Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare: How United’s Culture Failed Its Customers

Harley Manning

You’re at home when your phone rings. It’s your child’s summer camp calling to tell you that she never arrived. No one knows where she is.

Make your gut churn? Yes, if you’re a parent — or even if you’re not.

If you were following the news last week, you know that Annie and Perry Klebahn did get that phone call. That’s when they found out that their 10-year-old daughter Phoebe hadn’t gotten off a United Airlines flight to Traverse City, Michigan.  

Here are the highlights of what happened.

Phoebe had been traveling alone. Her parents had paid United a $99 fee for the “unaccompanied minor” service and had every reason to believe that their daughter was in good hands. According to the complaint letter that her parents wrote to United, when they dropped Phoebe off at the San Francisco airport, a United employee put an identifying wristband on her and told her to “only go with someone with a United badge on and that she would be accompanied at all times.” But when Phoebe arrived in Chicago to change planes, no one met her. The little girl reportedly asked flight attendants three times to let her use a phone to call her parents, and they told her to wait. She also asked if someone had called camp to tell them she had missed her flight, and they said they’d take care of it (but then didn’t).

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