AirTran Communication W/ Parents Re: Unaccompanied Minors Needs Major Improvement
AirTran Employees - Complaint
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Here is the letter (minus names and flight numbers) that I sent to the airline...
Yesterday (Saturday, July 27th), I had quite a traumatic experience involving AirTran Airlines. I am still terribly upset by it.
My son was flying as an unaccompanied minor out of LaGuardia to Akron/Canton. Gate B4. My son is 8 years old, and as you can imagine this was already a bittersweet moment, to have to say good-bye to my only child as he departed to fly solo.
It is important to note here that I was told that I needed to stay until the plane left – which I did. It departed right on time, 2:25pm. No, the plane was not in the air. I did not stay at the gate until the plane was in the air because it was not made clear to me by any of the staff at any point that this is what I was expected to do. Nor did I at any point receive an e-mail or any written material that detailed the policies about exactly was expected of an escort to an unaccompanied minor. I was doing as I had been told – I stayed until the plane departed.
I went downstairs to the food court and was there for a full hour after the plane left the gate. It is my understanding that somewhere in that time the plane had to return to the gate. I had my cell phone with me, and yet no one called me. I am aware that my cell phone number is in the computer system because I gave it over the phone to the reservation agent when I purchased the ticket for my son.
I was called by my mother-in-law from the Akron/Canton airport around 3:55, just as my husband and I were entering the Midtown Tunnel into Manhattan. We were told that his plane had deboarded and that we should go back. We were preparing to do so, but knowing it would take us at least 30 minutes to get back at that point and another 15 to reach the gate, I decided to call AirTran for an update about my son’s flight. I explained to them that he was an unaccompanied minor and I was his mother. I was told his plane was scheduled to depart at 4:00. Since that was five minutes away, I was given the impression that the flight had already boarded and was about to leave, so my husband and I decided to not to go back based on that information.
At 4:45, my mother-in-law called me and told me that his flight had been delayed further but that his flight was now scheduled to leave at 5:00. Now I’m starting to get really upset. I should have been there with him. But with his plane leaving at 5:00 there was really no point for me to make the 30 minute journey from Manhattan to LaGuardia as I would not get there until after the plane had left.
Again, no had called my cell phone or had left a message on my home phone. And I’m beginning to wonder why no one would call the child’s parent in this type of situation. I’m only getting the information I am receiving because my child’s grandparents are at the Akron/Canton airport where they are able to get immediate information.
At 5:30 I was sent a text by my mother-in-law that his plane was now leaving at 5:55. I began to feel myself starting to emotionally unravel, worried sick about my child, and started trying to find a way back to the airport. I arrived at Port Authority at 6:00 and waited for an Express Bus that was supposed to arrive in 10 minutes but had still not arrived 30 minutes later.
While waiting for the Express bus to show, my mother-in-law gave my husband and I a number to call. It was a 718 number so I can only assume I was going to be speaking with someone at LaGuardia. I was so grateful to finally have a chance to speak to someone who could tell me definitively what was going on.
The person on the other line kept telling us that we were supposed to be there and that they weren’t allowed to give us any information – both extremely unhelpful things to say. I was very angry that the airline was not able to give the parents of an 8 year old information about their child. We were immediately put on the defensive and tried to explain that we were there until the plane left the gate, were in the airport for another hour after that, and that no one had told us that we were supposed to stay until the plane was in the air. Nor had anybody tried to call us. The conversation was ultimately unproductive, extremely frustrating, and of no help whatsoever.
Because the Express Bus never showed I hailed a cab around 6:40. I called AirTran while stuck in traffic in the cab. I was told that my son’s plane had been cancelled and he was being placed on another flight set to leave at 7:55. Upon arriving at the airport at around 7:20 I was told that I would have to wait in line for a gate pass, so I did. And by the time I got to the gate at 7:40 his plane had already left the gate and was about to depart.
Upon arriving at the gate the gate attendant started to berate and verbally abuse me for not coming back to the airport earlier. Already being quite emotional and angry about the events leading up to this moment his tirade really blindsided me.
He told me that I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave, so I told him that I did stay until the plane left the gate and was never told that I had to stay until the plane was in the air.
I tried to explain the chain of events, defend my actions, and ask why no one had called me directly at any point, but he continued to tell me that I had abandoned my child – that he couldn’t let my son go the bathroom – and even used foul language. And then he asked me why I hadn’t yet thanked him for babysitting my son.
He wouldn’t listen to how it went down on my end or answer my question as to why nobody ever called me. He refused to admit any responsibility whatsoever. I felt that he was attacking me as a mother after I had already spent 4 long hours being quite distraught about my son. Needless to say, the conversation was rather heated and I felt very much on the defensive.
I then stayed until the plane took off.
My greatest complaint is how horrible the communication was on AirTran’s end. It was never clear to us that we were supposed to stay until the plane “was in the air.” The plane “leaving” and the plane “being in the air” are different enough to warrant clarity when giving instruction. This is not something we do often, and clear communication about the protocol would have been appreciated.
Someone should have called my cell phone the moment it was discovered that I was not there. Perhaps I could have just come back upstairs from the food court.
And even if a child was not involved, there is the fact that a plane that was supposed to leave at 2:25pm did not get its passengers off the ground until 7:55pm. Not to mention the 45 minute long line to check-in with the airline – all less than ideal situations when one is trying to fly somewhere.
I also want to reiterate that after first hearing that my son’s plane was delayed, I was constantly being told that the plane was only minutes from departing by the AirTran employees with whom I was communicating.
And then there’s the gate agent at Gate B4 whose customer relation skills were abhorrent. I’m still very upset over the trauma I endured yesterday – especially at the hands of the gate attendant.
I could have been spared all the grief and anguish I experienced if someone had simply told me, “Please remain at the gate until the plane has lifted off. We will let you know when it is okay to leave the gate area.”
I would also suggest that you make it part of the protocol regarding an unaccompanied minor to contact the parents should a problem arise by calling the phone numbers that were given to the reservation agent.
Please look into this matter as I feel it deserves serious consideration.