British Airways (BA) which has for many generations provided the 'Unaccompanied Minor' (UM) service to its flyers has now decided to put an end to it. While this is expected to save costs for the carrier, it is understood to have angered many parents who will now be required to fly thousands of miles to pick up or drop their children. The move is expected to affect thousands of families as BA provides more non-stop long-haul services from the UK than any other airline.

Not giving its recent decision too much publicity, the airline has said that it will honour tickets that are already booked by parents for their children under the UM service. It, however, added that it will not take any new bookings under this service.

BA said: "The airline will continue to take bookings for 12 to 18-year-olds who wish to fly independently. However, children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult aged 16 or over."

A spokeswoman for the carrier explained: "Despite the overall growth in our customer numbers over the last decade, demand for our unaccompanied minor service has declined by two thirds, falling by 21% in the last year. We have concluded with regret that we can no longer offer this service."

While 98% of the children aged between five and 11 who currently fly BA are accompanied by an adult, only 10% of children aged between 12 and 18 travelling alone on BA were making use of its UM service, according to The Independent.

Jamie Bowden, a former BA customer service manager at Heathrow, said the move to stop the service was expected. "There are no longer the huge numbers of UMs flying between London and the traditional 'expat' communities such as Hong Kong, Kenya or the Caribbean that there used to be 30-40 years ago. Offering a discrete service is no longer viable," he explained.

Hillgate, a London travel agent tweeted: "Terrible news - British Airways no longer accept a child under 12 travelling alone." It urged parents to instead use BA's rival, Virgin Atlantic, as it was still offering the UM service.

Bowden, however, opined that other airlines too could follow BA. "British Airways have long had a link to UM travel, but I suspect now they have made this decision, it will not be long before other carriers follow suit," he added.