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.”

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


What do you think?

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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  1. Ami says:

    My parents let me start traveling alone since I was twelve but I never flew because I am terrified of heights. It was a wonderful experience and it felt like a great adventure but I never once had someone from the bus station tell me to wait to use their phone and the driver always reminded me that as a minor I wasn’t allowed to wander away from the station, I always felt safe because the staff at the stations always made sure that I called my parents to check in at every transfer. I don’t think I would ever let my child travel alone without a cellphone though.

  2. Irza says:

    It would be scary for me even they old enough to travel in their own for tragedy to happen.It is very unsafe for
    children to travel on their own. Think about how your kid would feel all alone on a plane with all strangers around, perhaps frightened to be in the air.

  3. TaKeisha says:

    There are a few posts I read that has stated that “everyone inside and airport security a ticketed passenger or employee”. I disagree with that because I have seen people who have sat inside the airport and waited for their loved ones plane to land so they could welcome him/her home or sat inside until it was time for the passengers to start boarding.

  4. Stephanie says:

    unsafe is not the word is the mom and dads fault through and through that just seems crazy to me they could have given the girl a cell phone to take with her I can only they are so lucky the mom and dad found her cause in most cases they don’t thank god she is ok and safe….stupid parent’s gosh!!!!!

  5. Great Mom says:

    It just shows how unsafe the world is and you can’t trust anyone!

  6. Teresa says:

    The airlines should have taken the time to find out what the little girl needed. If she was my daughter I would be suing the airline and the person that was supposed to accompany her.

  7. elaine says:

    Actually, unaccompanied minor does not mean unaccompanied, it means not accompanied by a legal guardian. My son has been flying as an unaccompanied minor for a few years now, we pay a fee to the airline to take care of our child, to make sure they get on connecting flight,s to make sure they eat, to well babysit them until they land at the final destination and are signed for by the person that was agreed upon.
    For the airline to lose a child is absolutely terrible. I would be throwing a fit and making sure that it never happened again, they need to fix their protocols and if they can’t they need to stop taking unaccompanied minors.
    We use and always will use Alaska Air, they are great! My son loves flying, they sit all the unaccompanied minors together so they can watch them better, they all get meals and drinks and snacks.

  8. MrsPearson says:

    Just in general how the world has shown more unsecured an unsafe travel regardless of age….uuuummm no! PERIOD!

  9. Pete says:

    “terrified to place her child on ANY airline alone” Oh bloody waaaaah! Stupid, ridiculous fear mongering and pandering for nothing more than the sake of advertising. Sending kids on airlines is one of the safest things you can do. Every single person coming and going is ID’d, watched and recorded. Do stupid things happen? Sure. Do kids get sent to the wrong place, or get off the plane at the wrong stop? Yeah. Is it uncomfortable for a parent to watch their child walk away in any circumstance? You bet. Terrifying? You are an idiot.

    And for those that say that flying is so vewy vewy skewwy? Puhleeze. More people die each year in MULE accidents than die on planes. (Yes, really. I actually looked it up. Mules. People actually die on ’em) More kids choke on BUBBLEGUM each week than have died in airplanes in the last 10 years.

  10. Kika says:

    My sister & I have discussed this many times — we’d not let our children fly alone because if the plane went down or some sort of emergency landing, would never forgive ourselves for not being there to comfort our child. I read a comment that only ticketed passagers are in the airport, but how many of those ticketed passengers are perverts? Sexual preds are creatures of opportunity & a child traveling alone is ripe for the picking. I don’t think children should be forced to fly as part of a divorce agreement. The parents should be forced to stay closer. Yes, it might be inconvenient, but they are the adults & the hardship should be on them to make living more reasonable & normal for their child.

  11. Colman says:

    When they are old enough to have their own concealed carry permit.

  12. Ashley says:

    As a mother of a 10 year old daughter who flies to and from New Jersey to Mississippi at least 4 times a year alone this is a big scare. I as well pay the fee to have flight attendants to watch my daughter. It is court ordered for her to come to and from this many times but I try my best to not get layover longer than 30 min or just pay extra for direct flights. This is really scary.

  13. Melissa says:

    Good lord, some people on here have absolutely no clue… I have a 10 year old daughter and she flies twice a year across the country. This is not by choice but by court order and believe me, if I wasn’t bound by that, she’d stay put. It is a completely different time then the 1980’s and 1990’s. I flew alone as a child and LOVED it! My parents were able to walk on the plane with me and put me in my seat and I would get food, peanuts, drinks, playing cards, etc. Now, as an unaccompanied minor, you get very little – especially considering the fees that airlines charge!
    There is a cost for an unaccompanied minor and it is $100 – 150 each way. THIS is the fee that should ensure that the airline “babysits” (as someone put it) the child. It breaks my heart and scares me to death every time I put my daughter on a plane by herself. Oh, and for the other person that suggested the parent buy another ticket and fly with the child: if I had an extra $700-1000, I would! Lots of us don’t have that luxury. It’s not my fault that my ex moved out of state. Come to think of it, I even pay half of the cost to send my daughter away… So, until you have walked in the shoes of someone ordered to do this, zip it! It is NOT as easy as lots of you think!

  14. That is just terrible…Thank God she is back with her family,I could just imagine the terrified feelings they had not knowing where their daughter was…My daughter has flown twice by herself (starting at age 9,she’s 10 now) and I have paid an extra $100 each way(there n back)which $200 extra is not cheap but,everytime I made the reservations they always made sure it was a direct flight and they ask you who is dropping the minor off,what relationship they are to the minor and the name ( & relationship) of person who will be picking the minor up…So it was already in the system when I would go to check her in…Also I always had to fill out papers with my info/relationship and the persons info/relationship of who was picking my daughter up..It has to match what was on file already..Then the person picking up has to do the same fill out both parties info again..They also have to show government identification before any minor gets released to them..So I feel those people who were supposed to be watching over that poor lil girl should definately be fired and no one should of booked her on a flight that had any stop overs at such a young age..That airlines should of had her on a non-stop flight and should of been doing their job…Aren’t they getting paid to do their (CORRECT & EFFICIENT) jobs????

  15. Kristine says:

    My nephew started at age 5 to travel back to forth between California and Oklahoma to visit his Dad. My sister bought his ticket and paid an extra fee of $75.00 each way for him to be escorted to his next flight and then to his Dad, after his Dad had shown photo identification to prove who he was, and then his Dad would have to sign paper work that would be faxed to my sister to prove her son was safe with his father, I know he flew American Airlines for this, because when he would come back if my sister couldn’t get off work I would pick him up and do the same thing his Dad had done to prove to both parents he was with a legal guardian until I got him back to his mother. If the parents paid for this service the airlines owes them a refund for the money spent plus, for the all the pain and worry they caused the family, this SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED! Shame on the airlines. I know the airports are secure because you go through a metal detector and their are security guards walking around, but I remember a story of a little girl getting raped and murder in a busy casino while her father was over gambling a 100 feet away out in Nevada where I lived, and they had security cameras and security guards, just because there is security in place doesn’t mean that a child is safe or that they can handle situations as some of the other comments have stated, let them have their child lost at an airport and see how they feel. My nephew has been stranded in an airport while waiting on a family member to arrive, fortunately he called my work 1-800 number and stayed on the phone with me until the family member got there, at least I knew he was safe and if anyone would have tried to cause him any problems I had my cell phone ready to dial the airports security number. Call it paranoia but he is a safe, well rounded young man now, who has learned to think things through to all angles and situations that could develop for any actions he takes.

  16. Sherri McKee says:

    Take your child to camp yourself. Buy a direct flight ticket. Maybe find the parents of another child going to the same camp, see if they would ‘chaperone’. Find a camp near where they live. It takes a heartbeat for tragedy to happen. What a ten year old can handle in these times and what they could in times past are two different things. The parents bear some culpability here.

  17. Linda says:

    To the parents of the 10 year old girl: SUE THE HELL OUT OF THE AIRLINE!

  18. Julian says:

    Since the days of the stage coach, the laws throughout this country have imposed an extraordinary duty of care on common carriers such as buses, railroads and now airlines. For example, in California, “A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.” Sure sounds to me like United Airlines failed to carry out its duties.

    And as for CassandraRichardsons complaints about the nanny culture, be sure to remember to blame yourself next time you are a victim of crime. After all, you put yourself in the situation that let to your being robbed or whatever. Parents have every right to expect United Airlines to obey the law. Would it have been their fault if they assumed the airplane had been properly maintained and it had crashed because it wasn’t? Should they have taken personal responsibility to check every nut and bolt on the airplane?

    I’m all for personal responsibility, but the world is too big and complicated for anyone to take a DIY attitude toward everything. Would you really want the government to stop sending police or firefighters when you called 911? Maybe if you had taken responsibility for informing yourself a bit more about global issues and had voted accordingly, we wouldn’t need the government to be taxing us enough already in order to deal with local squabbles out in the desert half a world away. And while you are at it, maybe you can figure out a way to direct air traffic for every flight you take, so we won’t need the government to play nanny and be sure we’re safe.

  19. Neeve says:

    I once sent my 16 year old boy (6′ tall, 180 pounds) on a Horizon flight from California to Montana to see his dad. The passengers were stranded in Seattle because of mechanical problems. He called me to say they told him, “Find a place to stay tonight, and be back here in the morning.” I called the airline and told them if they abandoned my minor child (which they did everyone) and any hair on his head was out of place that I would sue them until their wings drooped. They found him another flight within the hour. I think these parents have grounds to sue United for neglect. Businesses this big usually don’t give a you know what about people…just profits.

  20. Michael says:

    I always like to take opportunities like this to put in a plug for Southwest Airlines. My ex dragged my daughter to San Jose, CA, and She spent 7 years, flying back and forth between Orange County Ca, and San Jose. Unlike most airlines, Southwest does not charge anything extra, to have a child as young as 5 years old, fly alone. Flying a child back and forth twice a month is expensive, and I would frequently have to spend an hour or two in traffic, to get to the airport. I was extremely grateful, that they made the extra effort, and did not exploit my situation, so I could spend those few precious hours with my daughter. Sometimes I would be late, and they were always gracious, and made certain that Sarah was safe, and not ignored. Southwest is one of the few airlines that continues to do well, and that is NOT by accident. They are very gracious, and the most customer -oriented airline I have ever flown.

  21. Mike says:

    A 10 year old kid ought to be able to get off an airplane all alone and find her next flight and get on it. Airports are probably some of the safest places around so it isn’t like she was in any danger. Did she not at least have a little cash or a calling card to call her folks? I know the flight attendants told her to wait, but I’d tell my kid that if they were scared and wanted to call me and some airline employee said “no” to ignore that airline employee and go call me anyway. My answer to how old kids should be before then can fly alone, is “old enough to read signs and listen to and follow simple instructions in airports and find their way from point a to point b.” Of course, I’d also teach my kid to go ask another woman with kids for help….moms will always help a kid out….major airlines, not so much.

  22. Richey says:

    I’m just curious about the people here who swear they would never let their children travel alone – how many of you have older children and how many of these children have development challenges (e.g. behind in school, subjected to bullying, too shy, etc.). Airports are much more secure now than before, surveillance is good and every person inside the airport is a ticketed passenger or employee. I know they are more crazies out there than when we were all growing up, but sheltering your kids until they are adults isn’t the solution…..

    • E says:

      Oh, so they also screen & background check every PASSENGER to ensure there are NO SEX offenders & SEXUAL PREDATORS in the airport as well?! I wasn’t aware that they did that… NOW that you clarified that we all know it is perfectly safe to let a child fly alone… because everyone has a TICKET, & apparently they also do background checks on passengers as well as employees (((insert eye roll here))).

  23. Woody says:

    *Note from the Author: This blog’s intention is not to defame any specific airline. IT SHOULD BE…..ANY Airline that would take the money for the ticket, and then not provide SAFE Transportation for a child should be shut down. Its stealing to take money were no service is provided. United and American Airlines should be avoided at all costs.

  24. Kendal says:

    My brother flew from Georgia to Texas alone from the time he was 7 (1987) until we moved back to Texas in 1990 for visitation with his father. Back then my mom would hand him over to a stewardess and they escorted him to his father in texas. The airline was notified ahead of time a minor would be riding alone and they took care of him. Simple as that.

  25. How many parents here send your child to school, on a bus, some even use city buses. unless you homeschool you send your child off alone everyday. The point is, “in the past” when everyone was responsible for our children, we had programs for this sort of thing. It was totally normal for a child to fly alone. Children of divorced parents do it all the time. To day our children are no longer taught how to be independent, and I always thought it was the RESPONSIBILITY of parents to raise independent, responsible children.You can’t do that if you hide the child under your wing their whole life. The airlines had a program set up for children flying alone. They told the parents that they would have someone waiting at the terminal to escort the child to the next flight. That’s a lot more then I ever got when I flew alone as a child, and I had connecting flights. My brother and I would run like crazy to make our connecting flight. One time after going to the wrong airport in the right state we waited hours for someone to pick us up from the airport. We didn’t have cell phones in those days, we talk to the people who worked at the airport and figured out what went wrong (after waiting for over an hour). The mishap was fixed, we got picked up, It didn’t become a big scandal, It was a problem that was fixed. The people around us didn’t feel like they were going to get sued so remarkably they helped us. The only problem I had with it all was the air port didn’t have a restaurant or any place to eat, they didn’t even have vending machines, and I was hungry. I wasn’t traumatized by the whole experience. All I can remember feeling was boredom and hunger. The parents were not negligible, they were doing what parents have been doing sense commercial flights have been in existence. This is what our society has come to. Everyone has to pass the buck. So here is the big question “When the little girl asked for help WHY would no one help her”?


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