American Airlines apologizes after special-needs children stranded for 13 hours

American Airlines on Tuesday apologized for failing to notify the parents of nine special-needs children that their cross-country flight home from summer camp was delayed, leaving the group stranded in a North Carolina airport overnight.

USA Today reported that the children were flying home to Portland, Ore., as unaccompanied minors after spending time at Camp New Friends, a Charlottesville, Va., camp that welcomes children with neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition in which tumors develop in the brain, spinal cord, nerves and skin.

Their flight out of Charlotte, N.C., was canceled on Friday night, leaving the children to spend the night in the airport.


“Unfortunately, after boarding Flight 1736 from Charlotte to Portland on Friday, the flight experienced a mechanical delay that caused it to remain in Charlotte overnight,” American spokesperson Ross Feinstein told the newspaper. “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. They departed to Portland on Saturday morning.”

The parents, however, rejected the airline’s claim that the children were supervised and comfortable.

They told USA Today that their children reported sitting on the plane for five hours before being sent to a room in the airport where they were not supervised.

Parents said their children were not given bathroom breaks and were not able to charge their phones.

In addition, the children were allegedly not able to take their migraine or anti-seizure medications since they were not fed anything other than snacks since breakfast.

Kelley Phillips, 14, told local Portland news outlet KATU that some of the carry-on bags holding prescriptions were gate-checked by airline employees for not meeting size requirements.

“So we’ve got these kids who need to take medicine, but they’re unable to because it’s on their carry-on and it’s under the plane and they wouldn’t go get us them,” she said.

Phillips added that one child “could end up having a seizure if he gets overstressed. His seizure medication was on one of the carry-ons we had to put under the plane, so we tried to keep him calm.”

The parents had all paid the $322 fee for their children to fly as unaccompanied minors, USA Today noted.

American states on its website that it cannot provide “continuous” supervision of unaccompanied minors during flight. It only promises 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.”

The policy says that the airline reaches out to the contacts listed on the child’s paperwork in the event of a cancellation, delay or scheduling issues.

Kristie Hoyt, whose 8-year-old son, Hudson, was on the trip, said that none of the parents were contacted by American.

“Not one parent was contacted by the airline. 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.

The children eventually flew out 13 hours later, at 8:43 a.m. on Saturday. 

The parents said they are exploring taking legal action against the airline after what Hoyt described as a traumatizing experience for their children.

“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,” said Hoyt.

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