Yes, Continental, you CAN prevent this from happening again

By | June 16, 2009

Some have suggested that Continental already has the right policies and procedures in place, it was nothing more than an unfortunate mistake (a series of mistakes, actually) that caused my daughter to end up on the wrong flight, and there’s nothing more that Continental can do to make it right.

Well, I beg to differ, and to prove I’m right, here’s a list of ways to prevent this from happening again that my wife came up with off the top of her head (and these must be pretty obvious, given that she doesn’t work in the airline industry):

Things Continental could change at the corporate level besides “retraining”. When this number of employees messes up, you don’t just have a training problem; your corporate policies have made it too difficult for people to do the right thing or too easy to mess up.

  1. Do not board two planes at the same time out of the same gate, period. One of them has to wait until the other is fully loaded, manifest checked (because same gate makes it easy for adults to make mistakes too), and cabin doors are closed. This may increase plane delays, but it will be an honest increase. They are trying to make up for delays with this unsafe practice.
  2. Close off the wrong side of the Y in Y jetways when boarding, to avoid that which someone commenting mentioned happened to them about the sheer drop to the pavement (see unsafe practice!).
  3. Allow or even mandate that a child’s parent or escort take them all the way on to the plane where they are personally introduced to a flight attendant and buckled in. If Southwest mandates it, it must be possible.
  4. Require unaccompanied minors to preboard. No discretion should be allowed here. In addition to being safer, it gives the child time to settle, hear announcements, ask questions, have their seat assignment known and noticed by attendants, and means children won’t be paraded through full airplanes for all to see by attendants whose mind is already on the next task of getting everyone to sit down and shut up so they can take off on time.
  5. When an unaccompanied minor is assigned a flight, that flight should have a seat set and ready for them and part of the preflight check list should include someone who is flying on that flight who must check to see if that seat has that child in it. An unaccompanied minor should have a preassigned seat known to someone official in case of emergency, and this is an easy way to make sure the child gets on the plane.
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25 thoughts on “Yes, Continental, you CAN prevent this from happening again

  1. Pingback: Today’s letter to Continental « Something better to do

  2. Pingback: UMNRs – Unaccompanied Minors | Flight Wisdom

  3. Sandi

    Casey – are you kidding??!!??

    Have you not read the other stories here of the same lack of responsibility??

    Every employee who signed off on any of these children’s paperwork should be fired or seriously disciplined. Thankfully these children are fine but if you made the same careless mistakes repeatedly would you still be employed?

  4. Gloria

    My granddaughter flies Southwest all the time and we’ve never had a problem. They always let the unaccompanied minors board first and I can’t imagine an airline not doing that. And they don’t charge any extra money for unaccompanied minors to fly (at least so far they haven’t). So sorry this happened to your family but I’m glad your child is okay.

  5. Rob

    This is more than just a “mistake”, and I don’t think the fact that his daughter is unharmed makes the situation any better. The fact that she was unharmed was largely due to the random events that occurred in her particular situation and not due to Continental intervention – in similar circumstances, something could have happened, and regardless of the fact that she got out ok, something needs to be done about it.

    I don’t think this blogger is being smug. I don’t have children, but reading about how it took 45 minutes to confirm his child’s whereabouts…45 minutes feels like an eternity in situations like that. I can only imagine the grief and hardship he had to go through as a parent.

    I don’t work at an airline, but at my current company, used to hold a position (prior to my promotion) where a mistake on our end could be small or could cause huge hardship to a customer. I was always apologetic on a professional level on behalf of my company, but I was amazed at how many others in my position were so quick to find a way to blame the victim.

    The blame the victim mentality or the ‘shifty focus’ mentality just needs to go away. Big companies do occasionally catch grief they don’t deserve, but I don’t think this situation even remotely qualifies. Companies can’t merely hide under the guise of “mistakes happen” – when the mistake causes hardship to a customer, you have to atone for it. This isn’t like being a server in a restaurant where the worst you could do is ruin someone’s evening.

  6. Dave G, Los Angeles

    Casey, Don’t you think that this is a little more than a “mistake”? They (Continental) have been doing this for years. If I had gotten this kind of attention 10 years ago, how many of thes incidents would have been avoided? They need to address and fix this problem. The more attention it gets, the better for everyone. Narcissistic? Hardly. It’s more like responsible.

  7. jik Post author

    To be honest with you, it seems as though you are a little preoccupied with the media storm surrounding the unfortunate situation.

    Riiiiight. That must be why I wrote this yesterday:

    Aside from those, we’re turning off the spigot. My goal was to make this incident so public that Continental would have no choice but to address the failures which allowed it to occur, and that has clearly been achieved. It’s time for our family to return to our private lives.

    Everyone who has covered the story has asked to interview our daughter on camera. We have politely but consistently denied such requests and will continue to do so. The incident on Sunday was far more traumatic for my wife and me and her parents than it was for our daughter. Letting reporters stick cameras in her face and ask, “Were you scared?” would produce a harmful self-fulfilling prophecy.

    That must also be why I have turned down or ignored multiple media requests for interviews in the last day or so, including repeated, insistent requests by Inside Edition for me to let them interview me on camera.

    It is more than likely that airlines across the country will now start to implement stricter guidelines regarding children who fly alone.

    Right, and that’s because I was willing to make a media spectacle of myself for the past three days to publicize what happened to my daughter. If I hadn’t done that, then there would be zero chance that Continental would change for the better in this area.

    A year from now, nobody will remember that Jonathan Kamens was all over the news on two days in June 2009. A year from now, I probably won’t remember that I was all over the news for two days in June 2009. However, with any luck, a year from now, unaccompanied minors may be just a little bit safer on Continental airlines because of what I’ve done. That’s what matters.

  8. Casey

    To be honest with you, it seems as though you are a little preoccupied with the media storm surrounding the unfortunate situation. It is both troubling and seems a bit narcissistic on your part.

    It was a terrible thing that your daughter endured, but it really is a shame to see people–such as yourself–seemingly basking in media attention.

    It was a mistake by the airline, but your daughter is unharmed. It is more than likely that airlines across the country will now start to implement stricter guidelines regarding children who fly alone. Get over it–move on because now you just seem foolish…

  9. rebecca conway

    I traveled alone to Europe from 11 years old until 17. As a minor, they usually did escort me to the gate themselves…and to the seat…but I had PLENTY of mix-ups as well!! I missed a few flights, was sent to Alicante, Spain instead of Madrid and was left alone in the terminal in JFK! So, definately, something needs to be improved. I am now 32 yrs goes to show this has been going on for years!!!!

  10. Michael

    I am the brother of Mark – see above. I confirm what happened with my 12 year old daughter. When I arrived at Houston (Bush) Intercontinental, I was told that Mark was to pick up my daughter. I explained, no, Marl dropped her of in LA, I am picking my daughter up her in Houston. I further explained that the week prior I had dropped her off in Houston and Mark picked her up in LA. They checked there record and confirmed I had dropped her off in Houston and Mark picked her up in LA. So I inquired, then doesn’t make sense that Mark drop her off in LA and I pick her up in Houston. The lady at the counter said, “well I don’t know about that”. To which I explained the scenario again, calmly in my best professorial voice. She explained that she needed to get her supervisor. Supervisor comes, she says that Mark must pick her up. I ask, “you mean you want Mark, who dropped her off in LA, to fly here to Houston from LA, where he just dropped her off”. The response, “yes sir, if Mark is in LA, then he will need to come here to Houston to pick up your daughter”. To which I literally laughed, not to be cruel, I just was astounded by the absurdity. So I called my brother and asked him how he filled out the paperwork and if he had reversed who picks up and drops off. Mark told me he did it correctly. So I asked that the supervisor contact LAX, have the original paperwork faxed to her and she could look at it. Meanwhile my daughter calls me and wants to know where i am, she is in the young travelers club getting a sugar rush on sodas and Little Debbies. She even told the attendant in teh young travelers club that I was their to get her and who I was etc. No good. We wait an hour and finally the supervisor confirms the paperwork says I pick here up, they entered it into the computer backward. B the time I get up to the young travelers club, I find 7 children sitting around, watching a DVD movie, taking in all the carbs they can and the attendant who is supposed to watch them on her cell phone chatting to away with her back turned to the children so she could prop her feet up on the wall. Best wishes to all – Michael.

  11. Cos

    Asa parent that just sent my 11 year old from Louisiana to Minnesota via DFW I can only imagine what you went through. She flew with American Airlines and I was extremely happy with the service. The ticket agent explained everything on the phone and even insured that her seats were preassigned and were close to the attendants station. I can’t say how things went in DFW, but my daughter arrived on time in Minneapolis with no problems. Other than the fear raised by your incident I would do it again. One thing I will never do is fly Continental. Really a $75 refund is insulting. I would expect a least a call from someone in authority.

  12. Dave G, Los Angeles

    This is my Continental “experience” from actually 10 years ago:

    “They did somthing almost as bad to my two sons several years ago. The boy’s(10 and 12) flight arrived late from LA to Chicago missing the connection to Cleveland. Continental had the audacity to put them on standby for a full flight….twice in a row! The third and last flight for that day was also full and they again insisted on putting them on standby telling me they had no other option. I was told if they missed that flight, I would have to arrange for their overnight stay and supervision in Chicago at my expense and that they could not assist me. I made it clear that that was not acceptable and they still insisted. No one from the airline even bothered to call me and I only found out when my son and his mother both called me after five hours and having been denied boarding on the second flight. I was repeatedly lied to by staff and only after threatening to call everyone from the FAA to local news to the Chicago PD did they bother to get them seats on the last flight. Two children unaccompanied and unsupervised in an airport fo 9 hours and all Continental would do was refund the unacompanied minor fee. Never fly Continental!!!”
    Continental obviously will never change until forced to. I am happy to see this in the mainsteam media. After my dealings with them, I think it is logical to presume that most if not all of the posts supporting Continental out of Houston are from employees. If I haid simply stayed with the rep on line 1, they would have spent the night in Chicago. I had 2 phones going at the same time with them for four hours and the only helpful person out of dozens of calls was in lost baggage at O’hare that actually connected me to the gate so I could speak with my children. The other employees told me it was absolutely impossible to call the gate directly. “The phones don’t work that way”. They lied repeatedly an infered that somehow this was my fault. If after 10 years, they have still not taken resposibility and fixed this problem, maybe a lawsuit is in order. Good luck and I am glad your daughter is safe.

  13. HomeinNC

    Sir, with all due respect, I’m pretty sure that not everyone that is writing to you from Houston is employed by Continental. You are jumping to conclusions as much as the people that think you want to sue, when in reality you do not. Embarrasing the airline by using the media is a good way of making them correct the problem, and hopefully they will no longer make these mistakes. My sister is 14 and will be traveling from Mexico this summer to NC, hopefully (even though she is older than your daughter) Continental doesn’t keep making such mistakes. I am happy your daughter is safe at home with her grandparents & you are setting such a great example by not trying to get any monetary benefits from the company.

  14. James

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I am so sorry that this happen to your young child. I have 11 grandchildren and I’m always asking their parents to allow them to fly by themselves to have a visit with their grandparents. Now, I have second thoughts — maybe the airlines should offer a discount ticket for an adult to travel with the child. As for your child — they should get free airfare until they reach adulthood. Once again, I feel so bad this has happen to you and then having to wait countless hours for your child to arrive. Your wife’s five points are simple and make sense. All airlines MUST stop this uncaring habit they have for minors traveling alone.

  15. Erika Morse

    I am so sorry this happened to your daughter. I do not understand what has happened to the airlines level of service. When I was a child, I traveled a lot by myself to visit relatives. I remember flying to Hawaii by myself. I was pre-boarded and taken to my seat where I was introduced to each flight attendant and even had the pilot come give me some of those cheap plastic wings. My seat was in the front of the plane so the flight attendant was always close by, and she could see when I got up out of my seat to go use the restroom. I was checked on constantly and during the 5 hour flight, I never felt so safe. When I got off of the plane, my aunt had to show ID to pick me up in Hawaii. What do they do now, just let the child wonder the airport until they hopefully find the right relative that should be there? I do not understand how the airline can not take more responsibility for this. If your daughter would have been lost in a city she was not supposed to be in, there would be hell to pay, but because they were lucky and your daughter somehow reached her destination, it was just a simple error in communication between staff. I hope your daughter wasn’t totally traumatized by the ordeal. I know people say kids are resilient but sometimes I wonder how much certain life experiences stay with them.

  16. Mark

    I saw this story on Yahoo news and mailed it to my brother because we had a similar experience with Continental’s complete incompetence in boarding and unboarding my neice during a recent round-trip flight between Los Angeles and Houston. The Continental agent in LA asked my neice and I to wait at a specific gate for her. Only minutes before the doors closed for the flight was I able to find the lady and ask her what we were waiting for. She said, “I’ve been looking all over for you.” Apparently, she must have looked everywhere except the gate where she told us to stand. As it turns out, the only other person at that gate was another Continental employee who was off-duty and waiting to board a flight. That employee would have missed her flight had I not pointed out to her that the gate was closed and we were only waiting where we were told to wait. When my neice landed in Houston, the Houston team had to get the original paperwork from the LA team because the information about who was picking up/dropping off my neice had been entered into the computer wrong–my brother had to wait an hour because they insisted I was the person who should pick her up in Houston. Continental has lost us as customers.

  17. Cosmos Human

    My daughter who is 19, but disabled with AHDH and memory loss flew alone r/t CLE-LAS on WN and CO, and I was able to obtain a gate pass to personally see her at the gate, otherwise she would board the wrong plane. Trust me, she gets lost. I feel for you and your child and the other parents of the 8 y/o child who ended up in the wrong city.

    G-d forbid if someone took took your precious daughter! Procedures need to be changed and more training/education for the ground staff.

  18. Josh

    As a continental employee (ground crew, not a ticket agent), I’m appalled and embarrassed. In my station, at least, minors are escorted to the appropriate plane by the ticket agent. There is supposed to be a chain of custody with minors, with paperwork that is supposed to be signed when you hand over a minor to another person.

    As far as blocking off the wrong part of the jetway goes, you’d be amazed at the amount of people that will actively remove a barrier if they think that’s where they are supposed to go.

  19. jik Post author

    How hard can that be?

    Apparently too hard, because that’s what they’re already supposed to do. Three different airline employees signed my daughter’s paperwork without checking the flight # or destination.

  20. Heather

    Even something as simple as requiring the accompanying employee to take the child to the flight attendant who checks the plane’s manifest, and each countersigns to show the change of custody. How hard can that be?

  21. exist

    I just read through your blog.

    You are amazing, very special parents and your children are fortunate to be born to you. Instead of eagerly grabbing the media, you kept a calm head and did the right thing for your children’s long-term development. You are a role model for many parents today.
    May G-d bless you that they should bring you joy in all ways!

  22. Cr8zycajun

    WOW I cannot even believe this happened and for Continental to act the way they have about it all!! Also did’nt you have to pay an Un-Accompanied Minor Charge on top of your Ticket cost?? So what exactly does this cover? My Daughter is flying for her very first time alone this July on US Air and we had to pay $200 + Round Trip Fare ($100 each way because she is an unaccompanied minor.) When I spoke with US Air they told me that I would get a security pass to walk her to her gate and stay with her until she left. After hearing of this happening not only to your daughter but the other child in Houston as well I thought I was a nervous wreck now I am terrified!!

  23. abbasegal

    OK, I take back what I said about their procedures sounding OK and the problem being with execution. Your point about that fact that the procedures are so hard to follow implies that they can be improved is correct, and your suggested procedures would be much more “ironclad” in execution.


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