CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Summer travel season is almost here and in a Channel 9 team investigation, Eyewitness News reporter Paul Boyd and anchor Erica Bryant looked into how safe are the airline programs for children flying without their parents.
One woman told Boyd that her child was forgotten by airline employees and left alone in the airport.
"This is a huge, huge thing to let your child fly on an airline," the mother said.
She and her daughter live in Charlotte, and the girl’s father lives in Florida. They planned a visit for late December.
"She was just going to spend some quality time with her dad," she said.
Her daughter, who is 13 years old, was booked on a direct flight from Charlotte to Orlando on Frontier Airlines.
She would be flying alone, and her parents paid an additional $110 each way to use the airline's unaccompanied minor program.
"The reason why this is supposed to be in place is so that parents like me can have peace of mind," the mother said.
But she told Channel 9 that there was a serious safety breach when her daughter was forgotten and left alone in the terminal for 15 minutes after she landed in Orlando.
"Her father called me right away and told me,” she said. “I was in shock. I was disgusted. I was really frightened."
A form designed to closely track who has custody of the child is at the heart of Frontier's unaccompanied minor program.
“Everything on your identification matches exactly to what you're going to be putting on the form," she said.
One parent signs the form before the child boards the flight, and the second parent is supposed to sign it when he or she picks up the child up.
The airline is supposed to fill in blank spaces as each employee takes custody of the child, and there are boxes for employees to initial after checking each parent's identification.
"No one walked her off the plane,” she said. “No one sat with her when they were supposed to.”
She told Channel 9 that her daughter’s flight arrived early.
"Thank God my daughter knew better than to walk away from the ticketing counter," she said.
She told Channel 9 that her daughter's father got to the gate on time and that a Frontier employee was at the counter, but not paying attention when the girl’s father arrived.
"They didn't even ask who he was,” she said. “They didn't ask anything."
She said no identification was checked, no paperwork was signed and the girl was allowed to simply walk away with no one ever confirming that she was with the right person.
"As a mother, I was crying on the phone. Her father was furious,” she told Boyd.
Frontier Airlines declined an on-camera interview with Channel 9, but its website says that minors “won't be released to the designated recipient until the identification has been reviewed by one of our employees."
"I think it's completely irresponsible," she said.
The airline apologized and refunded the family $110. The also sent Channel 9 the following statement:
(We) apologized to the customer and refunded both the (unaccompanied minor) fee and the seat fee. Customer relations also provided a free travel voucher. We've notified the head of the Orlando station who has spoken to employees about what happened. The airport operations team also sends out reminders during busy travel seasons like summer vacations and holidays to remind all staff about (unaccompanied minor) procedures.
The mother has advice for other parents: Be sure to get the names of everyone involved in accompanying your child.
"Ask questions. Ask a lot of questions,” she said. “Had I known that, a lot more people would be accountable right now."
The Frontier flight was the family's third time using an unaccompanied minor program. Their child had previously flown with United and American airlines with no problems.
Read more on our team investigation where parents warn about a program that helps children fly alone.
Cox Media Group