Mom Lost And Neglected In The Airport

December 3, 2007

in Senior Stories

My mom lives in Southern California and flies from LAX to Dallas/Fort Worth to visit us once or twice a year. She is 82 years old, walks unsteadily with a cane, and easily gets lost in unfamiliar places. Pre-9/11 we would meet her at the gate, but since that is no longer an option, we always arrange to have her met by an attendant with a wheelchair to take her to the baggage claim area where we meet her. We have done this successfully on Southwest and US Airways in the past. On her last trip, we found a good fare on a non-stop flight on American, so we paid a little extra to get her a non-stop flight.

When I booked the flight, I explained her needs and arranged to have her met by a wheelchair and offered to pay any extra fees that they might charge for an attendant to assist her. I was assured that everything was arranged, there were no extra charges, and there would be no problem. When my brother put her on the flight in LA, he reconfirmed with the gate agent that she needed to be met and was told it was taken care of.

Three hours later, I’m sitting at DFW with my family waiting for my mother. The flight arrives; no Mom. Luggage from her flight is on the carousel being picked up by passengers; no Mom. I see a couple of people being brought in with wheelchairs and ask the attendants about her. They claim to know nothing, saying that someone else must be bringing her down. They leave. All of the luggage and the passengers are gone; still no Mom. We are becoming seriously concerned.

My husband begins making inquiries and gets very little help. He is informed that no one is in the gate area, so she must have left. The clerk at the check-in desk claims that there are no records indicating that she needed any type of assistance. I am beginning to panic. My husband, who, fortunately, is not the type to panic or go quietly, starts making enough of a fuss that security gets involved. They claim to check the terminal, but find no one matching her description. My husband asks to be let in to look for her. They refuse, citing security concerns. He pulls out his ID, including his work badge from a very well known company, and even offers to allow security to run his fingerprints if they can do a live scan, whatever it takes to allow him to go look for her. He asks if someone from security can escort him. Finally he gets loud enough that someone higher-up authorized him to go in, unescorted, to look for her. It has now been an hour and a half since her flight arrived at the gate. Ten minutes later, he finds her, in tears, wandering around the terminal totally lost.

It seems that the wheelchair attendants had two other people requiring assistance. They took them, and told her to wait there and they would be right back. They never came back for her. These are undoubtedly the same two attendants I saw in the baggage claim area and asked about her. She sat at the gate for over an hour, in tears and absolutely no one offered to help. During this time, security claimed to have checked the gate area and found no one. She told us that she tried to get some help, but every worker she asked just answered her kind of vaguely, pointed off in the distance, and hurried on their way. She was completely lost, nearing hysterics, and said that the only thing that kept her from a complete breakdown was that she knew we wouldn’t leave until we found her. I strongly suggested that next time, she go ahead and have a loud, screaming, hysterical, breakdown and maybe someone will notice her.

By the way, her flight arrived at 6 PM on a Saturday night and the terminal was virtually empty. She was an elderly woman, wearing a bright red sweater with a cat embroidered on the front, hobbling along with a cane, crying. If security couldn’t spot her in the terminal, I wonder how we can expect them to spot terrorists.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

anonymous October 12, 2008 at 1:07 pm

If your mother "confuses easily" and could not fiqure out how to get from the gate to outside security she should not be traveling alone. It is not the airlines responsiblilty to babysit your mother. Wheelchair assistantce is exactly that, assistance from point A to B. At 82 and easily confused your Mom needs someone to travel with her, namely one of you! Sounds to me like all the blame lies with your family.


Anonymous October 30, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Why on earth do people send their elderly parents/friends/family on flights ALONE?? Even if there are people to get them from one place to another, why not go along with her to make sure she has everything she needs, including familiarity and your comfort??? I think it's cruel to do that to someone!


Anette November 18, 2008 at 9:07 am

People send their elderly alone because it is extremely expensive to fly back and forth to pick them up, AND, most importantly, because the airline has promised that thay will handle it!

I work at a Norwegian airport, wheelchair pax and others who need special assistance always get a little extra attention, and are taken care of all the way 'till where their family is waiting. If this for some reason is not possible, they actually TALK to the poor people and agree what to do – maybe make sure they get a taxi or a good place to wait until their family comes, and they are showed who they can talk to for help if they need anything else.

Of course people have bad experiences from time to time. But not like this. Poor Americans…


Diane December 5, 2008 at 7:08 am

Honestly people! Why can't we just help others, especially the elderly! Does it really take that much from your life to ask someone if they need help or to actually assist them?


Mike R. December 15, 2008 at 8:08 am

Why do the people who post the critical comments, like the first two, always post Anonymously?!

Actually that’s a rhetorical question. They are cowards and also realize that displaying ignorance and insensitivity is something that they naturally wish to keep private. Creeps and weasels that they truly are.

Mike R.


Celeste Taber March 27, 2009 at 12:19 pm

I've started a new service called Travel Care for Seniors. For years, I've escorted senior family members who still love to travel, but the complexities of airports/airlines proved to be too much for them to handle alone. I enjoy the company of seniors and saw the need to provide this service to other active, independent seniors and their families who love them. Visit and see what I'm all about! Thank you.


Belleweather April 2, 2009 at 10:54 am

Never mind — when Anonymous I and Anonymous II get old, no one will be able to stand them.

Agree with everyone else. How hard is it to be kind? Or just decent? And to do your damn job properly? I arranged for my kids to fly as minors only once, and when their flight arrived early, the airline dumped them out into the huge, busy terminal by themselves — without any of the services they assured me they had in place for minors flying alone. If the airline promises (and charges you for!) a service, why is the family's fault when they don't provide it??


Jason April 2, 2009 at 11:01 am

This story seems about right. The majority of lower-level employees at major airports are about the trashiest, most ignorant people alive. I don't even know what they do because it seems like they just kind of wander around the airport, talking loud, riding the airport trains, etc. I have a lot of respect for the janitors because they normally seem to be working, but the others are just dead weight collecting pay checks.


Danielle April 2, 2009 at 11:15 am

So sad. Good to hear that she found and safe. Unlike a story that happen some time ago where the elderly person wondered out of the terminal and was found some time later deceased. The family sued the hell out of that airline and won a large amount. If the airline is not trained or fully equipped to take on such task then they should make this plain when customers call up and explain their situation. They should stop being greedy for money.


Chiricana April 2, 2009 at 11:24 am

This story makes me so sad! Hopefully this will never happen again, but next time perhaps breaking down in hysterics may get someone's attention. This story seriously depressed me.


Anonymous April 2, 2009 at 12:16 pm

If she's old and confused, why don't YOU go out there? Never thought of that, huh.


Zmomma April 2, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Wow! Sure hope the Anonymous posters don't get old and live alone because it's unlikely their families would even stay to try to find them like the folks in this story. Sounds to me like the airline didn't live up to its part of the deal here.


Big D April 2, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Where the fuck were you? Are you an idiot? How about next time you take your toddler and leave him in the men's room, dipshit.


Amanda April 2, 2009 at 2:37 pm

If your mother is unsteady on her feet and confuses easily, she shouldn't be flying alone! I would never entrust someone I loved with a total stranger getting paid minimum wage. They most likely hate their job and don't give a rats ass about your mother. She's your priority, not theirs. How about YOU fly out there to visit her.


Marianne April 2, 2009 at 3:12 pm

What a sad story but I am glad that your husband found your mother. My elderly but healthy mother travels twice a year to visit me and I always get a pass to meet her at the arriving gate and a pass to take her to her departing gate when she leaves and I live in a major West Coast city. Northwest is really good when it comes to taking care of the elderly

we have never had any problems.

I agree Airport personel can be annoying at times.


Collin April 2, 2009 at 7:31 pm

She should tape a big sign to her shirt that says 'don't forget me!'.

Or maybe it's just time to put mom to sleep.


J April 2, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Uhh Big D. What are you commenting on. and I dont think there is any need for that kind of language. No one wants to read that


Annie April 2, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Why did no one help her? I know that if I had seen an older lady crying and wandering, I would have stopped. Seriously people, help each other out.


educated bum April 3, 2009 at 1:07 am

Anonymous, and all other apologists for the airline.

This is America, we have laws and we have contracts. The Airline took responsibility for a fee — the price of the ticket. The fault is totally with the airline.

We also have lawyers. Sue the bastards! Only financial pain will change corporate behavior.


Debi April 3, 2009 at 2:50 am

All could be prevented here by requesting a pass previous to her flight and it allows you to go thru the security checkpoint and meet her at the gate. If you screw that up you can call most airlines (southwest, northwest the best for this) and tell them there is an unattended senior on the flight needing assistance and the AIRLINE staff will ensure her escort to you. Airport staff do not give a flying rats arse about anything beyond what they must do and their job is controlled chaos.


jaymoney April 3, 2009 at 6:21 am

I agree the airline/airport should be sued if only to bring this situation to attention. We have degressed into a "me only" world and this is one example.


peter griffin April 3, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Hey J at 1:08am/ Speak for yourself, I want to hear that language. It beats reading your fucking boring shit.You sound like the asso the neighbor kids throw shit at!! Keeping it real!!


Private Porksword April 4, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Celeste, you are the only one who has actually offered a constructive solution.

Here again we have annette, making her tired arguments berating another culture and saying how great things are in Norway, where in fact the people are mostly white and certainly wealthy enough to afford everything they could ever possibly need.

At least Celeste actually OFFER a solution to the problem, instead of spouting mindless self-serving nonsense, which in effect, actually helps no one! I hope that goes well for you, with your business Celeste. Good on you!


chrisdanger April 5, 2009 at 4:15 am

Another fine example on the laundry list concerning AA screwing their customers. I quit flying them as they've pretty much become the "Greyhound Bus Lines Of The Skies"


Just Me April 8, 2009 at 9:30 am

Keeping it real!!

peter griffin | 04.04.09 – 2:19 am | #

Ya mean, keepin' it stupid and emotionally disturbed?

You and the other mentally-handicapped individuals should stay off the computer where grownups are trying to talk. Find whoever raised you to be a pig, and ask for remedial Humanity 101 lessons, please.


Sharon April 8, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Time to buy Mom a cell phone and program important numbers into it. I'm glad everything turned out ok.


Curtis April 9, 2009 at 8:54 am

Some folks just want to see how many swear words they can throw into one sentence. It is quite astounding.


Mike April 10, 2009 at 10:04 am

This lack of knowledge in here is breathtaking to behold.

The folks that run wheelchairs at an airport are NOT AIRLINE employees – they are AIRPORT employees. Huge difference. If an AIRLINE receives information concerning a passenger that requires "special handling," they note it and pass it on to the airport personnel. Here, it's pretty clear that the 2 AIRPORT workers knew about the elderly lady and simply left her to rot. The AIRLINE didn't do anything wrong – the AIRPORT did. Plus, as the original author made clear, the AIRLINE didn't "charge" extra for the wheelchair, so it has no real responsibility here.

Frankly, the family is the biggest culprit. Regardless of how expensive or inconvenient it is, if you want your easily confused elderly mother to fly unaccompanied into a large airport, how can you expect anything other than what happened here?


tom April 11, 2009 at 1:24 am

So your best course of advice is to start screaming and making a scene? So the extent of your people and problem solving skills involve throwing a temper tantrum like a toddler? Here's an tip for all you pissy travelers out there. Acting like an ass will 9 times out of 10 get you nowhere. Airline people will never go the extra mile for someone screaming and insulting them. You might find yourself on the bottom of the standby list…


Atarii October 27, 2013 at 3:09 am

You seem to have misunderstood the point the lady was making to her mother: "If being kind and asking for assistance does not work with these dunderheads, perhaps you can spitefully throw a massive fit, and maybe THEN someone will do something."
It was probably not meant in earnest, but if it was: Good.


Shannon April 15, 2009 at 7:02 pm

The first two posters were probably the attendants who were pushing the wheelchairs for the other two fliers.


Omar April 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm

In some circles, your husband would've been branded AS a terrorist for yelling and screaming. Do some hail marry's that he doesn't have a criminal record or have been sent to Guantanamo!


jimbob April 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

you are obviously a horrible son, next time take the party to her


Kate April 23, 2009 at 8:25 am

This made me cry! What if that had been my mother? That's so awful!


Amanda April 29, 2009 at 10:31 am

There is a service you can pay for that actually does hold airlines legally responsible for your elderly parent. It's basically the same as an unaccompanied minor. The service is intended for adults who need more supervision than just a wheelchair ride from the gate to baggage claim.


Anonymous May 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm

While the airport is the one who holds the wheelchairs and the personnel in larger cities, it is ultimately the airline agents that are responsible to make sure their guests are taken care of. The airline pays for airport wheelchair service and if it is not there then they need to scream bloody murder. Perhaps it was a coding error at the time of booking. Next time, when checking in make sure that your mom has the wheelchair code for that flight. Sometimes it is accidentally left off by the reservationist.

It is a shame that no one asked your mom if she needed help. Aah .. the kindness of strangers.

Kudos and all the best to Celeste.


Atari May 30, 2009 at 9:55 pm

What is wrong with the comments, here?

This is the typical comment:

"What? You made accommodations for your elderly mother to have a flight? And they told you, repeatedly, that everything was taken care of and that they would, undoubtedly, wheel her in and that everything was taken care of?

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! You're a douche'! Why would you expect the airport, who TOLD YOU THAT THEY WOULD, to do what they said? What a total, asinine prick you are, wasting everyone's time with reasonable requests and trust."

Do ANY of you think or consider at ALL before you shoot off your malformed, idiotic posts?

No one can be nice and mature on these websites, any more.

Every prick has some snide, snarky remark to transcribe.


ST June 11, 2009 at 6:18 pm

This is not good. I hope you contact the airline to complain about this to be compensated. It is no excuse to not assist just because you get paid very little and hate your job. I am a travel agent and AA are rying to get us to sell them more but this is the reason why our company goes with NW.


Jane June 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm

My mother is disabled (uses a wheelchair) and, despite only being in her late fifties, already has a touch of dimentia. I would never dream of putting her on a plane alone for these reasons. I just don't trust those people, especially with mass layoffs they've been having, etc.

If you want something done right, do it yourself. I can relate to how yu are feeling and I really do feel for you, but you really must be careful.


Celeste September 16, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Thanks to all for the compliments. I'm off and running and enjoying the process. Recently, I had a wonderful trip escorting a lovely woman to Lincoln, NE to attend a reunion. With her health, her family knew that she couldn't have made the trip alone and they weren't available to fly with her. Their mother is a feisty gal and in her words, "I'm going, come hell or high water"! I look forward to my next trip.


annon June 12, 2010 at 6:49 am

She was an elderly woman, wearing a bright red sweater with a cat embroidered on the front….Did she smell of piss ?


Eloise August 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

If you love your mother then don't fob off responsibility for her safety to a minimum wage airline employee.


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