I just realized that I misunderstood the initial response I got from my report to the FAA. I read it quickly (things were a little crazy the day after they lost my daughter!) and thought the FAA folks said that they had forwarded my complaint to the DOT and TSA. In fact, they hadn’t, so I’ve just gone ahead and reported the incident to both agencies.
Here’s what I sent to the DOT through their Web form:
Gate agent in Boston put my unaccompanied daughter on the wrong plane — two planes were boarding from the same gate, one to Cleveland one to Newark, and they put her on the Newark plane instead of the Cleveland plane.
No one on the Cleveland flight noticed she was missing, even though she was listed on their manifest.
No one on the Newark flight noticed that she didn’t belong there, even though she wasn’t listed on their manifest.
Upon her arrival, no one in Newark noticed that she was in the wrong place. They called my in-laws in Cleveland and told them to come pick her up at the airport, without even noticing that the paperwork they got their phone number from said she was supposed to be in Cleveland.
My daughter sat for hours in Newark before *I* told the folks in Cleveland to check for her in Newark. If I hadn’t remembered that there was a Newark flight boarding from the same gate, realized that she was probably put on the wrong flight, and told them to look in Newark for her, who know show many hours it would have been before someone from Continental realized what was going on.
You probably saw the story in the news — it made local and national media all over the country. You can read more about it on my blog at http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/tag/cleveland-or-newark/?order=ASC.
I don’t think airlines should be allowed to board multiple flights from the same gate at the same time.
If what Continental did didn’t violate any FAA or DOT regulations, then clearly some new regulations need to be enacted. A screwup of this magnitude needs to be punishable by fines or some other enforcement action.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Here’s what I sent the TSA in email:
Subject: Security implications of unaccompanied minor put on wrong flight
On June 14, 2009, Continental Airlines put my unaccompanied minor daughter on the wrong flight. She was flying from Boston to Cleveland. There were two planes boarding from the same gate at the same time, and the gate agent put my daughter on the Newark-bound flight instead of the Cleveland-bound flight. The Cleveland-bound flight crew did not notice that she was missing, despite the fact that she was listed on their manifest, and the Newark-bound flight crew did not notice they had an extra passenger, despite the fact that she was not listed on their manifest.
You can also read all the details about what happened and the aftermath on my blog at http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/tag/cleveland-or-newark/?order=ASC.
You’ve probably heard about this already, since it made all the local and national media. I am continuing to field calls from the media, and I would like to be able to tell them that the TSA takes seriously the transportation security issues related to this incident. In particular:
- Apparently, a passenger with a legitimate ticket and boarding pass can go through the gate, go down a ramp onto the tarmac, and not board their flight, without anyone noticing that they’re missing. Forget about unaccompanied minors. What if a terrorist does this, ducks behind a pillar, jetway or luggage cart on the tarmac, and then changes quickly into the maintenance overalls he had hidden in his carry-on bag? Presto, he now has complete, unfettered access to the entire tarmac.
- Apparently, a passenger with a ticket for one flight can board another flight without anyone on the flight crew noticing that they don’t belong there. I leave the security implications of this to your imagination.
If these things can occur, then it seems clear that there is a hole in the security procedures in place at our nation’s airports. What is the TSA going to do about it?