10-Year-Old Girl Goes Missing After Flying Alone on United Airlines

Little girl looking out window of planeAt what age is it appropriate to let a child fly alone on an airplane? This is the newest debate after Annie and Perry Klebahn’s 10-year-old daughter, Phoebe, missed her United Airlines plane connection because the third-party unaccompanied minor service representative had “simply forgotten to show up.”

Phoebe’s parents “only knew their daughter did not make it when her summer camp in Michigan called to say she hadn’t arrived.”

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Once she was discovered “missing,” it took an additional hour to find her!

“Apparently when the flight landed, she asked the flight attendants for help, but they told her they were busy and she needed to wait…. read more

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10-Year-Old Girl Goes Missing After Flying Alone on United Airlines

Kimberly Shannon is a wife, a mother, an editor, a writer ... She is always working to find the perfect balance¹! After Kimberly received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she worked on two master’s degree programs (Creative Writing, and Marriage and Family Therapy). At various times in her life she has signed up to study Naturopathy, only to back out at the last minute, and humored the idea of returning full-time to the world of dance. Kimberly has also started 10 different children ... More

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434 comments

  1. Profile photo of moonmongrel moonmongrel says:

    The entire matter is the fault of the girl’s parents. Recently I saw a story where a woman was arrested for leaving her 13-year-old daughter in charge of babysitting. These people send their ten-year-old daughter on an interstate multi-connection flight and are content with the prospects of whomever turns up as babysitters along the way. Need more be said?

  2. Profile photo of Tanya Tanya says:

    I flew for the first time at the age of 15 and on my very first flight, i was alone. My flight had not 1 but 2 connecting flights. Yes it was a bit scary because I had never done anything like that, and my parents didn’t do the "unaccompanied minor" deal, so I was completely on my own. I think my child would be mature enough at 10 to at least know where to look to find where they need to go. They would also know to ask for directions to the terminal they are supposed to be at if they couldn’t find their way. Although I place a little blame on the parents for not taking the time to show their daughter what she needed to look for, I blame the rest on UA for not helping the little girl. It is their responsibility to properly provide the help they were paid for if the company they hired to accompany that child failed to show. Shame on both the company and on UA for their major fail on caring for a minor that they were supposed to protect.

  3. Profile photo of Elisa Elisa says:

    I don’t see this as the fault of the parents. The 10 year old tried to ask for help and was blown off by the adults that were supposed to be there to help. I find the actions of United Airlines, it’s employees at that airport and the company they hired for the ‘unaccompanied minor service’ to be outrageous.

    Obviously UA outsourced this service to someone who could do it cheaper, now they know why it’s cheaper. UA has the responsibility to ensure companies they hire to act on their behalf actually do their jobs. And SHAME on the UA employees that would not provide assistance to a 10 year old!!

    The 10 year old didn’t act irresponsibly, neither did the parents. UA should investigate and actually make changes.

    I read a more detailed article about this and not only did they ‘misplace’ the child, they lost her baggage. The parents were on hold with the call center (in another country) for ages trying to find their daughter and then again later the luggage.

    I realize this was a trip for camp, but there are times when a child traveling without an adult is unavoidable. Parents should be able to rely on the airlines to protect their child. These parents paid extra for that so-called service.

  4. Profile photo of HMomOf4 HMomOf4 says:

    Both my cousin and my fiance used to fly as kids (20 years ago) but when i discussed this article with my fiance, he agreed in that in this day and age, with all the predators and weirdos out there, we would never let our children fly alone! (especially since we can never fly). but i guess once they are older, it is something we will have to prepare them for if it indeed comes up as an issue.

  5. Profile photo of Jason Jason says:

    I was 7 when I first flew alone. I probably took 20 flights between the ages of 7-16. I would have both non-stop and connecting flights. I also had 3 instances (when I was 8 & twice at 10) on connecting flights where the airline personnel either forgot to pick me up or left/forgot about me in an unaccompanied minor room. The biggest things my parents taught me were to know my ticket and flight numbers, know how to read the departure boards, and to ask officials questions NON-STOP until I got the information I needed. If a first person didn’t help me then I was to keep asking more and more officials till I got help. Sometimes airline officials were rude and told me to wait but I would just walk around to the side of their counters and just keep asking. I also always carried change to call my parents from pay-phones if needed but I also learned where the internal Help phones were throughout the terminals. I believe these were great tips my parents gave me and I would give the same tips to my child. In this day-and-age I would add a cell phone to my child’s travel gear but I think it entirely depends on the child. My parents were furious about the mess-ups (& probably screamed at several airline personnel) but they never were discouraged about my travels. Knowing this, if I have the opportunity to let my child fly somewhere I will share the same advice but might wait untihemp child is 10 and/or mature enough to follow the same advice I had.

  6. Profile photo of Tiffany Tiffany says:

    When I was thirteen, I rode greyhound and amtrak by myself and the staff were helpful until I was with the family member that was meeting me at my final destination. Flying… I was twenty, reason why because greyhound and amtrak was cheaper. For my own child, I would do sixteen years old, but her flights will be direct and she will have a cellphone just in case something goes wrong. With this situation, I would place the blame with the airlines because we are paying extra money for this service… but for camps, I would find something that is close by that way I am easily assessable to my child.

  7. Profile photo of 2n2mom 2n2mom says:

    I think people are quick to judge her parents by maybe never having to be in that circumstance. One I think it’s great that her parents are able to provide her with a camp that I’m sure cost a fortune. It is scary the thought of allowing one of our children to fly alone or be alone. We don’t know the school bus driver but we trust them to drive our kids back and forth. it should not have been any different. The companion is paid to do her job and she did not. The entire airline and airport should be held responsible and needs to have a serious change of protocol. I flew at the age 7 by myself and it was fine. I have not had to have my children fly alone it would be a last option if needed but I am fortunate enough to not have had to.

  8. Profile photo of Shelby Shelby says:

    My daughter is now 9 and has been flying for two years by herself during school breaks and summer vacations from Connecticut to Florida. I would NEVER book her with a connecting flight. I only book direct flights. We only fly southwest and they are great with her. I stay at the airport until the flight takes off the ground and her father is waiting at the gate for her upon her arrival. I think it was a little careless for her parents to not book a direct flight as well as the airlines for not following through. That is why we pay extra!!

  9. Profile photo of Diane Owen Diane Owen says:

    My brother and I traveled alone when we were 12 and 10, respectively. We had each other, but we also had the pins saying we were unaccompanied minors and there was a flight attendant assigned to take care of us. It isn’t uncommon to need to send your child to a grandparent’s house or other family members in another state and not want to spend a couple hundred on a flight for yourself as well. The airlines have always accommodated this and thus I believe this is on U.S. Airlines. Shame on them!

  10. Profile photo of MAHALIA MAHALIA says:

    It does not matter how much it cost she should have been supervised to cross state lines with as much hijacking and plane crashing that baby was alone and defensless and should have been escorted by her parents to an unknown place.money is no object when it comes to this childs life and well being

  11. Profile photo of MAHALIA MAHALIA says:

    First off never in a miilion years, I have for children and would not let them fly to another state with out supervision. and to leave your children with folk with out meeting them or knowing there credability is crazy. even though I traveled alone through the 80.s and 90.s by myself this world is not as caring as it use to be alot more people had children an cared about their well being. the people that told her to wait are the percent that dont hav e kids and could care less why this child was alone these are just the basics and her parents should be held accountable sh

  12. Profile photo of Christian Christian says:

    I am not a fan of United Airlies but I would not let my child fly alone until he is 17 years old. Just like when I started flying at the age of 17. I would even let my child alone going to school or somewhere on the block or same place in far distance sometimes because there are preditors out there that still some parents don’t seem to care about safety!

  13. Profile photo of Amanda Amanda says:

    Twelve to thirteen depending on the maturity level of the minor I believe is a decent age. That’s the age I was allowed to fly alone

  14. Do these parents not watch the news? There are to many crazy people out there male and female. I think best age is 18 even then if there not mature enough I wouldnt. Shame on the people who work at the airlines u dont tell a scared 10 yr old to wait.

  15. Profile photo of Leslie Leslie says:

    I would let my child fly alone when she is sixteen.

  16. Profile photo of allie_cat allie_cat says:

    Some kids have problems and dont know what they are doing especially if they have to switch flights. not every child should start flying solo to a destination at 10 years old. i wouldnt even let my child travel alone to begin with in the world we live in today, theres to many perverts and kidnappers and other horrible things out there for any child to be left alone. but the airlines and the help service to help her switch her over to her next flight should have done better. In my opinion "your going to have to wait we are busy" and "we simple forgot to show up" isnt an excuse.

  17. Profile photo of molly molly says:

    i would do it the same age but only if it was to fam what were these parents thinking u dont send ur kid to camp in another state and if that does happen u write down her flight # and u make sure that she knows how to read the flight screens to know where to go. this was the parents stupidity never rely on someone who is ur fam

  18. Profile photo of marylove marylove says:

    I’ve been flying alone since I was about the same age… I never had any problems and when I was that age, they didn’t have cell phones and I have never heard of a service to help children that are alone. I did just fine and never got lost! I even had flights delayed and still didn’t have a problem.

  19. Profile photo of Lyndsi Greim Lyndsi Greim says:

    They can fly alone at the age of . . . 18 lol

  20. Profile photo of mrsLaureano mrsLaureano says:

    I would never EVER let my child travel alone. Ever…

  21. awww that’s sad =(

  22. Profile photo of Brieanna Brieanna says:

    I started flying from knoxville to l.a. when i was about 10 or 12 to visit my gandparents. When i flew i had a badge that stated i was flying alone and underage. A flight attendant would walk with me to my grandparents. I was never alone and always felt safe.

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