Author Bob Sutton has posted on his blog a troubling story involving United Airlines and a lost 10-year-old girl.
His friends Annie and Perry Klebahn sent their 10-year-old daughter Phoebe as an unaccompanied minor on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, with a transfer to Grand Rapids, on June 30.
Nobody showed up in Chicago to help Phoebe transfer to her next flight, so she missed the connection.
This could have been rectified with United employees stepping up to help the girl and her parents.
But, unfortunately, they didn't. Not until after a whole lot of persuasion, according to the Klebahns.
The representative that was supposed to help—from an outsourced service that escorts unaccompanied children—had forgotten to show up. It took an hour to find the girl after she had gone "missing."
"The attendants where busy and could not help her she told us," the Klebahns wrote in a letter to United. "She told them she had a flight to catch to camp and they told her to wait. She asked three times to use a phone to call us and they told her to wait. When she missed the flight she asked if someone had called camp to make sure they knew and they told her 'yes — we will take care of it."
"No one did. She was sad and scared and no one helped."
The camp that Phoebe was supposed to be headed to called the parents, informing them that their daughter never arrived at the airport and that she was missing. So, the Klebahns called United.
But they were connected to an outsourced customer service agent in India.
From the letter: "When I asked how she could have missed it, given everything was 100 percent on time, she said, 'it does not matter' she is still in Chicago and 'I am sure she is fine."
Finally, one United employee decided to help—but not as an agent of United. Mr. Klebahn asked her if she was a mother herself. She was, and they convinced her to help. The worker waited until she was off her shift, then found Phoebe and connected the girl with her parents.
"This is the key moment in the story, note that in her role as a United employee, this woman would not help Perry and Annie," writes Sutton on his blog. "It was only when Perry asked her if she was a mother, and how she would feel, that she was able to shed her deeply ingrained United indifference—the lack of felt accountability that pervades the system."
"Yes, there are design problems, there are operations problems, but to me the core lesson is this is a system packed with people who don't feel responsible for doing the right thing."
Phoebe eventually was allowed on a flight to Traverse City four hours later. It took three more days to get her bags.
United gave the Huffington Post a statement on the incident:
"We reached out directly to the Klebahns to apologize and we are reviewing this matter. What the Klebahns describe is not the service we aim to deliver to our customers. 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."
Click here to read the full letter that the Klebahns sent to United about the events that transpired.