Saturday June 13, 2009 will always be ingrained into Wendy Babineaux’s memory.
“You literally get a heartache. I’ve know what a heartache is, but when it’s your child, you really know what a heartache feels like,” Babineaux said.
That morning, Babineaux dropped her 8-year-old daughter off at the Bush Intercontinental Airport to catch a plane headed to Charlotte, N.C., where the girl’s father would pick her up.
Since her divorce, it’s something Babineaux has done many times over the last few years, trusting her daughter to the airline employees for a few hours so that she can spend time with her father.
“You don’t get to go through the gate. You have to hand your child off to a stewardess. You don’t get to go down the walkway area or anything like that. You do your goodbyes, and then some flight attendant or whoever takes your child down to the gate,” Babineaux said.
Babineaux had almost made it back to her College Station, TX home – one and one-half hours away from the Houston airport – when she got a call from her ex-husband.
Her husband told her their daughter wasn’t on the flight, and the Continental representatives were telling him they didn’t have any record of her getting on the flight.
“So I immediately did a u-turn, I got back to Houston, got up to the counter, and I said could you tell me where Taylor Rose Williams is?” Babineaux said.
Babineaux said Continental representatives again told her that she had missed the flight, and had no record of her ever checking in. Babineaux frantically called any Continental number she could find, until it was discovered that Taylor had accidentally been sent on a plane to Fayetteville, Arkansas instead of North Carolina.
Not satisfied, Babineaux continued to search for an explanation.
“And risk management, when I called them to find out, they told me, ‘Well at least she wasn’t raped.’ Come on now! How can you as a parent, or as a human being, tell someone something like that?” Babineaux said.
The 8-year-old was eventually re-routed to North Carolina, where she met a very nervous but excited father.
“It’s my understanding, my experience from flying, typically planes are not to take off without a head count to make sure the number of passengers matches with the manifest. Well obviously that did not happen,” said Babineaux’s lawyer, Wayne Rife.
Continental would shock Babineaux once again, less than 24-hours later.
10-year-old Miriam Kamens boarded a Continental Express plane at Boston's Logan airport with a final destination of Cleveland, where her grandparents were waiting to pick her up. Instead, she landed in Newark, New Jersey.
“You did this to mine on Saturday the 13th, and you turn right around and the next day do a child like that again – to me you haven’t even learned your lesson yet,” Babineaux said.
In a written statement, Continental had the following to say in response to the situations:
“Continental has clear procedures to assist children traveling alone and we take the responsibility very seriously. We have also taken immediate action to reinforce to airport representatives that they must closely adhere to established procedures. In both situations, two flights were departing simultaneously from a single doorway and miscommunication among staff members resulted in the child being boarded on the wrong aircraft. In both circumstances the children were supervised throughout the entire process and were rebooked and routed to the proper destinations on the same day. We have apologized to both families and are working with them to resolve these situations.”
While Babineaux acknowledged she has received a written apology, she said no one has actually called to apologize to her, especially to her daughter.
“How somebody could allow themselves to put her in harms way, and then not even apologize, how can you be a human being and allow that to happen? How can you not even apologize to the child?” Babineaux said.
Babineaux has turned to her lawyer to figure out what her next step is.
“Obviously from a legal standpoint, there’s a number of different processes of action that can be pursued. But our principal concern is getting it to the right person and having someone take a hard look and make sure they’re following the procedures they have in place,” Rife said.
And while she plans to seek compensation for the plane ticket, and costs she incurred while trying to locate her daughter, she said the money isn’t the biggest concern to her.
“There is no amount you can give me to take my pain that you put me through away. So maybe they take that money and make it better for any other child or any other parent, so they don’t have go through this. I want someone to be as safe as they should be. And a child to be as safe as he or she should be,” Babineaux said.
Below is Continental's policy regarding children flying alone:
-- Continental will allow unaccompanied minor travel only on Continental Airlines, Continental Micronesia, Continental Express and Continental Connection flights.
-- Unaccompanied minors under 5 years of age are not accepted.
-- Unaccompanied minors ages 5-7 may only travel on nonstop flights.
-- Unaccompanied minors ages 8-14 may travel on any flight (nonstop or connecting) operated by Continental, Continental Micronesia, Continental Express, or Continental Connection. However, travel will not be allowed on the last connecting flight of the day – unless the connecting flight is the only published service to that destination.
-- Unaccompanied Minors are not accepted on flights which require an overnight stay in order to make a connection.
-- Special supervision for children ages 15-17 who are traveling alone will no longer be offered.
-- Children under the age of 15 traveling alone may not travel on any flights operated by Continental that connect to/from other carriers, including SkyTeam and other partners.