Continental won’t fix the problem; will the government step in?

By | June 30, 2009

I just sent this letter to my contact on Sen. John Kerry’s staff:

Subject: Progress on regulation related to airlines’ handling of unaccompanied minors

Ms. [elided],

I’m writing to check in with you on the status of Senator Kerry’s efforts to prevent what happened to my daughter on June 14 — being put on the wrong flight by Continental Airlines, following by no one at the airline realizing what had happened until I pointed it out to them several hours later — from happening to any other unaccompanied minors flying in the United States.

I also wanted to provide you with an update of my attempts to get Continental to recognize without any government intervention that changes to their procedures are required to ensure that this does not happen again.

On June 18, I wrote to my contact at Continental and asked her, “Can you give me an update on the progress of your investigation into what happened to M and the steps you will be taking to ensure that it does not happen again?”

Yesterday, she responded via email as follows: “We understand your continued interest in this matter and assure you that our documentation and procedures for this type of travel are very effective, but we are reinforcing to staff members the need for them to closely adhere to procedures.”

In other words, “We aren’t going to change anything, and please stop asking.”

Any safety / security procedures which fail to take into account the simple fact that people make mistakes are guaranteed to fail.  As we’ve discussed, a failure of the specific procedures under discussion here has implications not only for the safety of unaccompanied minors, but also for airport security.  Continental’s head-in-the-sand, we-don’t-need-to-fix-anything attitude is simply unacceptable.  If they are unable to acknowledge that there is a problem they need to fix, and that “reinforcing procedures” isn’t going to fix it, then the government must step in and force them to do the right thing.

Do DOT or FAA regulations require airline passenger manifests to accurately reflect the passengers actually on the plane?

Are the airlines required to report incidents like this to the DOT or FAA?

Is the DOT or FAA authorized and required to investigate such incidents?

Is the DOT or FAA empowered to compel airlines to modify their procedures when an investigation determines that they are not sufficient to ensure the safety and security of passengers and airports?

Is the DOT or FAA empowered to issue fines against airlines whose procedures are insufficient or who fail to follow them, thereby endangering the safety and security of passengers and airports?

I am not asking these questions rhetorically.  I am really asking for your help in determining whether the laws and regulations currently in place are sufficient to prevent what happened to my daughter on June 14, and to another little girl a day before that, and to many other children who never made it onto the news.  If so, then I want to know what steps the DOT or FAA is taking to enforce those laws and regulations with respect to those specific incidents.  Otherwise, I want to know what steps Senator Kerry is taking to ensure that the laws and regulations are amended as needed.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kamens

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