I’d call it a comedy of errors, but there is no comedy in this story. A 13-year old boy traveling alone was booted off a United Express flight from Albany to Washington Dulles due to a weight/balance issue, leaving him stranded. Oh yeah, it was the last flight of the night.
Let’s review what went wrong and in doing so, add up the mistakes–
1. ERJ-145 loaded with baggage too heavy, forcing the removal of four passengers.
2. Volunteers were solicited with an offer of $500 to stay the night and fly the next morning.
3. The 13-year old, Logan, texted his brother to ask if he should take the bump (heck, smart kid to realize that $500 is worth it for a free hotel room and missed day of school!).
4. His brother told him not to volunteer, so he did not.
5. Without volunteers, four passengers were IDBed (forced off the plane). Logan was one of them.
6. Gate agents were clueless that he was an unaccompanied minor and went home.
There are so many things that do not add up in this story.
United tacitly blames its CommutAir United Express subsidiary for this–
We apologize to the O’Connors for letting them down and have refunded the flight and as a gesture of goodwill, we offered additional compensation to reimburse them for this experience. We are working with our vendor who operated this flight to ensure this doesn’t happen again
Sure, technically that “vendor” was a different entity than United. But when these agents print you United Airlines boarding passes and load you on plane with United Airlines livery on it seems far-fetched to me to try to pass the buck.
Here, the airline did not even follow §25 of its own contract of carriage, which states–
Boarding Priorities – If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority:
a. Passengers who are Qualified Individuals with Disabilities, unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 years, or minors between the ages of 5 to 15 years who use the unaccompanied minor service, will be the last to be involuntarily denied boarding if it is determined by UA that such denial would constitute a hardship.
Bumping off an unaccompanied minor, by virtue of United’s own contact of carriage, should be the option of last resort.
But I have some other questions as well for the other party.
Logan’s brother claim he was stranded and the airline staff just went home. Logan was in Albany to visit his mother: was she there too? Did she wait for the flight to depart? Did she rush over to pick up her son?
United’s Unaccompanied Minor policy states–
Even if you are not able to take your child through security, you must remain at the airport until the flight has taken off.
Those details are not clear. What is clear that Logan was traumatized and his sister-in-law drove all the way from the Washington, DC area to Albany to pick him up that night.
One other tidbit. United compensated the family (something), but because the flight was operated by an ERJ-145, the standard involuntary-denied-boarding compensation is not applicable, even to little Logan. Ironically, because the aircraft has less than 50 seats, United could boot off four passengers and not give them anything, even though they were soliciting volunteers for $500…
That doesn’t mean that the violation of the contract of carriage isn’t grounds for Logan’s family to sue United. It just means that Logan is not entitled to the cash compensation normally due for an IDB situation.
I have to say I am torn on this. No blame for the kid, that is for sure, and no question that Untied screwed up big time. But if his mother just left him at the airport and went home, she merits some blame for Logan’s stress as well.
Poor Logan. His father died earlier this year so he lives with his brother and sister-in-law. His brother says it was a particularly difficult Christmas for him. And then this incident.
Hopefully United tightens up its unaccompanied minor program because this sort of news is simply unacceptable.
(tip of the hat to Gary)