Here’s How an Unaccompanied Minor Wound Up on a Plane Headed to Germany Yesterday

This morning I learned the shocking story of a United Airlines unaccompanied minor being put on a flight to Germany instead of Sweden.

Though an adult put him on the plane — a flight he didn’t have a boarding pass for — he realized he was heading to Germany and let his mother know. That began an odyssey during which she desperately tried to get United’s help to stop the plane from taking off with her son on it. She tweeted, she called, she sat on hold for over an hour and tried to get supervisors to do something.

  • She had booked United from Raleigh to Newark (United) to Stockholm (SAS).
  • At Raleigh she learned that United would require the teen to travel as an unaccompanied minor. They charged her a $150 fee for the service.
  • United doesn’t usually accept unaccompanied minors on connecting itineraries, let alone international partner itineraries, but they made an exception — and things went very wrong.

I was in touch with the boy’s mother early this morning. His sister shared in the comments that when her brother was brought over to the wrong Eurowings flights by the unaccompanied minor team, he was handed a boarding pass belonging to a different passenger.

That passenger boarded, too, and found the boy in his seat so “he quietly sat next to him instead thinking it was weird.” She insists they never scanned her brother’s boarding pass. A source confirms this.

She and her brother who “have flown to Sweden every single year (if not twice a year) to Sweden since we were born” are veterans at this, though her brother thought something amiss and “message[d] my dad asking where Düsseldorf was and was confused why they were sending him to GERMANY!”

United for its part shares,

The safety and well-being of all of our customers is our top priority, and we have been in frequent contact with the young man’s family to confirm his safety and to apologize for this issue. Once Eurowings recognized that he had boarded the wrong aircraft in Newark, the plane returned to the gate – before taking off. Our staff then assisted the young customer to ensure that he boarded the correct rebooked flight later that evening. We have confirmed that this young customer safely reached his destination.

United Airlines has a vendor which handles unaccompanied minors. The employee escorting this boy was supposed to bring him to the SAS gate, but sources say he heard an announcement for a passenger with a similar-sounding name at the Eurowings gate. The employee assumed it was the same person, and handed the boy to a colleague at the gate for the Dusseldorf flight. No one checked the boy’s identification against the passenger list.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Pingbacks

  1. […] At Raleigh, Brenda learned that United would require the teen to travel as an unaccompanied minor. They charged her a $150 fee for the service. Note that United doesn’t usually accept unaccompanied minors on connecting itineraries, let alone international partner itineraries, but they made an exception — and things went very wrong. (source: Here’s How an Unaccompanied Minor Wound Up on a Plane Headed to Germany Yesterday) […]

Comments

  1. When you state, “United Airlines has a vendor which handles unaccompanied minors” does that mean that United contracts this out to a different company?

  2. @MissMarierose,
    Yes, United and other airlines, contract out many services to third party venders. In some cases, a member of the general public may not specifically realize that they are working with a vender employee instead of a United employee. In other words, the vender contracted employees do not typically identify themselves as a contractor and not a direct airline employee.

    These vender contractors also don’t receive the full employee benefits of working for an airline such as nonrevenue travel or the main airlines retirement benefits. They are often paid minimum wages, and live close to the poverty line.

    Again, virtually all the US carriers heavily use these contractors to perform a variety of airport services presumably to save money, but again, I don’t think most members of the public realize how much is contracted out.

  3. He was placed into the wrong plane, the plane left the gate and had to leave the tarmac/taxi way to make way back to a gate to offload him.

    I have to wonder how his checked luggage was handled. I assume UA probably tagged it for the SAS EWR-ARN flight at RDU check-in.

    I hope UA doesn’t go after the UA@RDU employee who charged the UAM fee and checked in the passenger and any accompanying luggage he may have had. This whole situation would have been non-news if UA@EWR and UA’s contractor in EWR didn’t mess this up.

  4. This is a huge problem when companies try and save money and hire ‘vendors’ And outsourcing!! United should provide UA employees as UM personnel!!

  5. The ironic thing here was that things probably would have worked out fine if United didn’t force the kid to use the unaccompanied minor “service.” He is an experienced traveler, and likely would have looked at the monitors at EWR. Also, no way could he have boarded without his own boarding pass and without getting it scanned. SAS only requires the unaccompanied minor service for those 11 and under.

    Also, ironically – in the late 60’s and going into the 70’s the airlines had “youth fares” – if you were aged 12-21 you could travel for half price but you had to travel standby. So, once upon a time the airlines encouraged 12 year-olds to travel without an adult and without reservations. Of course, things were different in those day – no cell phones, so much more difficult to communicate with your minor flying solo.

  6. @Jack – this website was first with the story, indeed the post you’re commenting on wasn’t written the day you left your comment so…. [Indeed where do you think Business Insider got it from? The author reads this blog, interacts with me on twitter… that’s how Boing Boing picked it up, Fox News, etc]

  7. I recall it being mentioned that he is 14 years old and taller than the average adult male.in America.

  8. **laughing in Swedish** hihihihihihihi

    What a mess, UA (and AA for that matter) is making it easier and easier to choose other airlines

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