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'Unconscionable': Lawsuit alleges American Airlines lost children in airport overnight

A passenger is suing American Airlines for being “reckless” and “negligent,” saying the airline lost her two kids at the airport overnight without food or water or informing her of what happened to them for hours.

Amber Vencill put her two underage sons on an American Airlines flight from Missouri to Syracuse, New York – with a layover in Charlotte – on July 30, 2022, according to the complaint filed on Oct. 31. They were supposed to visit their father’s family.

As the airline requires, Vencill purchased the airline’s unaccompanied minor chaperone services to assist the 14-year-old and 12-year-old with the travel for $150.

According to the American Airlines’ website, the service includes early boarding, a kids-only lounge, and escorts in the airport until the authorized adult picks them up.

In the case of a delay or cancellation, the airline said it will call the adults and arrange an alternate flight, or “in the rare case that your child needs to stay overnight because of a missed connection, we’ll arrange for overnight accommodations, meals and supervision. We’ll call if this occurs,” the website reads.

When the kids’ connecting flight was canceled, the lawsuit says none of this happened for the family.

“There’s no margin for error with children,” Elizabeth Eilender, an attorney for Jaroslawicz & Jaros PLLC who is representing Vencill, told USA TODAY. “You can replace luggage or golf clubs but you can’t replace the kids.”

The lawsuit alleges that American Airlines “lied to” Vencill for what’s promised in its policy and “lost their children.” Eilender said she has not heard from the airline as of Wednesday afternoon.

“The safety and comfort of our customers, including unaccompanied minors in our care, are our highest priorities and we’re committed to providing a positive experience to everyone who travels with us,” American Airlines told USA TODAY in a statement. “We have been in touch with Ms. Vencill directly and we are reviewing the details of the lawsuit.”

After the flight was canceled, Vencill’s partner and the children’s father Ted received a call from the airline that the minors would be put on a flight the next morning, the complaint alleges. According to the complaint, Vencill said she received an email with conflicting information saying they would be on a 5:21 p.m. flight on July 31.

Vencill tried to call the airline but was reportedly unable to get a response.

“It was very scary for the kids, but it's as terrifying for Amber and for her partner Ted,” Eilender said. “They were frantic trying to find out the whereabouts of the boys,”

Vencill finally got in contact with a worker at Charlotte Airport – unaffiliated with American Airlines – who tracked down the kids in “a lost children’s room” at the airport, the complaint said.

The minors allegedly had not been given any food or water since the night before and spent the night in the “freezing” room on a sofa.

Vencill’s children boarded the flight to Syracuse, where they were safely picked up by their father.

The mother emailed American Airlines’ Board of Directors about the incident, and the only response was from the airline’s customer relations with an apology and promise to refund just the unaccompanied minor chaperone service fee.

“She was hoping they’d call her and interview the boys and figure out what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Eilender said.

The mother is hoping the lawsuit forces American Airlines to “take responsibility” for offering such a service and then failing to uphold its policy and also closely investigate its own internal processes on how this service is handled.

“It’s unconscionable for American Airlines to offer the unaccompanied minor chaperone service and then lose your children,” Eilender said.

This article originally appeared on USA Today.

Photo: Gene J Puskar, AP

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