United Airlines 'Lost' Girl Headed to Camp, Say Parents

Summer is prime time for kids flying alone.

ByABC News
August 14, 2012, 2:53 PM

Aug. 14, 2012— -- Summer is prime time for kids flying alone, whether it be to summer camp or for the annual visit to Grandma and Grandpa's house. While the vast majority of kids flying alone -- called unaccompanied minors by the airline industry -- do so without incident, things do go occasionally wrong.

Such is the case of a 10-year-old girl named Phoebe, who was on her way to summer camp in June. Her flight was on United Airlines from San Francisco to Traverse City, Mich., with a layover in Chicago.

Bob Sutton is a Stanford professor and a friend of the girls' parents. He writes a blog called Work Matters, on which he told Phoebe's story. In the post, he linked to a letter sent to United Airlines by Phoebe's parents. They said the trouble began when no one from United met Phoebe after her plane landed in Chicago. As a result, they complained, she missed her flight to Traverse City. Her parents were only alerted when the camp called to let them know Phoebe had not arrived.

The parents, Annie and Perry Klebahn, began trying to track down Phoebe by calling United. Several phone calls and an hour later, Phoebe was located. The letter says she had asked for help from flight attendants and asked to call her parents, but was told she had to wait.

Phoebe was on a plane to Traverse City a few hours after her original flight was scheduled, but it took several days -- and many more phone calls from her parents to United -- before the bags arrived at camp.

A United spokesperson told ABC News, "We reached out directly to the Klebahns to apologize and we are reviewing their concerns. What the Klebahns describe is not the service we aim to deliver to our customers.

"We are redepositing the miles used to purchase the ticket back into Mr. Klebahn's account in addition to refunding the unaccompanied minor charge. We certainly appreciate their business and would like the opportunity to provide them a better travel experience in the future."

In general, airlines treat any child between 5 and 12 traveling alone as an unaccompanied minor. There is usually an each-way charge for the service, typically between $75 and $100. Some airlines do not allow unaccompanied minors to take connecting flights; on United, a child over seven can take a connecting flight. American and Delta have similiar age policies regarding connecting flights.