Annie and Perry Klebahn lived every parent's worst nightmare after dropping their ten-year-old off at the San Fransisco airport on June 30. Going first to Chicago for a camp in Grand Rapids, Phoebe was flying as an unaccompanied minor, and was scheduled to meet an airline representative for her transfer in Chicago.
The only problem? 10-year-old Phoebe never made her flight, and the Klebahns only found out after receiving a "frantic call" from the camp.
Here is an excerpt from the Klebahn's heated letter to United's CEO, detailing what happened next:
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. [Emphasis added]
Chicago is, without question, one of the nation's most dangerous cities, with a June murder rate worse than Kabul's.
According to the Klebahns, Phoebe was alone in the city's airport for two hours before her desperate parents were able to track her down.
The 10-year-old reportedly asked various United flight staff three times if she could call her parents, but they told her to wait. When she missed her flight and asked if someone had the called camp to make sure they knew, they allegedly told her “yes—we will take care of it.”
"But no one did," her parents remarked. "She was sad and scared and no one helped."
Apparently United hires a third party to take care of the unaccompanied minors, and the individual had simply decided not to show up.
To top it all off, it took three days for Phoebe's bags to arrive-- though United "confirmed" that the bags were en route a number of times. The Klebahns had to pay each time the camp sent a representative to the airport, but were more upset that their daughter had nothing to wear in the summer heat.
"We have never in all our collective years had such an unbelievably terrible customer service experience...[It's] hard to imagine how you run a business this way, how you get away with things so close to child endangerment, and how you sleep at night training your service employees how to not be of service," Annie Klebahn wrote.
Since the story made national news, thanks in part to Stanford professor Bob Sutton's article, "United Airlines Lost My Friend's 10 Year Old Daughter and Didn't Care," United has been effusively apologetic.
"What the Klebahns describe is not the service we aim to deliver to our customers," the airline told HuffPo Travel. "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."
USA Today Travel asks: "Do you think United is singularly at fault here? Or, do you think the parents bear some responsibility?"