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Double Oops. Two Girls Put on the Wrong Planes

Two girls, one aged 8, the other aged 10, were flying unaccompanied last weekend. Both were taking Continental Express flights -- the kind that board on the tarmac. And somehow, within a day of each other, airline personnel boarded both girls on wrong flights. In both instances, two planes were loading passengers from the same gate at the same time.

First up was 8-year-old Taylor Williams, who was flying from Houston to Charlotte, N.C., where she was to be met by her father. Taylor ended up instead on a plane Fayetteville, Ark., reports the Houston Chronicle. The next day, Miriam Kamens boarded a plane at Logan Airport in Boston. Her intended destination? Cleveland, where she was being met by her grandparents. Instead, 10-year-old Miriam ended up in Newark, N.J.

In a blog posting about the incident, Miriam Kamens' mom discusses the mix-up:

"We packed light because she was going to carry all her luggage on the plane so as to not worry about having it lost, damaged, or garnering extra charges. I didn’t pack sunscreen, bug spray, or a drink for her because she was going to have to go through airport security which keeps our skies safe by banning such items from coming on the plane. My husband went two hours early to the airport to have time to get through security and to make sure all the proper paperwork was in order to allow him, a non-ticketed escort, to bring our daughter to the gate where she’d be flying for an extra charge as an unaccompanied minor. My husband checked her in, waited with her until boarding, brought her to the entrance to the jetway, and could go no further, because again, that would violate security and we all know that the reason we stand in long lines, remove our shoes, show our IDs, and leave our toiletries behind is to keep our airlines secure. Airline employees signed her paperwork, took charge of it and her tickets and proceded [sic] to bring her on to the tarmac and load her on to the wrong small commuter plane where she flew unnoticed and unaccounted for to Newark, New Jersey."

And dad Jonathan Kamens, who first wrote about the incident on his blog:

"It took forty-five minutes from that point until the Continental people in Cleveland finally confirmed that she was in Newark. The only reason they were able to figure it out at all is because I told them that there had been a flight to Newark boarding at the same gate and the best possible explanation for her whereabouts was that the gate agent put her on the wrong flight (the alternatives were much worse!). God only knows how long it would have taken them to figure out where she was if I hadn’t noticed the Newark flight leaving from Boston and mentioned it to them."

“I have never seen so much incompetence in all my life,” Taylor’s mother, Wendy Babineaux told the Houston Chronicle.

Indeed. The U.S. Department of Transportation does not regulate unaccompanied minor travel. Rather, it's left up to the airlines to determine their own rules and precautions. Continental has apologized for its errors and compensated the families.

Do these incidents make you rethink unaccompanied travel for your children? What experiences -- good and bad -- have your children encountered when traveling alone?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 18, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Newsmakers
Previous: The Making of My Middle Child | Next: The Father's Day Gift Guide


I am not so sure about an 8 yo flying alone anyway. Next time have grandma or grandpa fly to meet her and then fly back to their destination. Airlines are a business and mistakes are going to happen. If you want to avoid it, take matters into your own hands!

Posted by: happydad3 | June 18, 2009 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Does it make me rethink? Hell no. Nothing to rethink.
When I was a kid, the only people who would send a little kid on a journey alone were busy parents who had 'other things to do' - that is, parents who thought it was a convenience for them.
No. No. NO. Never would send my kids even on a journey by bus unaccompanied. And hell, no, there is no company or agency on earth that cares as much about my kids as I do. No airline and no flight attendant.
I wouldn't even send a teenager anywhere without having adults whom I know involved and plenty of cellphones in play.
There's a reason why the mantra 'know where your kid is' persists well into college days. That is the transition period, college; it used to be high school. They have a large city or town to roam, then, some experience driving (or not), a good grasp of how to hold on to money, a cellphone, and a place to touch base where their friends and teachers have influence.
But a younger kid - no, no.

Posted by: KathyWi | June 18, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

How about putting a sticker or some type of identifying marker on the kid, that way even if the flight crew screws up a passenger might say "You're on the wrong plan."

Although both of these cases are inexcusable, I would think at least the 10 year old should have known they had been put on the wrong plane. They announce the flight "Continental flight 115 to Newark" and at that point the kid should have asked why they were on the wrong plane. I'm not excusing the airlines, but ever since I saw this on the news I kept asking why the 10 year old didn't pipe up???

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 18, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like parents need to make up a tag to put around the child's neck with the destination city in large letters.

Personally, these days I don't fly myself, I would rather drive. Too many bad experiences on planes.

Posted by: dotellen | June 18, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

I flew unaccompanied from Rochester, NY for the first time when I was 7 to meet my grandparents in Puerto Rico. Granted, this was almost 20 years ago, and I had flown with my parents quite a few times before, but I definitely remember it being an easy and comfortable experience. My parents saw me to the gate, I had a flight attendant with me for the entire process of transfering planes, and my grandparents were at the gate to meet me upon arrival. After my parents' divorce when I was 10, I flew unaccompanied a number of times to visit one or the other. I can't remember ever having a problem.

Posted by: kacd | June 18, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

I think you should write a story about the thousands of kids who make it just fine to their destination.

Posted by: 06902 | June 18, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Ever notice the flight attendants counting heads prior to takeoff? They get a list from the gate agent that says we have 'x' passengers on this flight, so either someone cannot count or someone who checked in never boarded those flights. Otherwise, the count would have been 'x + 1' which is greater than 'x'.

Our daughters often flew unaccompanied from age 10-14 to visit family or to participate in summer programs without issue. Each time they wore either a large, bright sticker or hang tag with the flight number and destination. What surprises me here is that it took mistakes by several people (my guess is at least 3), not just 1, in order for this to occur.

Posted by: skipper7 | June 18, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

any idea how many kids fly unaccompanied each week? is this a 1-in-10,000 mistake?

i'm assuming there wasn't a place where they could watch the kids physically board the plane. but i like the idea of having a destination name tag on the kid. i would also look for a friendly face - if you've flown with your kids, you know the ones who i'm talking about - who would keep an eye on things.

but will these stories stop me from putting the 10-year old on a direct flight to grandma's house alone? nope. just like i'll still let her go to the bathroom at target alone and i'll still let her play in the yard alone. i will use my brain and common sense to assess the risks and make the choice that's most reasonable.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 18, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Yes, this shows some major incompetence - it's amazing anyone can get on the wrong flight these days with the layers of checking of tickets.

But, these kids were not being thrown without supervision to navigate their own way, they were supervised the entire way by airline staff who knew they were travelling alone and they were never in any danger. It depends on the kid - some kids need extra supervision - but 8 and 10 is plenty old enough to make an unaccompanied flight.

What's surprising is that these kids didn't immediately inform the flight staff that they were on the wrong flight...they're old enough for their parents to explain to them how to read the ticket and for their parents to tell them to pay attention to the announcements and, if in doubt, ask - is this the flight to Houston (I still ask if there's any doubt!)? At any rate - they're old enough to know where they're going and to call their parents immediately when they arrive in the wrong place! Parents should give kids more responsibility, gradually, while ensuring their safety (having the airline staff supervise them) - then when they reach college/move out it's not a huge shock.

Posted by: haiku_rd | June 18, 2009 8:19 AM | Report abuse

When my kids were 10 and 12 they flew to see their grandparents. They were unaccompanied, but we were able to take them right up to the gate, and this was after 911. There was no possibility of them getting on the wrong plane. They still recall it being one of the highlights of the summer. They are still adventurous. My view is that the world is still a fairly safe place and the most likely people to hurt you are friends, family and other drivers.

Posted by: realgrrl | June 18, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse


Prior to Osama bin Laden, I flew regularly on business.

Today - unless we're talking 600+ miles -- NO WAY. Will drive.

Tired of taking off my shoes and belt, and unpleasant TSA staffers.


Posted by: russpoter | June 18, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

This is exactly why it's so important to know your particular child.

Is he the type to speak up? Will she notice that the flight attendant said Newark and understand that that's not in Ohio? When he gets there will he understand that "good weather in New Jersey" is a warning sign and start asking authorities what's going on? Does she have a cell phone that she can use to call the receiving parent from the gate to ask where they are?

My sister took an Amtrak train unaccompanied at 11 and was perfectly fine. She could have done it without the help of railroad employees in a pinch, but they were great and very helpful. At 12, I flew with my 10 year old sister to England to meet our aunt. We were ready for that step, so our parents allowed. I know a lot of kids for whom that would have been terrifying or overwhelming or just plain dangerous. Every kid is different and parents need to be ok adjusting for that. It's not your kid's fault if they're not ready, and you have to be willing to pay for an extra ticket for them to be escorted if that's what they need.

Posted by: crayolasunset | June 18, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Is the airline's incompetence inexcusable? Of course, but what else is new. No other industry on the planet is as inept.

Posted by: shoveit | June 18, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

One thing I read in the book "Outliers" was that one indicator of children who will later become successful in life is the ability to question adults. In other words the ability to say "I'm supposed to be going to Cleveland and you said Newark". This is something that is hard for kids and needs to be taught. I can guarantee if I send my children on a plane alone there will be labeling of some sort and I will teach the child to ask the steward once aboard the aircraft.

Posted by: slapalmer | June 18, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Truthfully it depends on the kid. I think there are a lot of 8 to 10 year old kids thad would not have paid attention to the flight announcement.

But the families paid an extra fee to have these kids put on the right plane and guided to their destination. This is purely the airlines fault. In most cases, they seem to accept the extra fee but not provide any extra service for this fee.

Would it stop me from putting my kid on the plane alone? No but I would use the destination tag and probably look into the boarding policies of the airline before choosing an airline. A large number of kids fly alone all the time and get their just fine. My niece even did a flight change at age 9 by herself. It just depends on the kid.

Posted by: foamgnome | June 18, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

Do adults ever board the wrong plane?

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 18, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

One way to make sure nothing like this happens is to simply take your child yourself or find another responsible adult who loves your child to accompany them. You can't count on some random steward or stewardess to do the right thing for your child. They are very busy with all the passengers.

Posted by: catweasel3 | June 18, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Some kids are just too shy to speak up. My brother and I starterd flying alone when I was 10 and he was 12, and I know if I was on the wrong play I wouldn't have been able to speak up about it.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 18, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

How much extra do people pay for an unaccompanied minor?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | June 18, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

This is 100% the airline's fault. There are multiple layers of checking and double-checking that are supposed to occur if there's an unaccompanied minor on a flight, starting with the desk agent at the check-in counter in front of security. Most airlines will tag the kid with a button or an around-the-neck tag to identify that he/she is alone. Once at the gate, the gate agent is supposed to check the ticket for destination, and then walk the kid to the plane, where they hand the kid off to the cabin crew, who have their own procedures to follow for these kids.

Would it be so hard for the passenger manifest to note that there's an unaccompanied minor on board? This would help get around the "headcount" issue raised by skipper7 above.

That two pretty young kids were put on the wrong planes suggests that Continental needs to seriously rethink their system, and do some big-league retraining of staff.

All of this said, would I let a 10-year-old fly alone? Yes. Sometimes, the finances of the situation are such that either the kid goes alone, or doesn't go at all. And who are we to say, well then, the kid shouldn't go at all?

Posted by: northgs | June 18, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

This is egregious incompetence on the part of the airline. Their personnel are supposed to be counting passengers. Their personnel are supposed to be making arrangements for unaccompanied minors (after all, the parents paid a surcharge for that service.) In the current, stripped-down, minimized personnel, cost, and time environment of airline operations, nobody took the time to make certain that all passengers were properly boarded. If operations were even a little behind schedule, there was probably pressure on already overstressed personnel to make up the time by cutting corners.
That said, as an adult and experienced flyer, I have on more than one occasion been confused by the type of boarding described, where multiple flights are boarded on the tarmac from a single gate. It was not at all clear which of the several airplanes on the tarmac we were supposed to board, and people were boarding both. Airlines should do a more thorough job of identifying the destination of each of the aircraft, of greeting the passengers as they enter the plane to make sure they are in the right place--especially an unaccompanied minor.

Posted by: Lamentations | June 18, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

It is 100% the airline's fault - but at least the airline took responsibility. When ANA stranded my 15 year old daughter in Tokyo alone, they literally abandoned her.

A FedEx plane had gone off the runway at Narita early that morning, closing down the runway and essentially the airport. And although this happened well before she boarded her flight to Narita, ANA insisted it was an airport issue, not an ANA issue - they left her and a handful of other passengers with a phone number to make their own onward reservations - and the phone number was Japanese-speaking.

The next flight to the U.S. was not for three days - and then only to SF, when her final destination was Washington Dulles. Because of the closed runway, there were no flights into Narita from Shanghai (where we live), so we couldn't go to her.

This is a smart, well-traveled kid - we've lived in China most of her life, she now goes to boarding school in the US and knows exactly how to navigate airports and airplanes. She can do this flight with her eyes closed. But this was beyond her, and the airline representative I spoke to assured me they would take care of my daughter - and then left her. She had just walked her upstairs. The representative insisted there was nothing they could do,and no, they wouldn't arrange for a hotel or pay for one, since it was an "airport problem", not an airline one. ANA in Shanghai claims they don't have an address for ANA head office, and won't pass along any communication.

So I ran up an astronomical phone bill talking to my daughter, making sure she was ok, getting her a hotel (and then staying on the phone with her while she boarded the bus to the hotel, to make sure she was safe), buying her a ticket to Singapore (where we have family - there were no flights back to China or the US for several days, and letting her sit in Tokyo alone wasn't an option.)

At the end of the day, crises sometimes do happen when anyone travels. I feel fortunate that we had mobile phones and could communicate and resolve this, and that no one was hurt, or traumatized. But ANA's running away from this crisis is just shocking -- and unforgivable.

Posted by: tmk2 | June 18, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Do adults ever board the wrong plane?

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 18, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Yes! I used to travel a lot for work, sometimes to middle-of-nowheresville, and tarmac boarding confuses adults all the time.

I remember many instances of adults getting on the wrong plane, and about 3-4 instances of adults actually not realizing their mistake and flying to the wrong destination.

Now, I always ask the flight attendant where the plane is going when I do a tarmac boarding.

FYI, I began flying on my own at a very early age. Early enough that I don't even remember how young I was.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | June 18, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

While I certainly trust the airlines to handle unaccompanied minors, I'd make sure that minor knew enough about air travel to take care of themselves as much as they could.

I started flying alone on direct flights at 5, as an UM, and regularly flew on connecting flights starting at 11, without help, five or six time a year for parental visits until I went to college. Before sending their kids on planes alone, parents should make sure kids understand what is going on. Even at 5, my dad gave me a copy of my itinerary, made sure I knew where I was going and told me to listen when the flight attendants announced the flight before the plane took off and tell them immediately if I thought I was on the wrong flight. It's an easy safegaurd, even for an adult. I remember listening intently to those announcements, ready to show the flight attendant my itinerary if I was in the wrong place! He also made sure I knew what to do if my flight was delayed or canceled, or if my ride wasn't waiting for me at the other end, and how to contact either the travel agent who made my reservations or the airline directly. I rarely had any problems, and when I did, the airline employees where always incredibly helpful. So much so, that flying as an adult turned out to be a bit of a rude awakening!

Posted by: sjneal | June 18, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

This story has special resonance to me, as someone who flew unaccompanied when I was as young as 5 (in Europe, 20 years ago, when they hung a little sign around your neck).

But the larger point is that this story is just the latest proof in the fact that there are now two types of airlines operating today. Group A is the remnants of the big carriers (Continental, US Air, Delta, etc). Then there is Group B: the commuter carriers (anything with the word Express after their name or anyone you've never heard of).

Ticket service, baggage service, quality of equipment, and passenger service are all and order of magnitude lower on the commuter carriers. Given recent crashes, in particular the Buffalo disaster on a Colgan (Group B carrier) it would also appear they skimp on pilot training and even making sure their pilots get a good night of sleep.

It's not even easy to avoid these carriers due to the extensive code sharing. Continental Express, US Air Express are not real airlines. The flights can be flown by the low bidder on routes that the big airlines don't want to fly, whether because the destination is small, or it's a larger city but dominated by a competitor.

I wouldn't dare put an unaccompanied minor on one of these "airlines". And I try to avoid them whenever I have the option. Some flight searches make it very hard to see "Operated By" information. But people should be suspicious of any 4-digit flight number. Sometimes they represent one major carrier sharing another one's flights. But more often they represent someone like "Air Wisconsin" operating out of some far-away terminal with inadequate staff and no backup equipment if an incoming flight is delayed or has equipment troubles.

It does make standalone carriers like JetBlue or Southwest more tempting. At least you know you'll get a consistent level of service.

Posted by: markgo | June 18, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I can see how some 8-10 year might not say something out of fear, but I still think it is weird that a 10 year old didn't have a contingency plan to call if grandpa was not there to meet him.

My kids call me when they make it over to a friend's house by foot or bike and knowing them I have a feeling I'd get a panicked call saying they were on the wrong plane, in the wrong airport, way before the airlines had to "find" them.

Again, know your kid. I just have not heard or read anything about how the kids in these stories were prepped for the flight. It's all moot to an extent because the airlines were at fault, I am just using it as a discussion point.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 18, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Yikes. One thing I cannot understand is how, in this day and age, you can have unnacounted-for passangers on the plane. This is more than just a lost-kid problem, this is also a security problem.

Posted by: floof | June 18, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I traveled a lot by myself when I was a kid (starting around 8 and through my teens) -- sometimes by bus and sometimes by plane -- so that I could visit my dad who lived about 5 hours from us (by car). I never had any problems. Would I now let my kids do what I did? I don't know. My firstborn will be eight in about a year, and I don't know that I would let her fly by herself, even though she has flown a lot with us. It seems rare that the airlines send the children to the wrong place, but that's not the only issue I worry about. They are not there to babysit the children, so I would worry about her safety if she is traveling alone.

Posted by: SilverSpringMom1 | June 18, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

If I wouldn't leave my child at home by themselves for 3 hours, I probably wouldn't put them on a plane by themselves. The thing is UAs are much like pets to the airlines, yes, they will transport them, but they really would rather not. That's why you get the kind of service that you get.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | June 18, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

These parents have no right to complain. It is not the job of an airline to raise their children. If they cared enough they would have gone with their kids or sent another adult.

Posted by: sunflower571 | June 18, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Snort. I guess I "raised" a lot of kids in my babysitting high school years, seeing as how I sometimes spent HOURS with them. How many minutes to you have to spend with a kid before you're credited with raising them?

The airline screwed up. The parents paid for a service they didn't get. Sounds about right for flying these days.

Posted by: atb2 | June 18, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

How much extra do people pay for an unaccompanied minor?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | June 18, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Depending on the airline, it can be up to $100 each way. For that price, if it's a fairly short trip, you might as well buy a ticket and go with them. But I can see if it's a 4+ hour trip that it could be hard to do it.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 18, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Southwest Airlines is the way to go. They don’t charge an extra fee for sending unaccompanied minors; and they allow parents to accompany the child directly to the gate where said child is handed over to the flight crew who seat him or her up front. And yes, all airlines require the kids to wear an identification and destination notice around their neck.

Posted by: davemarks | June 18, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

where's that nitwit woman now that wanted her 8 year old to travel alone and said we were over protective nuts. Fortunately, this time, no one was hurt.

Posted by: pwaa | June 18, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Wow! Some of these comments are near-perfect repeats of rude, nasty things said to me on this blog two years ago.

I was about to send my then-15-y-o autistic son on his first solo trip. We live in Oakland, CA, and he was going to visit his aunt and her family in up-state NY - nearest airport, Rochester.

No direct flights, so I planned his itenerary very, very carefully. He changed planes in one direction at Dulles - his godparents live in Baltimore, and he had their contact info. He changed planes going home in Atlanta, where my brother and his family, and his in-laws live, and my son also had all their contact info.

He had a great trip. No problems at all. And the growth and self-confidence he gained - it still amazes me. Such an important mile-stone on his very difficult road to becoming an independent adult, but if I'd been foolish enough to listen to all the nay-saying bloggers, he'd never have had the chance to reach it.

Yeah, right, *don't* put my son on that plane alone, because that way I'll still have him living in my house, depending on me to take him clothes shopping, and putting food on the table for him when he's in his 40's and 50's. And I'll be hoping his younger brother will house and feed and clothe him after I'm dead. Great plan! Thanks for all that helpful advise!
(End of sarcastic rant)

Posted by: SueMc | June 18, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: SueMc | June 18, 2009 3:37 PM |

"Two girls, one aged 8, the other aged 10"

read the article before you post

Posted by: pwaa | June 18, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

The airlines actually allow children as young as 5 to fly alone. They should, however, rethink that, if they can't provide the service, they shouldn't offer it.
But I don't think that 8 and 10 are too young. We baby our kids til they're out of college and then wonder why they don't know how to take care of themselves...
My grandmother had a part time (and by that I mean every day after school, til probably 7 PM - 20+ hours a week?) at age 8, helping to support the family (of 6 by then, probably?). Of course, I'm not suggesting our 8 YOs get jobs...but they can handle A LOT more than we expect of them.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | June 18, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

"Two girls, one aged 8, the other aged 10"

read the article before you post

Posted by: pwaa | June 18, 2009 3:45 PM

I did read the article first. Then I read every single comment above mine. There were some excellent posts, but there were also a lot of blame-the-parents-for-the-airline's-mistakes comments. I didn't feel I had anything new to add to the good, thoughtful, covered-the-topic posts. But I felt strongly that the *other* kind posts deserved a reply - as another parent who has been on the receiving end of such comments in the past, I felt well-qualified to make that reply.

Was there something in the original article that you believed I missed?

Posted by: SueMc | June 18, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Believe it or not, one of my coworkers here in Michigan just sent his 7-1/2 year old son alone last India! When I expressed shock about this, knowing how long the flights were and often involving several transfers, he really thought it was no big deal. And he claims his son was not bothered by it at all. I am assuming someone from the airlines will be looking out for him on the trip. Could there be a cultural or maturity difference?

Posted by: cjbriggs | June 18, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Okay, I believe the airline personnel involved are guilty of incompetence and the kids could surely have been a little more alert, but really, what's the big deal? Nobody was hurt and the kids get a funny story to tell for the rest of their lives. I would have no qualms whatsoever about sending a child of any age alone on a plane, as long as I was confident that the child would not panic and was not too shy to speak to flight attendants, and this story serves only as a reminder to teach young kids to pay attention and take responsibility for getting themselves where they need to go. An 8 or 10 year old can read and listen to announcements. There is a sign with the destination right next to the gate, but kids are so used to being shepherded around I'm sure it doesn't even occur to them to question where they are going. The number of 10 year olds who have never spent a single moment unsupervised by an adult is quite disturbing. A kid needs to be able to walk to the store or a neighbor's house alone or with peers at some point, or won't adulthood be a big scary shock they are ill-equipped to handle?

Posted by: rh36 | June 19, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

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