A Georgia mother lashed out at American Airlines after she learned that the airline had lost her 12-year-old daughter when she landed from her flight from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Miami.
Monica Gilliam, 39, received a distressing call last Saturday when she thought her daughter, Kimber, was safely being escorted on her flight to visit her father in Miami using the chaperone service required by American Airlines for passengers under the age of 15.
“’It was the American Airlines manager at Miami and he says, ‘your child is missing, we’ve shut down the terminal, we don’t know where she is,’ she said in a video posted on her TikTok account, which has now garnered more than 1.8m views.
“I was like, ‘how did you lose my child?’ You know, how do you lose an unaccompanied minor?” she added.
In an interview with WSBTV, Ms Gilliam explained how she had paid the $150 fee to use the chaperone service that American Airlines stipulates on its website customers are required to use when they’re sending children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old alone.
On the website, the airline lays out how the service gives unaccompanied minors early access to board the plane, an airport escort to assist with making connections, and, most importantly for Ms Gilliam, “escorting the child to the authorized adult picking them up when they land”.
The single mother of four explained to the ABC affiliate that she couldn’t afford to travel alongside her daughter but believed her to be in safe hands using the unaccompanied minor service.
But, as she points out in her TikTok video, her daughter was only escorted onto the plane. When deboarding happened, her 12-year-old walked off the aircraft and the flight attendants allegedly “waved her off”.
“It turns out that the flight attendants waved her off the plane and said ‘bye’ and she didn’t know what to do so she kept going because they were telling her ‘bye’ so she kept walking,” Ms Gilliam said, adding that she was well aware of the fact that Miami, where her daughter landed alone with a sign that read “unaccompanied minor”, is a known hub for human trafficking.
According to the Women’s Fund Miami, Miami-Dade is the number one hub for trafficking in Florida, while the state itself ranks third in the country.
“So she’s going through the airport with that billboard on her, that she was an unaccompanied minor in one of the largest human trafficking hubs in the country,” she said on TikTok.
Fortunately for her daughter, she explained, she was able to connect with her father via Facetime, who then helped his young child navigate the bustling airport in the midst of the busy July 4 weekend which saw nearly seven million travellers flood the US between Friday and Sunday.
“On the way out, no American Airlines employees stopped her to see if she had an adult, not one Miami airport employee stopped her and even the TSA security agent-before she left the secure area into baggage claim-stopped her,” she noted.
Her father was able to meet his daughter inside the baggage claim.
During an interview with WTVC NewsChannel 9 in Chatanooga, Ms Gilliam told the news agency that she’d since been in contact with American Airlines about the ordeal, and they’d apologised and offered her three free flights for the distressing event she’d undergone.
That offer, she said, is one that likely won’t be cashed out.
“I have no plans of flying with American Airlines again because what they did is inexcusable. And I have no faith in them at all now, because they didn’t do their job. And they lost my child,” she told NewsChannel 9.
The Independent has reached out to American Airlines for comment but did not hear back immediately.
In a separate response, the airline told ABC News that it “cares deeply about our young passengers and is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for them”.
“We take these matters very seriously and are looking into what occurred. A member of our team has reached out to the customer to learn more about their experience,” a representative for the airline added in a statement.
On its website, the airline notes that though they provide escort services on and off the plane, while a child is on the plane, flight attendants can become busy with other duties on board.
“Keep in mind, our flight attendants will be busy with onboard duties and can’t continuously monitor your child during their flight,” the airline’s website says. “Let your child know to ring the call button if they need anything.”
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