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82-Year-Old Woman With Dementia on Four-Hour Flight From Texas to South Carolina Somehow Ends Up in the Air for 14 Hours


“I get to baggage claim.  Her bags are there, but there is no mother."

A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Seattle. (Credit: AP)

An 82-year-old woman with dementia was only supposed to have a four-hour flight from Dallas to Houston to Greenville, South Carolina. But Dolores Runnels ended up flying up from Dallas to Houston to Greenville to Baltimore to Chicago and then to Greenville.

Runnels was flying into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport to visit her daughter, Melody Allega. But when Runnels didn't get off the plane, Allega became worried and discovered that nobody from Southwest Airlines ever came to escort her mother off the plane.

“I get to baggage claim. Her bags are there, but there is no mother,” Allega told WYFF-TV.

It turns out that Runnels was left on the plane as the airline boarded another flight and took off for Baltimore, with the 82-year-old still in her seat.

A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, April 23, 2013, in Seattle. (Credit: AP) AP

The airline offered to put her up in a hotel in Baltimore, but that wouldn't have worked because of her dementia, Allega said. So Southwest flew her on to Chicago and then back to Greenville, where she arrived 14 hours after taking off from Dallas.

Now, Allega is demanding that Southwest Airlines apologize, citing not only her mother who was hungry and confused by the time she finally got to South Carolina, but another possible risk as well.

“Who counted that plane?" Allega asked. "That's not just an old person that needs help or a person with dementia that needs help, that's national security biting the dust."

In the meantime, Southwest Airlines said it is conducting an internal review of what happened, but all Allega wants is an apology.

"For them even just to say we really messed this up and we take responsibility for that and here is our plan to not have this happen again to anybody else,” Allega told WYFF-TV.

Southwest Airlines instead released the following lengthy statement, in which it acknowledges what happened, but does not apologize.

A passenger traveling alone on Flight 486 from Houston Hobby to Greenville-Spartanburg arrived at her intended destination but did not get off the aircraft and traveled on with other passengers to Baltimore/Washington. Upon her arrival at BWI and after learning of the situation with this customer, our airport employees did what they do best— they jumped into action, bought her food, and diligently worked on flight arrangements to get her back Greenville-Spartanburg that day. At Southwest, we consider each customer an extended part of our family. We’ll complete an internal review of what happened.


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