What is an Unmin? It is short for Unaccompanied Minor which is an airline term for children travelling on aircraft alone. In the vast majority of cases they are schoolchildren travelling too or from their parents’ overseas posting during holiday times. Frankly they can be an absolute pain in the butt. I should know. I was one.
These kids are handed over at the airport to an airline employee (often known as an ‘Auntie’) whose job it is to escort them to their final destination. Each child is supposed to wear a neck ribbon with a plastic pouch containing their documentation and identifying them as ‘young travellers’. If I recall my documents went in my back pocket and the pouch got flushed down the first toilet. Perhaps this is why so many airport toilets get blocked?
Actually you might be amazed by what gets flushed down airport toilets especially the one just before customs. I have seen everything from drugs to diapers and once a cardboard box of dried Nigerian fish. The most interesting thing I saw was a man taking one small suitcase and putting it into a second larger one. He then went to the baggage handling desk and reported the small case as missing whilst stating it was full of valuable designer clothes! Anyway, I digress, back to the Unmins.
As an airline manager based in Africa it was partly my job to manage these thrice yearly migrations, especially as I knew most of the parents in the region. I felt responsible for getting little Katie or Josh back to the bosom of their family although frankly I think the last person they needed or wanted to see was me. I think they felt I cramped their style somewhat especially as, with my childhood experiences, I knew all their tricks.
The girls were probably the worst. They would arrive at the airport all demure in their school uniforms and behave like butter would not melt in their mouths. Until they got on the plane that is. Immediately the seat belt light went off they would dash to the toilet where they created a long slow moving queue. Woe betides any aging gentleman traveller with a weak bladder because relief would be a long time coming.
What came out was not what went in. The plain little uniformed schoolgirl had transformed into an excellently made up woman in tight fashionable clothes that walked up the cabin aisle like it was a catwalk and then ordered a large gin. It all became very confusing and I once outraged a young woman from Barclays Bank by insisting she took her tarty clothes off and got back into her uniform!
The worst time was night flights. They used to party hard especially when the smuggled alcohol came out. I once caught two kids ‘at it’ under a blanket until I poured the contents of an ice bucket over them before things went too far. Another budding entrepreneur was charging boys $1 a feel. One irate passenger complained to me that the two children in front of him were drunk and rowdy. He said he was someone senior in giant oil company and there would be consequences. I did not have the heart to tell him the two kids were sons of his Chief Executive.
These Unmins did have their uses as some savvy passengers began to discover. They travelled the same routes all the time and knew the aircraft and any transit stops backwards. If you followed them you found all the short cuts, best bars and cheapest duty free sales and could save time and money. It was uncanny the way they knew which immigration queue was going to move fastest.
It was a relief to get to our destination. Women used to rush to the toilet and come out girls again. Strong mints were chewed to hide the smell of alcohol on breath and those ghastly pouches were placed over necks. They would walk off the plane like angels and choirboys. Occasionally we would have to grab one who tried to wander off and I once had to stop a lad skateboarding down the taxiway at Lusaka after a Boeing 737.
Everyone used to breathe a sigh of relief. Until it was time for them to go back to school that is!