Airline loses 10-year-old girl en route to summer camp

Posted Aug 16, 2012 by Leigh Goessl
A California family experienced a scare one would hope never to see happen when trusting their child to be supervised. United Airlines allegedly recently lost track of a 10-year-old girl en route to summer camp in another state.
United Airlines Boeing 767
United Airlines Boeing 767
Louis Argerich
Annie and Perry Klebahn had booked a flight for their daughter, Phoebe, to travel from San Francisco to Traverse City, Mich. in June in order to attend summer camp. The couple said they paid the $99 unaccompanied minor fee for the trip, which included a transfer at Chicago's O'Hare airport. This was their daughter's first trip flying alone.
According to NBC News, the parents later received a "frantic" call from a camp counselor saying Phoebe never arrived on her scheduled flight.
Immediately, Annie Klebahn called United Airlines, and purportedly the airline said their daughter arrived in Michigan as scheduled.
“So at that point is when I really knew that they had lost her at some level; they didn’t know where she was,” Klebahn said, reported NBC News. “All the worst possible things go through your mind as a mom when you think you have no idea where your child is and she’s 2,000 miles away.”
The Klebahns recount how they called the airline who seemingly could not be bothered with helping the family track down the 10-year-old girl. Apparently, Phoebe was placed in a waiting area to be escorted to her second flight, but no one took her, she was told to wait. Eventually she missed the flight, which had a 1 hour, 15 minutes connection time.
The New York Daily News linked to a blog post published by a friend of the family. The post, written by Bob Sutton, is titled "United Airlines Lost My Friend's 10 Year Old Daughter And Didn't Care".
Sutton quotes from Annie's letter to United Airlines:
The attendants were 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.
Meanwhile, Annie was desperately trying to find out where her daughter was and she describes being placed on hold for long wait times, and being bounced to the company's service center in India. Perry Klebahn was able to reach a U.S.-based representative because of his United Premier status, and that employee told him the accompanied minor representative, outsourced by United to a third party, "forgot to show up."
Sutton goes on to describe how the United rep Perry reached was not initially going to help because her shift was over. It wasn't until he asked her if she was a mother, and she said yes, and he'd asked her how would she feel if this happened to her child. The rep then proceeded to help.
He talks about an overall organizational culture that seemingly feels no accountability.
"Yes, there are design problems, there are operations problems, but to me the core lesson is this is a system packed with people who don't feel responsible for doing the right thing. We can argue over who is to blame and how much -- management is at the top of the list in my book, but I won't let any of individual employees off the hook," Sutton writes.
He notes how the Klebahns were not effectively able to resolve this situation, and says the airline did not contact them for six weeks, perhaps further illustrating organizational culture issues. It wasn't until the family contacted NBC News that allegedly United decided to get in touch with the parents.
Sutton writes, "That story was what finally drove me to write this because, well, if bad PR is what it takes to get them to pretend to care, then it is a further reflection of how horrible they have become."
United Airlines gave a statement to the Huffington Post about this situation.
We reached out directly to the Klebahns to apologize and we are reviewing this matter. What the Klebahns describe is not the service we aim to deliver to our customers. We are redepositing the miles used to purchase the ticket back into Mr. Klebahn’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.