Another airline screwup you just will NOT believe: Continental puts my unaccompanied minor daughter on the wrong plane!

By | June 14, 2009

I took my ten-year-old daughter to Boston Logan Airport this morning to put her on a Continental flight to Cleveland, where my in-laws live, as an unaccompanied minor.  The gate agent took all the paperwork and escorted my daughter down the jetway, and then proceeded to put her on the wrong airplane. There were two flights on the tarmac being boarded through the same gate, and the gate agent put her on the flight to Newark rather than the flight to Cleveland.

No one on the Cleveland flight crew noticed that my daughter, who was listed as an unaccompanied minor on the manifest, wasn’t on the plane.  No one on the Newark flight crew noticed that they had an extra passenger not listed on the manifest, or that an unexpected unaccompanied minor had been boarded, or that the paperwork accompanying my daughter spelled out in big, clear letters that she was supposed to be going to a different city.

When the flight arrived in Newark, no one there noticed that my daughter had been put on the wrong flight and flown the wrong city, again despite the fact that her paperwork clearly spelled out both the flight number and destination.  The Continental people in Newark called my in-laws’ phone number to tell them to come pick her up as if nothing was wrong, despite the fact that their address on the form was an Ohio address and their phone number had an Ohio area code.  The people in Newark did not call my home or cell number to find out why no one was at the airport to pick up my daughter, despite the fact that they had both of those numbers on the same paperwork as my in-laws’ number.

We didn’t find out something was wrong until my father-in-law called me from the arrival gate in Cleveland to ask why my daughter wasn’t on the plane.

It took forty-five minutes from that point until the Continental people in Cleveland finally confirmed that she was in Newark.  The only reason they were able to figure it out at all is because I told them that there had been a flight to Newark boarding at the same gate and the best possible explanation for her whereabouts was that the gate agent put her on the wrong flight (the alternatives were much worse!).  God only knows how long it would have taken them to figure out where she was if I hadn’t noticed the Newark flight leaving from Boston and mentioned it to them.

The folks in Cleveland “graciously” offered to refund the unaccompanied minor fee.  My father-in-law laughed when they made the offer, it was so outrageous.  You can bet they’ll be refunding a lot more than that fee by the time I’m done with them.

But this isn’t about the money.  It’s mind-boggling how many people must have failed to do their jobs properly for this to be able to happen.  Furthermore, surely numerous FAA regulations must been violated, e.g., surely flight crews are required to positively verify that the number of passengers on the manifest matches the number of passengers on the plane.  And this has all sorts of implications for airport security — if someone can buy a ticket for a regional jet flight, go down the jetway to the tarmac, and then sneak behind a pillar and hide rather than boarding the plane, and no one on the flight crew notices that a passenger has disappeared, then doesn’t that person now have essentially free rein over the entire airport tarmac?

I’ve been told that my daughter was put on a flight out of Newark scheduled to land in Cleveland in less than an hour.  We’ll see if they got it right this time.

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150 thoughts on “Another airline screwup you just will NOT believe: Continental puts my unaccompanied minor daughter on the wrong plane!

  1. sullhay

    Five years ago, I, somewhat nervously, put both of my children, ages 13 and 15, on a Continental plane to visit their aunt, uncle, and cousins for a week. For the 13-year-old, I had to pay the (I’m guessing $45/each way?) unaccompanied minor charge, even though he was with his older sister. The kids arrived safely; however, they told me that not one single Continental employee ever questioned them, provided any extra service, or made any accommodations for them, to earn that fee. Nothing was done in either direction to make sure the kids had enough to eat, drink, or to ensure that they were met on the receiving end by their relatives. Continental merely pocketed the extra $90 R/T and did absolutely nothing to earn it. This fee is just a money-maker for the airlines, and thank goodness, most kids end up at the right airport.

    Reply
  2. js

    I feel bad that this mishap happened to your daughter but……..

    give me a break…why weren’t you at the gate to make sure which plane the agent put her on??? people are just sue crazy & looking for easy money and fail to take responsibility themselves. just wait….a honest mistake will happen to you one day & someone will sue your pants off. good luck to you buddy….. open your eyes & grow up. You probably blame the teacher when your child doesn’t learn too. I can understand getting a refund for your ticket/unaccompanied minor fee & maybe even a airline voucher for a future flight but do you really need to sue the airline.

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  3. Bobby

    >>
    Continental isn’t going to do anything to prevent this from happening again if it doesn’t cost them something. Frankly, even a refund of my daughter’s fare and putting her and my in-laws in first class on her return flight, which is what I’ve told them is the minimum I expect them to do, is hardly going to cost them anything, but it might just be enough to get someone there to pay attention to what happened here.

    Do you know their success rate at getting children to their destination, if its 99.99 percent, do they have to do anything???

    >>
    First of all, if you don’t think that I and my family suffered yesterday, then you’re a moron.

    Ah I see the insults come quickly, your suffering was 45 min which again goes to being calm, and rational about the experience.

    >>
    I’m not asking them for a “payoff,” I’m asking them to refund the money for the service they didn’t perform.

    Wait your original post you said……

    >>
    You can bet they’ll be refunding a lot more than that fee by the time I’m done with them

    So which is it??
    If your only after a refund of the fee for the services performed then I have no issue and think you have taken a high road.

    Look at how people perceive you here in the comments section because they assume your going to try and profit from this.

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/hotstories/6480156.html#none

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  4. Mike in Kansas

    yo bob:

    You’re joking, right?! “Honest mistake”? How many systems failed, how many procedures were broken in order to allow this to happen? If a person tried to do this intentionally, it would push the Security Level up to “Red”. Instead of positioning it as “personally profit”, I think the correct term would be “punitive damages”.

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  5. jik Post author

    This is whats wrong with society, everyone expects a payoff, If there was no injury then why the payoff.

    First of all, if you don’t think that I and my family suffered yesterday, then you’re a moron.

    Why don’t you try not knowing where on earth your child is for 45 minutes and there’s nothing whatsoever you can do about it and then let me know whether you would describe what you experienced as suffering.

    Second, Continental was contracted to perform a service, and they were grossly negligent in the performance of that service. I’m not asking them for a “payoff,” I’m asking them to refund the money for the service they didn’t perform.

    And please, spare me the claim that Continental performed their service as contracted because they eventually got my daughter to Cleveland. That kind of attitude is exactly why airline service (and, for that matter, customer service in general) in this country sucks so badly. If you want to put up with being treated that badly without complaining, that’s your right, but as for me, I won’t stand for it.

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  6. jik Post author

    What if they refund your fee and made a contribution to a local shelter ($1,000)?

    It’s not “my” fee — my in-laws paid for the ticket so that our daughter could visit them.

    I’m sure that you don’t expect to personally “profit”

    I won’t “profit” regardless of what happens, since I didn’t pay for the ticket in the first place. And if my in-laws couldn’t afford the ticket, they wouldn’t have offered to buy it in the first place.

    There is, unfortunately, only one language that large corporations understand, and that language is money. Continental isn’t going to do anything to prevent this from happening again if it doesn’t cost them something. Frankly, even a refund of my daughter’s fare and putting her and my in-laws in first class on her return flight, which is what I’ve told them is the minimum I expect them to do, is hardly going to cost them anything, but it might just be enough to get someone there to pay attention to what happened here.

    And anybody who doesn’t think that my daughter, my in-laws and my wife and I suffered yesterday as a result of Continental’s negligence is, frankly, an idiot.

    from an honest mistake, right?

    It wasn’t “an honest mistake,” it was five or six monumentally stupid mistakes, all of which were in violation of Continental’s policies and procedures and several of which were also violations of FAA regulations.

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  7. Bobby

    Looks like you say its not about the money but your looking for a payoff?
    >>
    You can bet they’ll be refunding a lot more than that fee by the time I’m done with them.
    >>

    Why? when in a later post you put…..

    >>
    She seems OK to me. My wife thought she was a bit shaken up, and she tends to be more attuned to the kids’ moods than I am, so she’s probably right, but I’m sure she’ll shake it off, especially since she starts horse camp (which is the reason for the trip to Cleveland) today, and I’m not sure there’s anything in the world she likes more than horses.

    This is whats wrong with society, everyone expects a payoff, If there was no injury then why the payoff. Don’t claim pain and suffering, its at most a inconvinence. I would take the opportunity to teach my child from this learning opportunity, that things don’t always according to plan to be keep calm, cool and flexible.

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  8. yo bob

    What if they refund your fee and made a contribution to a local shelter ($1,000)? Would you feel better? – this way, the honest mistake helps someone in need. I’m sure that you don’t expect to personally “profit” from an honest mistake, right?

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  9. Sue Fendrick

    >The scissors were fine, but that lethal tube of toothpaste was confiscated! I took those evil scissors right on the plane with me with no issues.

    Stabbing a pilot is no big deal…but try to brush one’s teeth, and you’re in trouble.

    This:

    >It boggles my mind that there can be a person missing on one flight and an extra person on another flight, and this doesn’t immediately throw up 100 red flags.

    This:

    >And the fact that Continental isn’t falling all over themselves to apologize doesn’t help anything…the child was… with personnel who had no reason to know who she was or why she was there. Continental is lucky nothing happened to the girl.

    And this:

    >The response should have been quick and definitive – a full, verbal and written personal apology by someone high up, and an action plan on how they will prevent all these mistakes from happening ever again.

    What he said.

    Reply
  10. Mister Blaine

    Kid has to leave beautiful Boston and was supposed to go to Cleveland, instead went to New Jersey.

    Poor child. Loses either way.

    Glad the kid is finally safe though!!! (Even if final stop was Cleveland. Sheesh).

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Why is anyone surprised. In the race to provide the lowest dollar airfare, you get the lowest dollar staff providing the lowest possible service.
    However, this is never an excuse to leave a child stressed. By all mean, alert the media, so that other parents will be aware that they should not trust their children to a bunch of idiots working for a failed airline.

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  12. Morbid

    This one is smelling like at least 5 and maybe 6 digits of “pain and suffering” for another great US FAILPLANE company.

    Reply
  13. Lauren

    So I can’t bring a bottle of shampoo on an airplane but the airlines can be so utterly incompetent and unsafe that they lose a young child? Ridiculous.

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  14. Nate

    It boggles my mind that there can be a person missing on one flight and an extra person on another flight, and this doesn’t immediately throw up 100 red flags. What kind of security do we have if we haven’t even made sure the right *number* of people are on each plane, let alone their actual identities?

    And the fact that Continental isn’t falling all over themselves to apologize doesn’t help anything. Can you imagine the overwhelming fear of a parent whose child was put on a plane and subsequently disappeared? Not to mention the fact that the child was put 450 miles away from her parents and grandparents, in an airport she was never supposed to see, and with personnel who had no reason to know who she was or why she was there. Continental is lucky nothing happened to the girl.

    The response should have been quick and definitive – a full, verbal and written personal apology by someone high up, and an action plan on how they will prevent all these mistakes from happening ever again. Anyone can make a mistake. Sometimes many mistakes happen all at once, but generally, you can keep everyone happy by doing the right thing when mistakes happen. So far, Continental has not done the right thing.

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  15. Dan

    I believe it. I used to fly as an unaccompanied minor and honestly the only thing that kept me from flying to California for the hell of it was my own common sense.

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  16. Anonymous

    Make sure you complain about ExpressJet, NOT Continental. It was the ExpressJet flight crews that didn’t properly account for their passengers.

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  17. Mari P

    I had a very similar issue with Continental last summer when my 12yr old son traveled alone. He was stuck in the Newark airport for over 8 hours and almost had to spend the night alone when the last flight was delayed. I never did get a phone call or anything to let me know where he was or what happened. He had called me on his cell phone. When i asked to talk to the person in charge of the children she would not talk to me on the phone. My son said the staff were surfing the web and playing games on the computer the whole time. I complained and the offered the refund, but it was in the form of a travel voucher for Continental. As if I would ever use that!! And it was also only good for one year. The really funny thing is that they were able to get his luggage on an earlier flight but not my child. American offered to get him home, but Continential would not agree. what a mess!!

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  18. Dave

    I’d rethink my choice of carrier. If you haven’t heard, Continental is one of the biggest employers of pilots from the now infamous Gulfstream International Airline’s Training Academy (the pilot of the plane that recently went down in Buffalo was a graduate and flying for a Continental regional partner). Since the news broke, they’ve basically shown the poor records of graduates and the low pay most end up receiving. There are some serious questions as to the quality of the program and subsequently it’s graduates, which may also account for the slave-labor-like compensation and job placement programs. Just think, if Continental’s and their affiliates’ pilots are essentially near the bottom of the rung for the industry, how much must be they investing in the rest of the staff? I typically fly Delta and occassionally experience minor service issues, but nothing near as greivous as what you and your family went through…

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  19. jik Post author

    I’m not sure how exactly she got on the wrong plane

    Then you didn’t read what I wrote above.

    Reply
  20. jmndos

    I dont know….they handled it pretty well…

    See, this is why an iPhone and/or subdermal a-gps locator crucial when it comes to a daughter…..I recently saw “Taken” on PPV, so you should think about that.

    They did send her to Cleveland…eventually…

    I’m not sure how exactly she got on the wrong plane…unless continental’s system is broken….when you give them the boarding pass, in front of the gate, they have a machine, which reads the magstripe on the back for verification and ejects the stub if the information is correct….

    Reply
  21. Service pruning needed?

    Again I’m rather perplexed that the airlines provide this service to perhaps 1000s of minors per day that some stats mention, when nearly 2 million travelers fly each day in the United States. Of course I also think if such children need to travel that they should do so with a responsible adult in their family.

    Reply
  22. JMP

    You’re much more patient than I am. At the first sign that she was missing and the airline didn’t know exactly where she was — other than not on the plane — I would have called in the FBI. I wonder if it still would have taken them 45 minutes to locate her if there had been FBI agents interrogating the gate agent in Boston and the members of the flight crew (by then in Cleveland) to whom the gate agent supposedly handed off your daughter. Not to mention that it would have cost the airline a hell of a lot more than the unaccompanied minor fee when the FBI kept all those crews from boarding their next flights until they determined what happened.

    I understand that the FBI doesn’t mess around when a missing child is involved, as well they shouldn’t.
    -JMP

    Reply
  23. jik Post author

    This service probably only provides a small amount of revenue.

    Actually, it’s a big money-maker. Think about how many divorced couples there are flying their kids back and forth between them on a regular basis.

    That’s why they keep providing the service.

    Also, keep in mind that if some airlines decided to stop providing the service, it would be that much more profitable to provide it for the ones that continued to do so. So they all keep doing it to get their piece of the pie.

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  24. Service pruning needed?

    So why should Continental provide this service? Historically it might have made sense in a lower liability environment prevalent then, but in thinking about it, it seems like just the sort of service that is now hard to justify. Think about it. This service probably only provides a small amount of revenue. Doing the additional systems integration and staffing levels necessary to provide this service, without the snafus mentioned here, would likely outweigh this incremental revenue. And then there’s the bad publicity when something goes wrong. So unless there are FAA regulations that require unaccompanied minor service, it would seem rational to cut this service.

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  25. Verbatim

    Please post any follow-up: media reporting; airline or FAA response; government response……

    Reply
  26. jik Post author

    Making the mistake isn’t so bad (really, it is frightening for parents but at least you know where your child is).

    We didn’t know where our child was, for 45 minutes after we were informed she was missing.

    And it’s not a question of one mistake, but rather of many, many mistakes, none of which should have happened, and all of which call into question whether any of the supposed “security measures” taken by the airlines are meaningful or effective in any real way.

    The real issue is the inability of the airline to figure out how it happened or offer any real act of contrition.

    Yes, damage control does seem to be a lost art nowadays. But we’ll see whether that’s the case after the story runs on all the local news stations and perhaps gets picked up by the national media as well.

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  27. crichton007

    Making the mistake isn’t so bad (really, it is frightening for parents but at least you know where your child is). The real issue is the inability of the airline to figure out how it happened or offer any real act of contrition.

    I realize that airfare is much more expensive than songs on iTunes or Amazon but when I have a problem with something there they offer me a full refund or a substantial credit. If the airlines adopted the same mentality that would go a long way towards changing the public perception of them. Certainly more than offering back the $50 or so dollars that was paid extra as the unaccompanied minor fee.

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  28. jik Post author

    From looking at Continental’s timetable and the gate information listed, it seems your daughter was flying an ExpressJet (branded Continental Express) flight (1225 from A9 @ 9:45, supposed to be on 2541 from A9 @ 9:55).

    That’s correct.

    I wonder if the gate employees were from Continental or ExpressJet (only ExpressJet was leaving from A9).

    I believe they were wearing Continental uniforms, although I may be remembering wrong.

    Reply
  29. Bill

    Airline security is a joke still. I fly a lot and am amazed at the complete lack of inconsistency in security screening procedures. Then, the coup de grace was the day I went to board a plane and forgot that I had a pair of kitchen shears (the kind you cut up chicken with) in my laptop case. These scissors have 4″ blades, and can come apart to make 2 stabbing weapons if one were so inclined. So, the guard pulled them out, and my tube of toothpaste that was too big. I was worried that I would be arrested or something for trying to carry on a weapon. At best, I thought they would just confiscate the scissors. Nope. The scissors were fine, but that lethal tube of toothpaste was confiscated! I took those evil scissors right on the plane with me with no issues.

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  30. Spinfusor

    Which flight to Newark was she on?

    From looking at Continental’s timetable (http://www.continental.com/web/en-US/apps/travel/timetable/default.aspx) and the gate information listed, it seems your daughter was flying an ExpressJet (branded Continental Express) flight (1225 from A9 @ 9:45, supposed to be on 2541 from A9 @ 9:55).

    Not that it makes the situation any better, but that would explain the crappy flight crews on both flights. I wonder if the gate employees were from Continental or ExpressJet (only ExpressJet was leaving from A9).

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  31. Dave Sturm

    This is mind-boggling. I’m glad it worked out well in the end. Yikes! I don’t know what more to say…

    Reply
  32. Scott Tetreault

    Hello,

    My name is Scott Tetreault and I am the Assignment Manager at WFXT-TV.

    This is outrageous and needs to be reported.

    Feel free to contact me at 781-467-1300.

    Reply
  33. jik Post author

    I bet M could handle it (How did she do with all this, btw?

    She seems OK to me. My wife thought she was a bit shaken up, and she tends to be more attuned to the kids’ moods than I am, so she’s probably right, but I’m sure she’ll shake it off, especially since she starts horse camp (which is the reason for the trip to Cleveland) today, and I’m not sure there’s anything in the world she likes more than horses.

    What happened in Newark? Did someone take her to the lounge and supervise her? What was she doing? Who *did* they think she was???)

    They took her to the “unaccompanied minor room” to wait for the next flight to Boston. Yes, she was supposedly supervised constantly between the two flights. I don’t know who they thought she was. It’s not really surprising that they didn’t notice there was an extra passenger — it is, after all, the job of the departing gate agents and flight crew to make sure the right people are on the plane — but is rather surprising that they didn’t notice from her paperwork that she was in the wrong city.

    Reply
  34. Sue Fendrick

    Holy moly. This is unbelievable, truly. I agree with you re: all the secondary (to this matter) security stuff, but what really boggles me is: *They have in their care a 10-year-old girl”. Doesn’t it make sense that there would be a basic “This, according to my paperwork, MK, going to Cleveland. Do you have her on your manifest?” You know, like a hand-off? The lack of that core procedure is just boggleworthy.

    They’re going to refund the unaccompanied minor fee? That’s rich. Truly hysterical.

    I totally vote for the media. I bet M could handle it (How did she do with all this, btw? What happened in Newark? Did someone take her to the lounge and supervise her? What was she doing? Who *did* they think she was???)

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  35. Steve

    This is indeed mind boggling on so many different levels. I would love to see it hit the media, but you have to consider how it might affect your daughter.

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  36. Ron Newman

    Besides complaining to Continental and the FAA, you may also want to let Massport know of this screwup.

    Reply
  37. jik Post author

    though if they’re flying your daughter to Boston rather than Cleveland, that further messes up the vacation plans).

    Woops, that should have said Cleveland. Fixed above. She got to Cleveland fine on the second flight, about four hours later than she should have arrived there.

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  38. JonT

    Yikes!!! I can only imagine how worried you and your wife must have been! I’m glad everything worked out more-or-less (though if they’re flying your daughter to Boston rather than Cleveland, that further messes up the vacation plans).

    I’ll be watching for the news stories…

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  39. Jody

    Yeah, I’m inclined to say you should call the media. But in the absence of that, DEFINITELY your congressperson. And the head of the congressional committee having oversight of the FAA. This is a DISGRACE.

    Reply
  40. Quantum Mechanic

    Agreed with the first poster. As much as I can’t stand the drive-by media, this is right in their wheelhouse.

    And definitely either sue them or have your laywer send them a “you’d better settle this favorably or we’ll sue you and make sure there’s plenty of publicity over it” letter.

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  41. abbasegal

    You are right — this is utterly mind-boggling, especially in this day and age of post-9/11 TSA crackdowns, and potentially litigious parents.

    Reply

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