Pieter Elbers. 

“Dear Mr Waterlander, first of all, the best wishes for 2020. I hope you had a merry Christmas with your loved ones and had a great start of the new year.

Mr Elbers and I discussed the book ‘Unaccompanied Minor’ about childtrafficking and airline UM services. That is why we like to ask you for a ‘New Year’s favor: we would be grateful to you when you share your expertise and knowledge about this important theme and our UM policy.  Why does the book touches you so much and what do you think we should change in our policy? We are open to suggestions for improving our policies. We look forward to your response!”

Our response:

The book brings me back to the day that the young girl from the book crossed my path at Schiphol Airport. I regularly think of her and ask myself what else I could and should have done to keep her out of the hands of those two adults that night. That is what is on my mind since then.

It has been a real pleasure to work as a Passenger Assistant at the airport since 2008. The work itself is not rocket science, but it is nice and inspiring to be able to help people from all over the world. In addition to assisting PRMs, for many years we handled the Unaccompanied Minors for almost all airlines. That handling has now been taken over by a new handler.  After my experience with UMs became known, fellow PA’s approached me and shared their own experiences with me “off the record”. Why? Well….I guess fear rules.

I try to do what I can do and that is mainly to inform the people who can make a difference. It’s about the welfare of the children, preventing child trafficking is that to which we can pay attention; stopping child trafficking is something that I think is impossible.

Opportunities will always be sought by child traffickers whose business it is to make as much money as possible from the trafficking of children. The words of Richard Gere echo in my mind; he once told me: ‘When we can save one child, it is worth the effort’.

What can others do?

Apart from the Ministry of Justice which, through changes in the law, should implement procedures for services in which children are at risk, an airline can of course change its policies to prevent child trafficking through the UM service.

The UM forms are inadequate; for example, there is space for information where the person who brings the child and the person who picks up the child records his/her name and address; however, nowhere on the form is there a required space to list where the child will actually stay. We assume this is the address where the collector lives, but that is an assumption based completely on good faith. The copy forms go through the shredder after a while such that all this information that could be investigated or tracked disappears.  Modifying and building a database of the forms would already be an improvement of this system.

I can share with you horror stories that show how bad the problem is in actuality. For example, a situation in which 10 year old children are put on a train to the other side of the Netherlands when the collector is not at the airport (a decision taken after phone calls between a teamleader and the supposed mother in Bucharest and with the person who was supposed to collect the children at the airport).

Additionally, with no UM name on them at all.  I have many such anecdotal recollections.  Moreover, in all those years the Kmar (airport passport check) has only twice asked me for a UM form when transferring or arriving, so the child cannot expect any support from them when underway. This applies to all airlines.

What is the situation now?

The present situation is that an adult buys a ticket for a child and books the UM service, checks in at the airline’s departure desk and then hands over the child to the UM handler who will bring the child onboard the plane. At the airline counter, and the handler’s desk, passports and forms are merely looked at. Upon arrival of the child at the arrival hall there is again a handler’s employee, basically a citizen without authority, who before handing over the child checks the passport or driver’s license. He/she has no knowledge of backgrounds of the person picking up the child, and only writes down the passport number or driver’s license number of the person and looks at the photo on the id.

There is no one who checks or is able to check the authenticity of the passports of those who drop off/pick up a child, let alone consults a database that provides factual information about the person who drops off/picks up the child and the relationship between them.

It all seems ok, but is it? Apart from the handler who can pick up physical cues and possibly asks the adult and child questions, there is nothing else. Mind you, most employees don’t ask questions at all. In addition, it is doubtful that they are capable of seeing more than what is readily apparent. Besides, what questions are you allowed to ask?

* UM service can be better both landside and airside; however, there are three aspects landside where most improvement is needed (once airside it is a done deal).  The child trafficker and their “watchers” want to avoid the risk of being seen in transit, the gains are in the transfer moments and that is where the UM service has so much to offer to the “wrong” people. We need to realize that people who have evil intentions want to remain invisible, one does not want to be checked. Just the preventive effect of realizing that their data is being viewed in a database works wonders.

Much goes well airside despite “interesting” mistakes being made by ground and flight personnel, too often I have had conversations with pursers and gate agents about not applying the applicable UM procedures and thus leading to problems with the minor upon arrival. Even or perhaps especially with pursers who have been flying for 25+ years. Well trained or not, there is a lack of implementation of the rules by a number of staff. This was true with us as well, and again with the new handler I see the same issues.

Adjusting the following 4 points improves your and any UM service:

  1. At dropping off of the child by an adult in the departure hall
  2. At picking up of the child by an adult in the arrival hall
  3. Building up a database.
  4. UM forms.

It could look like this:

  1. Drop off: The drop off person should report to the check-in counter and then to UM handler, where his/her passport and the child’s passport will be handed over to scan it using ID Document Authentication software, which can be on an Ipad or Pda/phone that checks data in a database that shows whether it is secure or not. Then the person dropping off the minor shows a Municipal GBA statement stamped by an official of the relevant municipality where they live. A statement explaining the relationship to the child completes it. (In Belgium and South Africa they already work with municipal declarations).
  2. Pick Up: The person picking up the child waits at the desk of the handler where the UM assistant reports with the UM and allows the person to scan his/her passport using the ID Document Authentication software on an Ipad or Pda/phone.
  3. A UM traveling with a form stating where the child will be staying.

Note: Please note that the person dropping off/picking up the minor fills in an address where he/she says the pick-up person lives. No one verifying where the child will be staying.

** scanning passport using software on an iPad/pda/phone that runs a database to see if the adult is on a risk list is simple. There are companies that offer a solution. See for example systems (ID Document Authentication) or . ID analysis has its value and implementation is possible following the AVG rules.

Alternative: ** A simple all in one solution: a KLM UM app for iPad or tablet. An app with photos of the person bringing the child, the person picking up the child and of the child(ren), including their home address and a copy of their passport, a gba statement and a statement of the relationship between the child and the adult. This can be done following the AVG rules and if necessary only accessible through intranet for Kmar and possibly a team leader/gate agent of an airline who can see 100% of the stored data.

Thank you for your email and your attention to the subject. Thank you in advance for your time and action to make your UM service more secure and to make it more difficult for malicious people.