Not every airline allows children to travel alone, but American Airlines does provide that service for an add-on fee of $150, provided the children are not booked on the last flight of the day (unless it is the only flight of the day) and the airline agrees to keep the children under adult supervision until picked up and keep them safe.
This service is useful when children are being sent from one parent to the other, but how safe are children with this service?
As reported by Insider, a Florida mother recently filed a lawsuit against American Airlines that the air carrier “misplaced” her two kids by putting them in a cold, jail-cell-like room overnight without food, water, blankets, or pillows after their flight was delayed, then canceled while they were traveling alone.
Amber Vencill’s two sons, ages 10 and 12, are now scared to fly and worry that they would be “lost or abandoned” as a result of “negligence” by the airline, according to the newly filed civil lawsuit and the mother’s attorney, David Jaroslawicz.
American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit by Insider on Monday.
The kids, only identified as J.V. and R.V., were traveling using the airline’s unaccompanied minor service from Missouri to Syracuse, New York, with a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, on July 30, 2022.
But their connecting flight was delayed several times before it was ultimately canceled, the suit — filed in New York last week and obtained by Insider — alleges.
The airline called Vencill’s partner — who was listed as the pick-up person in Syracuse, where the kids were headed to visit his family — and told him that the children would be on a flight there the next day at 9 a.m., according to the lawsuit.
Vencill’s partner, identified only as Ted, was told that the boys would be in a “nice room for unaccompanied minors where there were beds and their own bathroom,” the lawsuit states.
A full list of lounges at Charlotte International Airport does not list any decicated facilities for children escorted by American Airlines, although Charlotte is included in a list of nine US airports that supposedly have facilities for children, and include complimentary “Kid’s Kits By Quaker” , that include “up to two’ snacks.
However, in the interim, the airline emailed Vencill on July 30 at around 11:40 p.m., saying her kids would be on a flight just after 5 p.m. on July 31, the lawsuit alleges, adding that the mother “had no idea what flight her children would be on” because of the conflicting information.
Vencill tried to get in touch with the airline, but couldn’t get through on the phone number it provided, according to the lawsuit.
Finally, the lawsuit says, a “kind” employee at Charlotte Douglas International Airport put the worried mom in touch with one of her kids.
One of the sons told Vencill that they “had not had anything to eat or drink since the night before, not even a pretzel or snacks that are usually given out by the airline,” according to the suit.
The airport employee, the lawsuit alleges, wound up giving the children some food and drinks.
The lawsuit alleges that the kids were placed in a “freezing” apparent “lost children’s room” at the airport that was “akin to a jail cell” and spent the night on a sofa with the lights on before they boarded the flight the next day to Syracuse.
The children were apparently not carrying a working cell phone, or did not have access to wifi.
“The worst part was they were in an airport, they could have been taken anywhere,” Jaroslawicz, Vencill’s attorney, told Insider. “They were in an airport with all sorts of nuts around.”
When Vencill later contacted American Airlines, a customer relations rep apologized and refunded the mother the $150 fee for the airline’s unaccompanied minor service, the lawsuit says.
American Airlines says on its website about its unaccompanied minor service, which it requires for children ages 5 to 14 traveling alone: “We want your child to have a safe and positive trip.”
“In the rare case that your child needs to stay overnight because of a missed connection, we’ll arrange for overnight accommodations, meals, and supervision. We’ll call if this occurs,” the airline promises on its website.
The lawsuit alleges that the airline was “reckless, careless, and negligent” and broke its policies and procedures when it “misplaced” Vencill’s kids.
“Particularly offensive is that after learning of their clear failures, defendant merely offered a hollow apology and a refund, in essence telling plaintiff, sorry we lost your kids lady but here is your money back,” the lawsuit says, which also accuses American Airlines of not launching an investigation into what happened, “how to avoid it in the future or how to improve the unaccompanied minor service.”
The lawsuit, which is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages, blasted the airline’s “callous disregard for the well-being of plaintiff’s children,” calling its actions “simply shameful.”