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United Airlines Refuses To Help Parents Find Unaccompanied Minor At O'Hare

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 14, 2012 10:00PM

Photo Credit: Lucy Rendler-Kaplan

United Airlines current marketing slogan is "Let's Fly Together." That is, unless you're a 10-year-old girl flying to summer camp in Michigan from San Francisco. Then you're ignored by United employees and miss your flight from O'Hare International Airport.

Such is the case for Phoebe Klebahn, who was on her way to a summer camp in late June in Traverse City, Mich. as an unaccompanied minor. The girl's parents, Annie and Perry Klebahn, were promised that Phoebe would be met in Chicago by a service employed by United who would help her make her connecting flight.

And that's where the story begins. Phoebe was not met by someone from the unaccompanied minor service and, despite continued pleas to United employees to help her, was ignored.

Phoebe missed her flight, as her parents tracked the status of the planes online. When a camp representative asked about Phoebe's whereabouts, the Klebahns knew something was wrong and started pounding the phones—Annie called United's standard customer service while Perry, a United "Premier" customer, tried customer service numbers related to that—and United's game of hot potato intensified.

The Klebahns shared a copy of their complaint letter to United with their friend, author and Huffington Post contributor Bob Sutton (The No Asshole Rule). It's a gem of must-read, justifiable outrage. Here are some of the choicest meaty bits.

I proceeded to call United and was put on hold for 20 minutes (imagine if you are a parent waiting 20 minutes not knowing where your 10 year old is). When someone (from India) finally took the call they first told me that she had indeed arrived in Traverse City and that I was mistaken. Then (only when I started to panic on the phone) she put me on hold again for 10 more minutes only to come back and tell me Phoebe was still in Chicago and had missed her connection. When I asked how she could have missed it given everything was 100% on time she said, “it does not matter” she is still in Chicago and “I am sure she is fine”. When I asked why no one called the camp or us she could not tell me. When I asked her to please confirm where Phoebe was in Chicago and who she was with she could not tell me. When I asked to speak with her to be sure she was fine she said that was not possible. When I asked frantically to talk to her supervisor she put me on hold for 40 minutes.


From the moment of the first phone call from camp informing us that Phoebe did not arrive in Traverse City to when we spoke with her first hand it took almost an hour. But she had already been in Chicago for over two hours. She landed and no one came to get her. The attendants where busy and could not help her she told us. She told them she had a flight to catch to camp and they told her to wait. She asked three times to use a phone to call us and they told her to wait. When she missed the flight she asked if someone had called camp to make sure they knew and they told her “yes—we will take care of it”. No one did. She was sad and scared and no one helped.

Adding insult to injury, United lost Phoebe's luggage; she spent her first night in camp without sheets or a change of clothes. It wasn't until Sutton first wrote about the incident and the Klebahns reached out to a reporter that United decided to do some damage control.

Huffington Post Travel received a statement from United that read:

We reached out directly to the Klebahns to apologize 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. We certainly appreciate their business and would like the opportunity to provide them a better travel experience in the future.

The adage goes that any publicity is good publicity. But this story may push that particular envelope.