unaccompanied minors on airplanes

Nine-year-old girl at center of Southwest mix-up

Southwest Airlines is apologizing to a Clarksville, Tenn., family and investigating how a 9-year-old girl flying as an unaccompanied minor from Nashville to New York on Tuesday ended up re-routed and delayed for five hours without the airline notifying the family.

Chloe Boyce is fine and will be getting a special patch from her junior Girl Scout troop to mark her adventure, but her mom, Elena Kerr, is upset.

“The flight arrived and my daughter didn’t get off,” Kerr told me. “Someone went on the plane to see if she was there and my sister called me and said, ‘Where’s Chloe?’ The Southwest guys told her there were no unaccompanied minors on that flight.”

Kerr had put Chloe on a flight in Nashville headed for New York’s LaGuardia Airport with scheduled stops in Columbus and Baltimore.

Southwest’s policy only allows unaccompanied children to be booked on itineraries that don’t include plane changes. Chloe’s flight, however, made an extra stop in Cleveland due to weather, and upon arriving in Baltimore she was rebooked on another flight to New York.

Unfortunately, no one from the airline called Kerr to inform her of the delay. The airline also did not contact Chloe’s aunt, who was waiting at the gate in New York.

Kerr said she started frantically calling Southwest and that it took more than an hour for the airline to locate Chloe and even longer to explain what happened.

“At BWI, the flight attendant took her off the plane, walked her to Hudson News to get her a drink and some snacks and the pilot bought her dinner,” Kerr told me. “But while she was there no could tell us where she was.”

Kerr said her family is a military family that has spent time living in Alaska and that she understands delays. “We just don’t understand why we weren’t called, especially because the Southwest policy states that someone must be available to answer phone calls during the flight time in the event of a flight irregularity.”

Southwest Airlines has apologized to Kerr and refunded the cost of Chloe’s ticket.

“Our unaccompanied minor policy aims to minimize these kinds of situations … by only ticketing them on itineraries that don’t require an aircraft change,” said Southwest spokesperson Brad Hawkins via email.
“In this case, the unscheduled change of planes resulted in the connection, a delay and distress for the family which we certainly regret and have apologized for in our conversation with the family of our customer.”

Kerr is not convinced she should let Chloe fly alone again.

“We don’t trust Southwest,” said Kerr. ” I’m going to be driving the 17 hours to New York to get her.”

(A slightly different version of this story first appeared on msnbc.com)