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United Loses Child Traveling Alone

A 10-year-old girl traveling alone became stranded at an airport after United employees reportedly failed to help her. What’s more, the girl’s parents allege that United workers acted with “indifference” and a “lack of felt accountability” as they tried to track down their daughter. So they did what any aggrieved 21st-century parents would do: They posted a public letter on the Internet.

Annie and Perry Klebhan, friends of Huffington Post contributor Robert Sutton, put their 10-year-old daughter Phoebe on a United flight last June, according to a post on Sutton’s blog. Phoebe was heading from San Francisco to a summer camp in Chicago, with a connection in Grand Rapids on the way. But when Phoebe arrived in Grand Rapids, she was left without assistance—as per the airline’s policy, a United employee was supposed to help Phoebe make her way through the airport—and ended up missing her final flight to Chicago.

After Phoebe missed her connection, United employees were allegedly egregiously unaccommodating to her. They told her they were too busy to help. And they didn’t immediately allow Phoebe to make a phone call to her camp. So when camp employees eventually called Phoebe’s parents after the girl failed to arrive, the Klebhans were, naturally, quite concerned, and they immediately got on the phone with United.

Annie Klebhan called United and was connected to a call center, but the couple eventually (with the aid of Perry Klebhan’s Premier status qualification) got in touch with a person working in the Chicago Airport. This United employee reportedly told the Klebhans that “the unaccompanied minor [service person] in Chicago simply ‘forgot to show up’ to transfer [Phoebe] to the next flight.”

Phoebe was ultimately placed on another flight departing four hours later, reports The Huffington Post. Oh, and her luggage was lost by the airline.

We contacted United for an explanation but did not receive a response by time of publication. A representative from the airline told HuffPost Travel, “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.”

While it’s unusual for so much to go wrong when a child is traveling alone, unaccompanied minors are nonetheless at the mercy of airline customer service—and most of the network carriers don’t exactly have a stellar record there. On its website, United ensures that “An airline representative will meet your child upon landing and escort your child to his or her connecting gate, if applicable, or to the arrivals area to meet the person designated to pick up your child.” The failure of United to keep this simple pledge can, as is evidenced by the Klebhan’s story, can cause a world of worry (or worse) for concerned family members.

After reading this story, would you let your child fly alone on United?

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