Nine campers with special needs were traveling as unaccompanied minors when they were delayed for 13 hours. Parents are furious with the way their kids were treated.

By Maressa Brown
August 12, 2019
Kristie Hoyt

A group of parents from Oregon and Washington are understandably reeling after their children were left without a proper meal or medication during a flight delay. The kids, all of whom have a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis, which triggers the growth of tumors on nerve tissue, were attending a camp for kids with the condition called Camp New Friends in Charlottesville, Virginia. They were heading back to the west coast aboard an American Airlines flight when the flight was delayed during a layover in Charlotte.

According to Portland outlet KOIN 6 News, an American Airlines spokesperson said the delay was due to mechanical problems. Children were initially kept on the plane while other passengers were let off. Five hours later, they were brought to a room for unaccompanied minors.

Kristie Hoyt, a mom from Beaverton, Oregon, said her 8-year-old son, Hudson, was traumatized by the delay. "He called me while they were stuck on tarmac, terrified that he was never coming home, and that he was never going to see me again, and begging me to go to North Carolina and pick him up and bring him home," Hoyt explained to KATU.

The airline also reportedly never called parents to let them know the flight was delayed or to keep them posted on their children's well-being. "The only contact that happened was me calling a 12-year-old and having her hand the phone over to flight attendants," Hoyt told KATU.

What Hoyt describes runs counter to the airline's policy for unaccompanied minors, which notes that "if a flight changes or is cancelled, or if schedule irregularities occur at any city and it’s likely that the minor won’t make a connecting flight, we'll call the contacts on the unaccompanied minor form and arrange an alternate flight if necessary."

On the AA website, the airline explains their general service for unaccompanied minors "is to ensure your child is boarded onto the aircraft, introduced to the flight attendant, chaperoned during connections and released to the appropriate person at their destination." They warn that "flight attendants cannot continuously monitor an unaccompanied minor during their flight."

In addition to the lack of communication and adequate supervision from the flight crew, kids were denied access to necessary medications. According to Hoyt and other parents, many children had packed their medication in their carry-on bag, but some were required to check it instead. One of the kids on the plane, Kelley Phillips, said the group had limited access to a bathroom and were never given a meal, just "crackers and soda," which the camper noted "isn't good, because we need real food to be able to take our medication." Hoyt even explained that her son had money on him to purchase food, but, for whatever reason, wasn't allowed to.

Phillips further illustrated the disturbing scene that the group of campers faced: "One of the older kids, he's got problems, it's harsh for him to deal with a lot of stress. He could end up having a seizure if he gets over-stressed. His seizure medication was on one of the carry-ons we had to put under the plane, so we tried to keep him calm."

Meanwhile, both the camp director and a founding member of the Dino Doozer Foundation [which helps fund the camp] were in contact with the airline to assist in getting the children home safely, Hoyt said.

Thankfully, the children are all back with their families in the Pacific Northwest, but parents are now exploring their legal options and want further reassurance that this won't happen again. The kids want to return to camp next year but won't be flying American, according to Hoyt.

"Staff with American Airlines admitted to me they did not know their company's policy for unaccompanied minors," Hoyt shared. "The one contact from corporate admitted it was their fault with them not knowing or following their policy. They claimed there wasn't any discrimination at all, and they didn't even realize the children have special needs."

Parents.com and various other outlets received the following statement from the airline: "Unfortunately, after boarding flight 1736 from Charlotte to Portland on Friday experienced a mechanical delay that caused it to remain in Charlotte overnight. The children were kept in our dedicated unaccompanied minor room where they were kept safe and comfortable in the care of American Airlines personnel at all times. Our team is in the process of reaching out to the families involved and sincerely apologizes for this travel experience. We will be reviewing with our teams internally to understand how we can do better next time."

Hoyt noted that so far, American Airlines has "only reached out to a few moms after KATU and KGW News contacted them for a statement." She said, "We asked them not to contact us individually and will be working together to respond with a collective statement. They have not officially apologized to any of the children or parents."

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