Parents' Worst Nightmare
Airline loses girl at Dulles Airport
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Judy and Jeff Boyer, of Reston, faced a parent's worst nightmare last week.
Their 10-year-old daughter Jenna flew unaccompanied Aug. 17 to Washington Dulles International Airport from Boston, where news reports said she had been visiting her grandmother.
When her parents went to pick her up, they were told she was nowhere to be found.
"Only one parent is allowed to go to the gate with a security pass to pick up an unaccompanied minor," Judy Boyer said Aug. 21. "When I got there, they were closing the gate like everyone had been let off the plane -- and Jenna was not there."
Boyer said she asked the United flight's ground crew where her daughter was and received only blank stares in return.
"Two passengers from that flight, both mothers, told me they had seen a little girl get off the plane by herself and follow the crowd to the shuttle tram," Boyer said.
According to the United Airlines Web site, flight attendants are instructed to turn over any children traveling alone to a United representative at the child's destination. The representatives are responsible for accompanying children and seeing that they are released to the proper person at that airport.
"I was going ballistic," Boyer said. "The ground crew said, 'You might want to check the bathrooms,' and I was like, 'Me? My child was put under your responsibility, and I should check the bathrooms?' It was unbelievable."
Jenna was eventually located safe and sound in the baggage claim area after a benevolent man took her by the hand and led her to a United counter, where her mother could meet up with her.
"We have a well-established process for unaccompanied minors, and it wasn't followed," said United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski. "We are so sorry and sincerely apologize to the family."
Boyer said, "The crew showed no concern. They were oblivious to the fact that they had lost a child, and I saw very little action in front of my eyes that they took any urgency to rectify the situation. It was pure luck that this man wasn't someone who wanted to take advantage of a helpless 10-year-old girl."
Boyer said she did not receive any follow-up phone calls about the incident after returning home Sunday night. She added that she wants some answers and wants to make sure this never happens to another parent.
"You know, when I think back now, I realize that if they can't keep track of a dog, I should have never trusted them with my daughter," she said, referring to another recent United incident.
Jeddah, a 4-year-old female pharaoh hound, was scheduled to board a July 10 United flight to Saudi Arabia from Dulles Airport with her owner, a U.S. soldier. Before the flight, the dog's kennel was found empty, dented and broken.
"We are still investigating that incident as well," Urbanski said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the dog is still believed to be loose somewhere in the Chantilly area, and the owner's wife is still searching for her, more than a month later.
"We haven't had a chance to talk to Mrs. Boyer about her daughter yet," Urbanski said Thursday. "But we want to take her and her family on a field trip to Dulles to walk through our process and see how it should work and see if they have any ideas on how to improve it."