They’re called UMs, and they are Cathay Pacific’s most precious cargo – so their parents would argue. UM stands for unaccompanied minor and last year Cathay Pacific looked after more than 4,000 children flying solo.
Children aged six to 12 must travel as UMs – its optional for those aged 12 to 18. Relevant fees must be processed at a Global Contact Centre (or ticketing office) while paperwork is completed online – this process will gradually be fully digitalised. The paperwork must be printed out and accompany the UM on their journey.
A member of Cathay Pacific escorts the UM from check-in through immigration and security, one hour before departure. Customer Service Manager Jackie Man says: ‘If any are travelling in business class, we deliver them to and from the lounge. Otherwise, we go to the aircraft and introduce them to the ISM [Inflight Service Manager, the senior cabin crew member] – they have priority boarding.’
The ISM looks after their paperwork and travel documents during the flight. ISM Marilyn Escolar says: ‘If it’s their first flight, they will be shown how to use the seat and inflight entertainment system and we’ll find out what they like to eat or drink, but a lot of our UMs are regulars.’
As part of the service, UMs also get priority disembarkation. Escolar adds: ‘I then hand them over with their paperwork to our ground team.’
From there, the UM will be escorted through the baggage hall and immigration before being handed over to the person named on the paperwork in arrivals. Precious cargo safely delivered.
There are some restrictions to the service as Andrew Franklin, Airport Customer Service Delivery Manager, explains: ‘Industry trade body IATA has only issued recommended practices. We follow those, but some airlines have different age limits or do not accept UMs at all. As a result, we suggest people only use this service on Cathay Pacific flights, or check policies of other airlines before booking.’
Also, some countries require additional paperwork. Franklin adds: ‘The Philippines and Dubai require extra documentation as part of the drive against people trafficking, while the UK requires evidence that UMs are studying at a UK school.’
It’s a service appreciated by families and the airline alike. Service Leader at Hong Kong Queenie Pun says: ‘Having an UM around can really cheer the place up.’