United Airlines Forgets About 9-Year-Old Passenger

Next to Disney World, the one place children want to spend the day is the kids lounge at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, right? Just ask the 9-year-old who was left there for eight hours because a United Airlines employee forgot about him.

The boy was en route from San Francisco to Ottawa and had a layover of two hours and 50 minutes. He was supposed to have been escorted from the lounge to the gate for his connecting flight, but no one came so he continued watching the same looped video for several more hours.

His mother contacted the airline when the boy didn’t get off the plane in Ottawa but was reportedly unable to receive any help. It wasn’t until the boy used a cell phone to call his mom that she was finally able to speak to a United staffer.

Says a United rep in a matter-of-fact tone, “He missed his flight — we put him on the next available flight.”

The airline, which raked in the most money from ancillary fees last year, says it is sorry for the error and has graciously decided to refund the child-care fee.

Boy, 9, left stranded by airline at O’Hare for eight hours [SunTimes.com]

Thanks to Leah for the tip!


Edit Your Comment

  1. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I’m sure if he had been overweight, he would have gotten on the flight…

  2. Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

    United “has graciously decided to refund the child-care fee.” How generous of them.

  3. physics2010 says:

    Sounds like the Florida AG should file charges under § 827.03 (c) A person who willfully or by culpable negligence neglects a child without causing great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to the child commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
    Neglect and abuse statute includes creation of risk of harm either willfully or by
    culpable negligence. This is from the Abuse of Children chapter under the Florida Criminal
    Code. Culpable Negligence is defined in the Assault, Battery, and Culpable Negligence
    Chapter of the Criminal Code.

    • Alvis says:

      … Florida?

      • Ninjastorm66 says:

        I think it was the DisneyWorld reference that implied this occurred in Florida. Weird though, that someone would go through the effort of referencing penal code without first actually reading the article to find out the airport was Chicago’s O’Hare.

        • SJPadbury says:

          I’m sure there’s relevant portions of the criminal code in Illinois. (As well as California and Ontario)

          • physics2010 says:

            Poor short term memory and interruptions tend to lead to poor reading comprehension. Still the jist of it was the same. Every state has a similar law and will use it at their whim.

    • misterfuss says:

      Charges against United? Or the parents who booked the kid on United?

  4. 50ae says:

    Refund the child care fee, you think. You pay a crazy amount to have the kid fly with the airline escort to begin with and they lose the kid and they are so kind as to refund the fee. I think that criminal charges should be brought because you can sure as heck bet that CPS would be bringing charges against any parent who left his kid alone for 8 hours at home.

  5. Link_Shinigami says:

    “Graciously” as if they were doing her a favor. Seriously, I’m usually pretty quick to say lawsuit (Usually in regards to small claims type stuff) but this really does deserve a huge lawsuit.

    She’s probably already been contacted by lawyers though, so I imagine she’ll sue, get a bunch of money

    • msbask says:

      Get a bunch of money for what? For her kid being unharmed?

      Obviously the airline is wrong here, but what would she sue FOR? I doubt they’d get a “bunch of money” for emotional distress since it doesn’t sound like the kid was that distressed.

      • hattrick says:

        “I doubt they’d get a ‘bunch of money’ for emotional distress since it doesn’t sound like the kid was that distressed.”

        You think maybe the mother was emotionally distressed when her kid didn’t show up and she couldn’t reach anyone to find out where he was?

      • Bob Lu says:

        If someone put your children in risk, even if in the end the children are unharmed, that should still be a crime, and should be punishable.

      • myCatCracksMeUp says:

        I bet that kid was a lot more distressed than it sounds like. To say nothing of how freaked out the mom had to be when the child didn’t get off the airplane.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Abandoning a kid for 8 hours in an airport could easily be presented as child endangerment. They are culpable.

        In those 8 hours anything could have happened to that kid.

      • msbask says:

        Let me ask this another way: If you were on the jury of this trial, how much would award this mother/son?

      • QOTSA says:

        Parking at the Ottawa airport isn’t cheap… she could include that too!

  6. DarksSideMoon says:

    Airlines should really stop letting young children travel alone.

    • nbs2 says:

      They have stopped that. That’s what the unaccompanied minor programs are – overpriced babysitters.

      Call me heartless, but I have to wonder why the kid wasn’t paying attention to his flight information. I did the solo thing when I was 10, made it just fine. I sort of did it again when I was 11 (I had my 8 year old sister with me), and even managed to negotiate sans cell phone canceled connecting Christmas Eve flight issues without any problems. Of course, I did pig out on the TWA provided M&Ms and soda, leading me to puke chocolate on Christmas Day, so I guess I wasn’t that responsible.

      • Big Mama Pain says:

        I kind of thought the same thing. My brother and I traveled unaccompanied all growing up, and one of the first times we did, around 8 or 9 years old, the attendant who was supposed to meet us at the gate wasn’t there. We sat down and waited, and when we saw the gate information change to like…California, we definitely knew we were in the wrong place and told the adults sitting next to us.

        • fourclover54 says:

          But if you tell a child “wait here until I come get you,” and no one comes, they are in a dilemma – do you disobey the adult your parents told you to trust by trying to find your flight or do you just wait there?

          That happened to me when I was in first grade – I knew the way home but I was told to wait for someone to pick me up (because I had a tendency to wander). That person got wrapped up at work and forgot the time, and it wasn’t until a school staff person saw me and called my parents that I was picked up. I wasn’t about to walk home and disobey my folks.

    • vastrightwing says:

      naw, this’ll happen once in a while. It’s definitely a risk. If the parents don’t want to risk it, then by all means don’t send your little ones this way. But don’t ruin it for everyone. Just let it go. No harm, no foul. I mean, come on, everyone knows (by now) that United break guitars, leaves people sleeping on planes after it lands at the gate for hours, charges more fees than other airlines, leaves people stranded on the plane while on the tarmac, mauls your luggage, and on and on. Just give little johnny/Susie a cell phone and call them from time to time to make sure they’re OK. Not rocket science.

      • DarksSideMoon says:

        I totally agree. I just mean from the airline’s perspective they have no reason to allow it since the liability risk is enormous, because people make huge deals out of this sort of stuff.

    • Green Mountain Boy says:

      I agree with this.

    • Gregg Araki Rocks My World says:

      Sometimes, it’s the only option. Emergencies, whatever. Sometimes they need to fly on their own. The world is like that, it is impossible to plan for everything.

    • smo0 says:

      I flew by myself from Ft. Lauderdale to Chicago, O’hare at a much younger age…. 7 to be exact… and that was BEFORE those giant bright colored vests and 100% monitoring and protection… I did just fine….on the flip side, it was 1989 and people could practically walk their kids on the plane….

      just like most everything else, I blame the system….

  7. Murph1908 says:

    Ok, not to blame the OP, since there really isn’t an OP. And I am not forgiving United for their error. But I just have a simple suggestion on how this could also have been avoided.

    Kid has a cell phone, and it could have been easy to verify that the kid made it on the plane, especially if the kid does this 6 times a year.

    “Julien, you have a layover in Chicago again. You’ll be there for about 2 and a half hours until you are taken to board another plane. Call me when you get on that plane. You are allowed to use a cell phone until the door of the plane is closed. If 1:30 comes and you still aren’t being taken to the plane, ask the agent and call me.”

    Just another layer of checks, that’s all.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I don’t think this kid is smart enough to be allowed to travel alone. He does this six times a year! At what point does a 9 year old become responsible for the fact that he does this multiple times a year and should reasonably know his own itinerary. His layover was only 2 hours and 50 minutes!

      • SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

        Obviously you are immune to the hypnotizing realities of children’s TV.

      • Anathema777 says:

        He’s probably very used to long delays if he travels a lot. I wouldn’t find it out of the ordinary.

      • hattrick says:

        “At what point does a 9 year old become responsible for the fact that he does this multiple times a year and should reasonably know his own itinerary.”

        Um, that point comes when he’s not 9 years old anymore.

        He’s a CHILD. He is in third grade. This is why we don’t let 9 year olds fly without someone taking care of them–they miss flights. This is why we don’t let them live on their own, even though living in a house is something they’ve presumably done every day of their life. Not because we believe this particular child is irresponsible, but because they are 9 and it is unreasonable to expect 9 year olds to coordinate international travel.

        Seriously, what’s next? This kid should have just taken personal responsibility and driven himself from Ottawa to San Francisco?

        • Alexk says:

          Not only is he a child, but he’s a child in a different world than the one we older folks grew up in. We were permitted to fly alone. Today, children are NOT permitted to do this. The escort fee is required by the airlines. That being the case, the airline has a special responsiblity to fulfill the promise it is imposing on the parents and child.

      • myCatCracksMeUp says:

        A nine year old is old enough to fly by himself if the Airline does what it was paid to do and makes sure he gets on and off when and where he’s supposed to. Most nine year olds are not ready to fly alone without this service.

    • SnickerDoodle says:

      Another layer of checks would be a good idea, but mom didn’t expect to have to check, she paid someone to make sure everything was ok.

      When I pay for a service, I expect to get that service.

      • DarksSideMoon says:

        Still doesn’t get rid of your responsibility.. Who knows what some random employee can/will do?

      • Murph1908 says:

        There’s levels of what you are saying.

        When I pay for an oil change, I expect my oil is changed.

        When I pay for a realtor to write up a contract on my house, I read the contract and follow up with questions or concerns.

    • OneBigPear says:

      It says “a cell phone” though. I was wondering the same as you, why didn’t he call sooner, or why didn’t his mom call him? But then I decided that it meant that he asked to use someone else’s phone to call his mom.

  8. Nighthawke says:

    The Nanny State would love to get their claws into UAL for this stunt. And the child being Canadian, takes this up to the “International” incident level. Meaning that extra paperwork and extra authorities might get involved, including the State Department as well, if they feel like it.

    That would be a bit embarassing if the Canadian PM asked the POUTUS about it. He might throw a fit and start signing Executive Orders forcing the airlines to be more compliant.

    UAL is also providing an “undisclosed goodwill gesture” that might equal credit vouchers for WHEN and IF they want to take the risk and fly with them again.

    • Happy13178 says:

      Harper isn’t going to do anything about it. This would be a civil matter more than anything else. Criminal would be nice, but also highly unlikely since no harm came to the kid. Exposure to risk would be difficult to squeeze criminal charges out of, civil claim slightly easier.

      • Nighthawke says:

        A simple inquiry from a Head of State like Empress Hillary would stir things up a bit in the cubicle jungles.

    • ej84 says:

      No one who uses the expression “Nanny State” should be talking about how to take care of a child! What is wrong with a Nanny State so far as kids are concerned?

  9. Angus99 says:

    I’m surprised he wasn’t put to work as a TSA employee.

  10. Green Mountain Boy says:

    Nxt tm fl wth yr chld. Stp bng s lz nd chp.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Your comment is not conducive to the situation at hand. Obviously, in a perfect universe people never find themselves sharing custody of their child, or living in different cities. Is your next comment “next time, don’t have a child…”? oh wait…

      • NarcolepticGirl says:

        Not all parents with split custody are like that. A co-worker of mine was talking about how her husband lives in Arizona – and the kid goes out there for the summer. She goes flies with him and comes back. And the ex in return, flies with the kid here and then flies back. She was kind of pissed about it because he moved that far out west and it’s a pain in the ass.

        I guess if you’re poor, that might not work. And I guess if you don’t really care about your kid enough and decided to move states away, then – you probably wouldn’t care if he flew by himself.

        • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

          In this economy, sometimes one parent or the other might have to move where the jobs are. It’s nt always in your control.

      • Green Mountain Boy says:

        Please! So you don’t like what I have to say so you try to degrade it? Interesting.

        • crunchberries says:

          Oh no, someone disagrees with you on the internet! Will you: a)realize that people will have different opinions and shrug it off, moving on with your life b)whine that your opinion is being degraded despite it having no value to the discussion at hand, or c)cry into your pillow at night because people are being MEAN?

          You have picked b). Congratulations, you’re a whiner. Don’t you feel proud?

        • myCatCracksMeUp says:

          troll alert! troll alert! troll alert!

    • IThinkThereforeIAm says:

      So, when you hire someone to take care of your child (or drop him/her off at school) you are a lazy bum?
      How would you feel, that when you go to pick your child up from day-car, they just say : Ooops, we misplaced him/her?
      This is a serious matter, the airline offers a service for “unaccompanied minor” travel, for a rather hefty fee (essentially the contract you to care for the child and deliver him to the reciopient), they make it a very complex process (makes you feel safer actually) to drop-off and pick up the kid, and then they lose him?
      Criminal negligence in my book.

    • coren says:

      Yeah, I’ve got an extra 300 bucks laying around (or more) and extra vacation time just lying around to fly out of the country six times a year. But I’m sure that the parents are both rich and don’t have to work for a living, so calling them lazy and cheap certainly applies!

    • coren says:

      PS, I think you made a couple typos, let me correct them for you. Your comment should read:

      Nxt tm fly wth yr chld. Stp bng s lzy nd chp.

    • Moosenogger says:

      I’m sure the Ex would just love to have a visit from you as well as little Jimmy.

    • myCatCracksMeUp says:

      Next time, Be an effing person.

    • Gregg Araki Rocks My World says:

      God forbid an emergency happen or something that makes you send a child by themselves. God forbid you don’t have everything planned out, because it’s not as if unexpected things happen, ever.

    • yessongs says:

      Next time buy a vowel.

  11. majic2516 says:

    They refunded the child care fee since no child care actually happened.

  12. NarcolepticGirl says:

    I don’t have kids – but I couldn’t imagine sending one across the country (or out of the country and with a layover) by him/herself on an airplane. Not in a million years would I actually trust an employee to take proper care of the kid.

    Who knows what the hell could happen.

    I know a lot of people have flown alone when they were kids – but airports seem a little more confusing now.

    • nbs2 says:

      I’d beg to differ on that statement. While the Theatre can be more confusing for children now than it used to be, parents can still go to the gate with the kid by requesting a gate pass at checking. Once the kid is past security (almost) all airports are structured such that the kid would remain in the “sterile” area as long as they remain in the terminal. The actual gate and boarding areas are less confusing now. Electronic displays mean immediate updates, more displays mean easier to find information, no greetings/sendoffs means smaller crowds, reduced capacity means fewer flyers.

      All in all, but for the nanny police. flying is easier now than it was when I was a kid. Even dangers are better publicized, which suggests to me that flying is even safer (no thanks to the “federalize to professionalize” crowd).

  13. costanza007 says:

    Maybe they thought he was going to star in the remake of The Terminal… Terminal 2: Electric Boogaloo

  14. _UsUrPeR_ says:

    “[United Airlines]… has graciously decided to refund the child-care fee.”

    Is it just me, or is this quote to be read in a snarky and sarcastic tone? I like it.

  15. dcarrington01 says:

    What’s the problem, at least it wasn’t a guitar!!

  16. crunchberries says:

    Poor kid. I had to sit in that lounge at O’Hare when I flew alone as a kid and I can only imagine that it’s just as horrible now as it was then. Of course, I only endured two hours, but still.

  17. MarvinMar says:

    A few years ago my Nieces were flying from Sacramento To Phoenix for Thanksgiving.
    American Airlines took the kids into care.
    They overbooked the flight and had some kids of maintenance issue.
    For underage passengers, there was a rule about a single non-stop trip, and no layovers allowed.
    They did not have another straight thru flight until morning, and said they had to close the baggage area now (Like midnight) and that they would have to wait OUTSIDE until the flight the next morning. My mom called and talked to the airline and explained they are NOT sending a 13 and 15 year old outside for 6 ours in the middle of the night.

    The airline then insisted on getting the KIDS a taxi and a motel room. Again my mom explained that no motel was going to allow 2 underage kids to get a room with no adult.

    Finally they locked my nieces in an employee lounge with a couple blankets for the night.


  18. 4Real says:

    Who lets a 9 year old fly alone anyway the parents should go to jail.

    • ellemdee says:

      Kids fly alone all the time. That’s why the airlines (are supposed to) make sure the kid gets where they need to be in exchange for a fee. The parents paid the airline to make their son was taken to wherever he need to go at the proper time. They didn’t do the job the parents paid them to do, and it’s somehow back on the parents for letting him fly to begin with?

      The anti-parent sentiment has been crazy around here the last few days.

    • Doubts42 says:

      Who is stupid enough to make a comment like that? They should be sent to jail.

    • Gregg Araki Rocks My World says:

      You have never dealt with children or emergencies.

    • Green Mountain Boy says:

      I agree 100%!

  19. runswithscissors says:

    “Blah blah blah lazy stupid cheap parents should always fly roundtrip to deliver children to ex-spouses or grandparents etc blah blah blame OP blame OP blah blah let airline off the hook completely blah blah”

    – Childless Consumerist Commenters trying to be iconoclasts

  20. stanner says:

    Our 5 year old is a seasoned traveler, and will be taking her first airplane trip alone in August, just like both of her parents did when they were young.

    I’m a little disappointed, but not surprised by the number of comments on here deriding the parents for letting their kids travel in what is a provably safe manner. Screw ups happen, but it’s still far safer that the insanity of the car pool lane full of impatient parents at any elementary school.

  21. stanner says:

    Our 5 year old is a seasoned traveler, and will be taking her first airplane trip alone in August, just like both of her parents did when they were young.

    I’m a little disappointed, but not surprised by the number of comments on here deriding the parents for letting their kids travel in what is a provably safe manner. Screw ups happen, but it’s still far safer that the insanity of the car pool lane full of impatient parents at any elementary school.

  22. twritersf says:

    So United breaks guitars AND loses kids.

  23. SaraFimm says:

    Hey, finish adding the info:

    “McCarthy said that the airline is sorry for what happened and is refunding the child-care fee, as well as providing an undisclosed “goodwill gesture.””

    So we don’t know what else the parents and child was given for the mishap.

    Also the kid does this San Fran. to Ottawa trip around 6 times a year so this isn’t his first time doing this alone. In fact, I’m surprised the kid didn’t know something was wrong and call his mother in Ottawa sooner. Kids at 9 years old can be surprisingly smart at times–especially when they get bored with watching the same looped video over and over.

    The only issue in this was that the Airline forgot a child in its care. THAT is what was wrong. This could have happened at ANY airline. Someone dropped the ball and is most likely going to get written up or fired for this incident. I lean towards fired since it hit the media and is making the Airline look bad.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Kids at 9 years old can be surprisingly smart at times–especially when they get bored with watching the same looped video over and over.

      He might have taken a little nap. Hard not to when you’re bored silly.

      The airline definitely owed a refund of the fee, since they did not perform the service contracted for. She paid to have someone take the kid to his flight and they did not. Ergo, she gets her money back. I hope the goodwill gesture was something decent, because if I were that lady, I’d be seriously pissed.

  24. Green Mountain Boy says:

    Nsxt time fly with your child. Stop being so lazy and cheap

  25. BadgerPudding says:

    I have to agree with the number of comments questioning whether it’s a smart thing to allow children to fly alone. I won’t even check a bag with an airline.

  26. Jack Straw from Wichita says:

    i assume the refund of the child care cost came with a disclaimer holding the airline not liable for its actions, which was probably signed as a requirement for the mother to get her child back