United Airlines Lost a 10-Year-Old Girl? No, They Did Not…

Sometimes it is incredibly easy to see a story about which to write that you know will attract readers — and with the ease of entry with regard to posting content of the Internet, misinformation can be spread around in a pervasive manner, sometimes taking on a life of its own.

The FlyerTalk discussion of how United loses a 10 year old in ORD piqued my interest when I first saw it several days ago, but my intuition told me not to post anything about it — yet. It is the story of how a a girl ten years of age was a passenger on United Airlines as an unaccompanied minor — which her parents paid $99.00 for the privilege — from San Francisco to Traverse City in Michigan so that she may attend summer camp. As you may know, there are no direct flights between San Francisco and Traverse City, so the itinerary of the young girl included a connection in Chicago, which is where the story starts to unravel.

It seems as though there was a mix-up in Chicago as the person who was to accompany the girl from one flight to the next never showed up to do the job paid by her parents — and the person works for a contractor, not United Airlines. This of course does not absolve United Airlines of its responsibility to ensure that all of its passengers arrive at their destinations safely, but that never was the issue, as the girl was never “lost” or abandoned. Rather, she missed her connecting flight to her final destination. However, neither her parents nor the camp counselor were advised of her whereabouts — and that is where the confusion began.

As a result, a friend of the parents decided to post about the incident, apparently without complete due diligence as to gathering all of the facts of the incident before posting it, peppered with foregone dramatic editorial conclusions, which led to it being posted all over the Internet — including FlyerTalk. Fortunately, credible news media such as thestreet.com and the Today Show of the NBC television network posted clarifications of the story, and the links can be found in the aforementioned FlyerTalk discussion.

Let me be clear that I do not fault the parents at all for being worried about their daughter. They honestly did not know where she was during her missed connection. She apparently was safe the entire time she was in Chicago, including being escorted to a room specifically for unaccompanied minor passengers. The disturbing part of this story is that supposedly no one from United Airlines informed the parents as to the whereabouts of the girl. There were even some descriptions of United Airlines employees “not caring” about the plight of the girl, but I am not sure as to how true are those allegations.

The girl wanted to call her mother so that she would not worry, but United Airlines employees were allegedly too busy to immediately accommodate her simple request. Her parents unnecessarily endured a waiting period to confirm the safety of their daughter. This is inexcusable, in my opinion.

Regardless, this entire incident could have been avoided altogether: first, if the person responsible for transporting the girl from one flight to another in Chicago would have shown up — and if not, that a back-up plan should have been in place to ensure that the girl would have arrived at her connecting flight in time. Even with the snafu of missing the flight, the parents should have been immediately notified of her whereabouts.

It is unknown at this time as to the reasons why that person responsible for transporting the girl from one flight to another in Chicago did not show up.

So — did United Airlines lose the girl? No. The mere suggestion of that smacks of sensationalism. To be fair, United Airlines did offer the parents an apology — albeit six weeks later — along with the Mileage Plus frequent flier loyalty program miles used for the trip redeposited back into their account and a refund of the $99.00 fee for unaccompanied minor passengers. Frankly, I believe the parents deserved in addition to their compensation a little something extra from United Airlines for their troubles and needless worry. However, United Airlines is fully responsible for allowing this incident to happen in the first place and should take effective and appropriate measures to ensure that it does not happen again.

Perhaps Dave Carroll — who famously alleged that United Airlines broke the neck of his $3,500 Taylor guitar back in 2009 — as a preventative measure should have checked his guitar as an unaccompanied minor passenger:

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