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Children flying alone get diverted, stuck in Atlanta overnight

Two parents in Orlando say their young children flying alone as unaccompanied minors on Frontier Airlines ended up getting diverted to Atlanta and stuck overnight in a hotel.

The parents say Denver-based Frontier should have called them to ask them if it was okay to drive the children to a hotel before they decided to make that move.

Etta, age 7, and Carter, age 9, were flying July 22 from a visit to see their grandparents in Des Moines, Iowa back home to Orlando, scheduled to arrive at 10:46 p.m.

But storms in Orlando caused a ground stop, and the flight diverted to Atlanta late at night.

The incident highlights what can go wrong when children fly unaccompanied -- even on a nonstop route -- if a flight is diverted to an unfamiliar city.

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While the Frontier flight diverted to Atlanta, sometimes flights get diverted to an airport in a small town where the airline may not even have staff.

“This was the first year I said okay, they’re old enough to fly on their own, they know their phone number, they know their address,” said Etta and Carter’s mother Jennifer Ignash. But when the flight got diverted, “it was like, okay, panic.”

Frontier charges a $110 unaccompanied minor fee per child and does not allow unaccompanied minors on connecting flights.

The airline said in keeping with its policy, “the children were attended to at all times by a Frontier supervisor, placed in a hotel room overnight, and provided with food. Our records show that the children were in contact with their mother before being transported to the hotel and with their father the following morning before leaving on the continued flight. We understand how an unexpected delay caused by weather can be stressful for a parent and our goal is to help passengers get to their destinations as quickly and safely as possible.”

Ignash, who was waiting at the Orlando airport for her children that night, said multiple flights were diverted from Orlando, and “when that happens, it’s just a madhouse.” She got word that the children’s flight was diverted, and tried calling Frontier’s customer service line but says they couldn’t get her information about her children.

Ignash says she didn’t get a call from a Frontier employee until the next morning.

But an older unaccompanied minor on the flight let the children use his cell phone to call and text their parents.

“Without that child, we would have had zero idea where our kids were,” Ignash said.

Ignash says an employee using a personal vehicle took the children to a hotel, where six kids from the flight stayed in adjoining hotel rooms. The parents say they do not know who the employee was who drove the children or stayed with them in the hotel room.

“We never gave approval for that to happen,” Etta and Carter’s father, Chad Gray, said.

Alan Armstrong, an Atlanta aviation attorney Gray contacted, said he thinks there should be procedures and personnel at the airport to handle the problem.

“They just make it up as they go along,” Armstrong said.

Ignash said if parents decide to let their children fly as an unaccompanied minor, they should “understand what the airline’s policy and procedure is and get a direct contact.”

Gray said the worst part was not knowing what was happening.

“It was a bunch of circumstances that came into play all at the same time. I just don’t think Frontier is prepared to handle all those at once,” Gray said. “You like to minimize the risk that your kids have and you want to protect them. And not having any control over the process whatsoever, I think, is really, really frustrating.”

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