Spirit Airlines is facing heavy criticism after an incident on December 22nd where an unaccompanied 6-year-old passenger was placed on the wrong flight, sending him to a different airport than his family was waiting at. The mix-up has sparked outrage and renewed scrutiny around airline procedures for handling young, solo travelers.
The boy, named Kevin, was flying by himself for the first time from Philadelphia International Airport to fly down to Florida to visit his grandparents for the holidays, according to his grandmother. His mother was unable to fly with him but sent him off on a direct Spirit Airlines flight to Fort Myers. Spirit’s website advertises their unaccompanied minor service for children ages 5-14 traveling alone.
Kevin’s grandmother was waiting excitedly at RSW airport to pick him up, not realizing the harrowing journey Kevin was unintentionally taking alone.
After Kevin’s plane landed in Orlando instead of Fort Myers, it was quickly realized that something was wrong. The plane continued on to Fort Myers without Kevin, where his confused and concerned grandmother was anxiously waiting for him.
Back in Orlando, Kevin was helped off the plane by airline staff once it was clear he should not have been on that flight.Eyewitness accounts state that the 6-year-old was understandably very shaken up after landing in the wrong city with none of his family present to get him.
Spirit Airlines has confirmed they mistakenly put Kevin on a flight destined for Orlando International Airport instead of Southwest Florida International Airport.
Kevin’s family has lashed out at Spirit’s handling of the situation:
“They handed over my 6-year-old grandson to a complete stranger. This stranger happened to be a pilot on the wrong airline,” his grandmother said in an interview.
Many on social media have also been highly critical of the dangerous lapse in procedure:
“Parents put their trust in airline companies to safely transport their unaccompanied minors and this is what happens? Absolutely unacceptable,” one viral tweet read.
“This is horrifying! That poor child must have been so scared and confused,” another user wrote.
The hashtag #SpiritAirlines has been trending with overwhelmingly negative discussion of the event.
The family has stated they plan to sue Spirit Airlines over trauma caused to their child.
Spirit’s Apology & Policy
Spirit Airlines has issued a public apology over the incident. A spokesperson said Kevin was “mistakenly put on the wrong flight” and they have apologized to the family while undertaking an investigation.
“We let our Guest down and we must, and will do better,” the airline stated.
|Spirit Airlines Unaccompanied Minor Service
|– Available for children ages 5-14
|– Flight attendants escort child at departure & arrival
|– Airline employee monitors child during connections
|– Family can track flight status & confirm custody transfer
The policy states that for the entire duration of the flight on Spirit Airlines and through any connections, an unaccompanied minor is supervised by airline staff. While the service itself has clear guidelines, Kevin’s family argues that Spirit’s negligence completely failed to follow its own unaccompanied minor rules.
What Comes Next
All major U.S. airlines have an unaccompanied minor policy allowing children as young as age 5 to fly alone under airline supervision. With the holidays being an exceptionally busy travel season, many young children take solo flights at this time of year to visit family.
In response to this incident, there will likely be strong calls for airlines to improve their unaccompanied minor procedures and oversight, especially when it comes to verifying assigned flights and being extremely diligent during connections that a child gets onto the correct plane. Consumer advocacy groups may lobby for new regulations requiring additional fail-safes for solo child passengers following this case.
For Spirit Airlines itself, they will urgently have to identify where exactly their unaccompanied minor process broke down and how Kevin could have possibly ended up on such an egregiously wrong flight from his assigned one. The company’s reputation has taken a big hit that will likely impact ticket sales in the near future. With lawsuits and FAA investigations looming, Spirit must take decisive action on this failure in order to regain the public’s trust.
The experience was undoubtedly traumatizing for both 6-year-old Kevin and his panicked family. Let’s hope airlines make policy changes to ensure nothing like this ever happens again as a result. No child traveling solo should have to endure getting stranded alone in the completely wrong city with no familiar faces greeting them. This system failure endangered a vulnerable young passenger and his family’s faith in the airline, spotlighting an issue of child safety protocols that the airline industry must now confront.
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