CHICAGO (CBS) — A family from San Francisco is furious, after their young daughter was stranded for hours at O’Hare International Airport as she flew alone to a camp in Michigan.
As CBS 2’s Kris Habermehl reports, Phoebe Klebahn, 10, took a United Airlines flight as an unaccompanied minor from San Francisco to Traverse City, Mich., with a stop-over at O’Hare, on her way to camp back on June 30.
But when the plane landed at O’Hare, United did not have any staff present to help Phoebe transfer to her flight to Traverse City, and she ended up missing the flight, wrote blogger Bob Sutton, who is a friend of the Klebahn family.
Phoebe asked United staffers over and over for help, but a complaint letter said the attendants told her they were “busy and could not help her.”
“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,” a complaint letter from Phoebe’s mother to United said. “She was sad and scared and no one helped.”
Phoebe’s parents, Annie and Perry Klebahn, only found out there was a problem when they received in a call from the camp in Michigan and were informed that Pheobe wasn’t there, Sutton wrote.
At that point, Sutton wrote, Annie and Perry Klebahn both got on the phone, and Annie Klebahn was routed to an overseas call center where the customer service representative was less than helpful.
“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,’” said the complaint letter, as quoted by Sutton.
Annie Klebahn was put on hold for 40 minutes when she asked to be connected to a supervisor. Meanwhile, Perry Klebahn got to talk to someone at O’Hare as because he is “Premier” client of United Airlines, but that person was equally unhelpful, Sutton wrote.
“She told him that in fact the unaccompanied minor service in Chicago simply “forgot to show up” to transfer her to the next flight,” Annie Klebahn wrote. “He was dumbfounded as neither of us had been told in writing or in person that United outsourced the unaccompanied minor services to a third party vendor.”
Perry Klebahn then asked if the employee with whom he was speaking could go and check on Phoebe, but the employee initially refused, Sutton wrote.
“When she came back she said should was going off her shift and could not help. My husband then asked her if she was a mother herself and she said ‘yes’—he then asked her if she was missing her child for 45 minutes what would she do?” Annie Klebahn wrote. “She kindly told him she understood and would do her best to help. 15 minutes later she found Phoebe in Chicago and found someone to let us talk to her and be sure she was okay.”
Phoebe was finally placed on a flight to Traverse City four hours later, but she didn’t get her bags for three days.
A Huffington Post report said Phoebe’s parents spent a total of 18 hours on the phone between them to sort out the fiasco, and Phoebe “never wants to fly United again.”
An aviation expert calls the practice of outsourcing escorts for unaccompanied minors one of the airlines’ dirty little secrets to cut costs.
“When you drop a child off, you think it’s with career carrier employee. That’s more reassuring than knowing that your kid is going to be taken by the cheapest labor they can find to get a person to another place,” said travel industry consultant Al Anolik.
In response to the incident, United released a statement, which was quoted in multiple published reports:
“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.”