Airline Loses 10-Year-Old Child. Do You Let Your Kids Fly by Themselves?
It’s a horror story for any parent: A child flying by herself was lost by the airline that was supposed to be helping her travel. Do you let your kids fly alone?
-Lylah M. Alphonse, Yahoo! Shine
Annie and Perry Klebahn dropped their 10-year-old daughter, Phoebe, off at the San Francisco airport on June 30th for her first-ever solo trip to sleep-away camp in Michigan. They paid the $99 unaccompanied minor fee to United Airlines and listened as United personnel reassured Phoebe that she would have someone with her at all times and reminded her to only go with someone wearing a United badge. They waited at the airport until Phoebe’s flight took off, tracked it online to Chicago, watched online as her connecting flight took off and landed in Traverse City, Michigan, where someone from the camp was scheduled to meet her plane.
But Phoebe wasn’t on it. The 10-year-old spent hours alone in Chicago while United officials ignored her requests for help.
“No one showed up in Chicago to help her transfer, so although her plane made it, she missed the connection,” Sanford University professor Bob Sutton, who is friends with the girls’ parents, wrote on his blog. “Most crucially, United employees consistently refused to take action to help assist or comfort Phoebe or to help her parents locate her despite their cries for help to numerous United employees.”
Phoebe ended up all right — she made it to camp four hours later, though her luggage took three more days to arrive. But even so, she spent hours alone in an unfamiliar airport, unable to reach her parents. “She was sad and scared and no one helped,” her parents wrote in their complaint to United.
“The attendants where busy and could not help her she told us. She told them she had a flight to catch to camp and they told her to wait,” they wrote in their letter, which Sutton also posted on his blog. “She asked three times to use a phone to call us and they told her to wait. When she missed the flight she asked if someone had called camp to make sure they knew and they told her ‘yes-we will take care of it.’ No one did.”
According to the Klebahns, it took them more than 18 hours of phone calls to account for their daughter’s whereabouts and to track her belongings. At first, a United representative in India told Annie Klebahn that she was mistaken and Phoebe was actually at camp. Then she admitted that the child had missed the flight, but told the distraught mother “‘It does not matter’ she is still in Chicago and ‘I am sure she is fine’,” the Klebans wrote. When Annie asked to speak to a supervisor, she was put on hold for 40 minutes.