United Airlines lost our daughter, U.S. couple says
A United Continental Airlines jet is seen in this 2011 file photo. (AP / Amy Sancetta)
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2012 7:31PM EDT
A U.S. couple says it took frantic pleas and hours on the phone with staff to locate their 10-year-old daughter after United Airlines lost track of the child, who was travelling alone for the first time as an unaccompanied minor.
In an angry complaint letter to United Airlines dated July 13 and posted on their friend’s blog, California residents Annie and Perry Klebahn claim the airline’s customer service staff either tried to brush them off or didn’t seem to care that 10-year-old Phoebe went missing en route to summer camp in Michigan.
It was only after Perry Klebahn appealed to one employee’s parental instincts, who had allegedly told him that she couldn’t look for Phoebe because it was the end of her shift, that the girl was located in a busy Chicago airport, alone and scared, her parents say.
The Klebahns said they paid extra to have Phoebe escorted by what they believed would be a United Airlines employee on a June 30 flight from San Francisco to Traverse City, Mich., via Chicago.
When Phoebe did not get off the plane in Traverse City, her panicked parents called the airline. They claim they were put on hold for up to 40 minutes at a time, given wrong information and told repeatedly they couldn’t be helped right away, despite the urgency of the situation.
Annie Klebahn said she called United Airlines first and was put on hold for 20 minutes. When someone finally answered at the call centre, Klebahn was told that her daughter did arrive in Traverse City.
After another 10 minutes on hold, the call taker confirmed that Phoebe was in Chicago and had missed her connecting flight. The employee couldn’t explain how that happened, Klebahn wrote.
“When I asked frantically to talk to her supervisor she put me on hold for 40 minutes,” she said.
In the meantime, Klebahn’s husband Perry, a member of United’s “Premier” rewards program, called a different customer service line and was also put on hold, even as he begged for any information about Phoebe’s whereabouts.
He was eventually told that a third-party unaccompanied minor service in Chicago “forgot to show up” and help Phoebe board her next flight.
The Klebahns said they were “shocked” to learn United Airlines outsourced the service.
“United outsourced a service to accompany small children without informing parents in advance of taking their children into their care -- HUGE liability,” they wrote.
Perry Klebahn then begged the woman on the line to help him find Phoebe, but she said she was wrapping up her shift.
He asked her if she was a mother herself and what she would do if her child was missing.
“15 minutes later she found Phoebe in Chicago and found someone to let us talk to her and be sure she was okay,” the Klebahns’ letter says.
The parents say they also learned that Phoebe had asked to use the phone three times while she was stranded in Chicago, but no one helped her.
Although Phoebe eventually arrived safely in Traverse City, her parents say the nightmare continued as they tried to locate her missing luggage for another two days.
The couple estimates they spent a total of 18 hours on the phone trying to track down Phoebe and her luggage.
“We have never in all our collective years had such an unbelievably terrible customer service experience -- not ever,” they wrote.
In a statement to The Huffington Post, United Airlines said it has apologized to the family directly “and we are reviewing this matter.”
“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,” the airline said.