Back in June, the parents of a 10-year-old girl say they put their child in the hands of United Airlines staff for the kid’s first solo trip to summer camp, only to soon find out that the airline had somehow misplaced the young girl — and that the airline didn’t really seem to think this was a big deal.
The girl was supposed to fly on United from San Francisco to Chicago and then on to Traverse City, Michigan. The parents accompanied their daughter to the airport and waited until her plane had taken off before heading home, where they then tracked the flight to Chicago and then to Michigan.
“We then waited and waited for the call from camp that she arrived safely,” the parents write in a letter to United. “That call did not come. Instead we received a frantic call from the camp that Phoebe was not on the flight, nor did the United person in Traverse City know why she was not on the flight.
The parents then tried to contact United, only to be put on hold for 20 minutes. When someone from the airline did get on the line, they claimed that the girl did indeed land in Traverse City.
After the parents, admittedly panicking, insisted that the daughter had not been on that second flight, the United rep put them on hold for another 10 minutes before coming back to give them the news that their daughter hadn’t made the connecting flight in Chicago.
“When I asked how she could have missed it given everything was 100% on time she said, ‘it does not matter’ she is still in Chicago and ‘I am sure she is fine,’” write the parents. “When I asked her to please confirm where [the daughter] was in Chicago and who she was with she could not tell me. When I asked to speak with her to be sure she was fine she said that was not possible. When I asked frantically to talk to her supervisor she put me on hold for 40 minutes.”
At the same time as the mother was on hold, the girl’s father called United’s Premier hotline and was able to get a human being on the phone. It still required a transfer before anyone could confirm that the daughter had not made her connecting flight.
“When he asked why she could not say but put him on hold,” the parents recall. “When she came back she told him that in fact the unaccompanied minor service in Chicago simply ‘forgot to show up’ to transfer her to the next flight.”
The father asked this United rep if she could help put them in contact with their daughter. He was put on hold and he says that when she returned to the line, she gave him the bad news that it was the end of her shift and she would not be able to assist.
He appealed to the rep as a fellow parent to put herself in his position and — after another 15 minutes on hold — she was finally able to put the parents in touch with their lost daughter.
From the letter to United:
She landed and no one came to get her. 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. 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. She was sad and scared and no one helped.
The daughter ultimately landed in Traverse City, but her luggage did not. Multiple calls to United proved fruitless. Even the Premier line, which had (eventually) been helpful in finding their daughter couldn’t help because it no longer handled luggage-related issues… That is until they once again pulled the parental sympathy card and found someone who helped them locate the missing bag.
The bag was supposedly put on a plane and the parents arranged to have someone from the camp pick it up at the airport. Except it did not arrive as planned.
They then repeated the process again, once more with assurance from United that the bag would be on the next flight. Nope. Not true.
The bag finally arrived on the third try, two days after it was supposed to have made the trip with their daughter.
The final insult came when the parents tried to lodge a formal complaint with United:
“[We] were blown away to learn that when you file a complaint with United you cannot file it yourself. You have to tell someone on the phone what you are filing for, let him or her write your story down and then THEY file it. We asked to have them read it back to us to verify the facts, we also asked to read it ourselves and both requests were denied. We asked for them to focus on the fact that they ‘forgot’ a 10-year old in the airport and never called camp or us to let us know. We also asked that they focus on the fact that we were not informed in any way that United uses a third party service for this. They said they would “do their best” to file the complaint per our situation. We asked if we would be credited the $99 unaccompanied minor fee (given she was clearly not accompanied). They said they weren’t sure.”
According to this blog post written by a friend of the parents, once a local TV news reporter began sniffing around the case, suddenly United execs gave a hoot about their lost daughter, allegedly calling the parents at home the other night in an attempt to smooth things over.
We’ve sent this story to United reps for comment. We’ll let you know if anyone responds — unfortunately, the “from one parent to another” thing doesn’t work in these situations (especially if you don’t have kids).
UPDATE: United has responded to our request with the following statement…
We reached out directly to the [parents] to apologize and we are reviewing this matter. What the [parents] describe is not the service we aim to deliver to our customers. We are redepositing the miles used to purchase the ticket back into [the father's] account in addition to refunding the unaccompanied minor charge. We certainly appreciate their business and would like the opportunity to provide them a better travel experience in the future.