Child Can’t Board Because of Computer Glitch

September 4, 2012

in Baby & Kid Stories

Here is a Kafkaesque nightmare from United Airlines. Our family of four took a one week vacation in California. We bought our roundtrip tickets two months in advance, including seat assignments. The flight from the East Coast was fine. Trouble found us when we tried to check in for the return flight.

The airline said we only had three tickets, not four. The counter agent claimed my eleven year old daughter had no ticket, and there was no room for her on the completely sold out plane. My daughter was frightened and began to cry. But we showed our reservation email, which had four seats. Well, they said, the problem is she never boarded the first flight from New York, so they sold her seat to someone else. “But she did fly with us from New York!” we said, and here she is with us, doesn’t that prove it? Well, they said her boarding pass was not properly scanned when she boarded the first plane, so now there is no ticket for her. Even the agent realized that this made no sense and was unacceptable, so she got on the phone with a supervisor and spent forty minutes trying to sort out the problem. Well, that forty minutes was bringing us awfully close to departure time and the security line was totally mobbed with a huge crowd.

Eventually, they gave us a standby ticket for my daughter. A standby ticket for a child! My sense is that they were just punting our problem to the gate agent with no real solution. We barely made it through security on time, but we still faced the dilemma of the standby ticket, because if she didn’t get a seat the other three of us would be forfeiting our perfectly good tickets and voluntarily missing our flight, with no recourse to use our tickets for a later flight without very hefty additional costs. Luckily, someone’s connecting flight was late and we made it onto the plane at the last minute, though we couldn’t all sit together.

So beware, remember that even if you have bought tickets months in advance, the airline could suddenly and unexpectedly deny your children a boarding pass due to their own mismanaged computer glitches. Gives you a lot of confidence doesn’t it? Next time we will take a train.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Cheswick September 5, 2012 at 7:54 am

You have to admire the airlines' ability to put the blame on the customer even when it is patently absurd. What you didn't say is that for all the talk about security, they put somebody on a plane they didn't recognize and let the plane take off with a passenger who – by their records – did not belong on the flight.


reality September 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm

that s totally not true. no one was on the flight who id not belong there. The daughters boarding pass was not properly scanned, so they voided the return flight. that is absurd extrapolation


Koji October 12, 2012 at 8:15 pm

This does not surprise me in the least.And, the fact that it was a United flight, surprises me even less. Airline policy is that if one ticket of a R/T ticket is not scanned, then t he entire itinerary for that airline is null and void.


Scottt September 8, 2012 at 4:19 am

Some people try to jump subway turnstiles to avoid paying…..and I see it happen at the airport too. Not intentionally but especially with children, the parents, trying to squeeze the child with them through the scanning turnstile so as not to be separated. So it happens that passengers are not listed as "boarded" and the tickets is not used …which by cheaper tickets can void a return ticket. Yes. That is an unfortunate part of automation; what allows those cheap tickets. The family got on the flight they wanted and the fantasy about the "left behind 11 year old" was only a fantasy. To have comforted the child one of the adult travelers could have taken the "waiting list" ticket. All is well that ends well?


Kris March 22, 2013 at 11:02 am

The same exact thing happened to us on united this week. They must have forgotten to scan my daughters boarding pass and they cancelled her entire reservation for the connecting flight and the way home. They gave her seat to someone else on the original flight but they sat somewhere else. In this day of heightened security, isn't it scary to think someone can be on a plane that shoul not technically be on there and they haven't record of the person getting on the plane


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