Did Delta Air Lines really lose Mark Donovan’s daughter?

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mark donovan linkedin page

This is an interesting post directed at Delta by a distraught father. Let me first say I have fellow feeling for Mr. Donovan and there are few terrors in the world worse than thinking your child has gone missing. Without question, Delta dropped the ball in giving him bad information and apparently repeatedly so by several Delta representatives. It certainly, at a minimum, sounds like the PDX GA’s are in sore need of some training, and Delta should have responded to the complaints by Mr. Donovan.

But this story has me perplexed. You see the Delta Unaccompanied Minor program is amazingly tight to make sure a child is never ever lost. You can read about it HERE. In part it says:

“Gate Procedures
Unaccompanied Minor – Departure gate procedures

Upon arrival at the gate, check-in with the gate agent for verification purposes.
Unaccompanied minor will board at the beginning of the boarding process.

Please note: The child will not be permitted to board the aircraft if the adult escorting them is not present at time of boarding.

Once the plane is off the ground the adult who has escorted the unaccompanied minor will be permitted to depart the gate area – this ensures that, if an irregular operation occurs, the child is escorted at all times.

Unaccompanied Minor – Arrival gate procedures

Upon arrival at the airport, the adult picking up the unaccompanied minor will be required to check-in at the ticket counter to obtain a gate pass.
Gate pass can only be issued by seeing an agent (Special Services line).
Arrive at the gate prior to aircraft arrival.
A Delta representative will bring the child from the aircraft to the gate.
Provide identification for verification purposes to the Delta representative.
Once the ID has been verified the adult will be required to sign a release form.
The child will be released and the adult will be given any documents such as passport, boarding cards, receipts, baggage claim, etc.”

Now with all this in place, how can you ever lose a child? Ever? I am sure most of us who fly know one of the first things the GA meeting the plane always always always asks is: “How many UMs and wheelchairs do you have”.

In the LinkedIN post Mr. Donovan says his sister went to the gate to meet his daughter and she was not there. Then tells us the Delta rep says:

“DELTA GUY: Uh, yes…hello sir…we show your daughter was on this flight, we checked with the onboard crew and they confirmed they had two unaccompanied minors on the plane from Minneapolis, however, they say, both minors left the plane unescorted.”

If you look at the comments on the post they are all resoundingly appalled at what Delta did and did not do. In the end, his daughter was on another flight that landed during the frantic search for where she was in the airport.

Mr. Donovan is very critical of Delta for the “paperwork” mistake of losing his daughter since she was never really lost at all. I have a bunch of my own concerns over this, but not for what Delta did so much as for what Mr. Donovan did not do and maybe we can learn from this. See if you agree with me or tell me if you think I am in left field on this.

First, Mr. Donovan is in technology. Not just in it, he is COO of a tech company. Has he never heard about GoGo? He says he is loyal to Delta. They announce all the time all over the place about GoGo. He already paid the $200 round trip unaccompanied minor fee, why not pay the $16 more for two days of unlimited mobile phone use so he could know where his young one was throughout the trip. GoGo would have ended his stress before it began.

Next, why was his child not flying NONSTOP from NYC to PDX? If it were my little one I would have picked one of the two nonstop flights and only them. Why risk a connection? Mr. Donovan says there was weather that day in the NYC area. OK, why not reschedule for the next day (most times free under weather waivers).

non stop jfk to pdx delta-com

Those are the major questions that matter. The ones that doesn’t really matter for safety but matter to me are the other “disturbing” facts. He spent 65,000 membership rewards points for the trip. WHAT? Why? Yes he could pay for the ticket with membership rewards points and earn Skymiles for his daughter’s ticket this way (assuming she has a Skymiles account) but look at this:

low level biz seats jfk to pdx

I don’t know how long ago he booked these tickets for the trip over the 4th of July but if I look at September award seats today for someone with NO status coach tickets are wide open and the non stop has plenty of availability at the 40,000 point level round trip (you can send membership rewards MR points to Delta 1:1 and they move over almost instantly). Why did he spend over 50% more points than he had to for the ticket?

So what do you think. Is Delta completely at fault and this is a horrible failure on Delta’s part or could Mr. Donovan have done things differently and this would have never been an issue. You tell me! – René
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16 comments

  1. With layover or not, it’s still absolutely 100% Delta’s (or that specific GA’s) fault for not updating or investigating into her reservation that she’s on a different flight. I think this might be why some airlines require that UMs travel non-stop only.

    For the ticket issue, I understand that some people just don’t have time to pay the mileage game and just pay whatever they feel it’s worth their time. Comparing award availability during July 4th weekend and some random date in September is like comparing apples and oranges: they are totally not the same and I wouldn’t be surprised that no one could find low or medium award for ANY route during July 4th weekend, no matter how far ahead they search for it.

  2. Personally, If I was going to send a child cross country it would be non-stop and if the child was old enough a phone and for sure even if it was just the mobile access version.

    but Delta did mess up and that is clear but I agree the Father could have done a better job in the prep part.

    As to the miles issue, many are not as smart to think about the best use.

    Edward

  3. There are a ton of things that Donovan should have done, but at the end of the day, it seems that either Donovan did not correctly communicate the flight numbers or Delta employees did not correctly hear the flight numbers. According to his post, her flight was not changed and she was on the ticketed/scheduled flights.

  4. A lot of mistakes all the way around that is for sure if the story is correct. Either way if it was getting elevated to the police than obviously a mistake.

    Knowing that this type of thing can and will happen (no excuses for Delta) I would make sure that I put my kid on the direct flight even if more points or a different airport. That is what I did.

    I would have made sure the kid texted what plane they were getting on etc. However that being said there is a good chance the kid turned off the phone to save battery also after being delayed all day. I know I have done that and my kids have (drives me crazy).

    Sum it up though – Sounds Like Delta dropped the ball on a crazy weather day.

  5. You can nitpick and play Monday Morning QB, but whether he overpaid, or should have paid for a nonstop, or should have paid for gogo is quite irrelevant.

    They told him that they lost his kid, a responsibility they took.

    Put yourself in his shoes at that moment. DL didn’t say “we aren’t sure, let me check”. They told him they lost his kid.

    End of story.

  6. Can we get into perspective here and stop being in the “flight planning world?” It’s irrelevant what flight he booked (he may have had good reason) and who cares how many points the man spent on the ticket at this point. Let’s take this story for the whole purpose of it being brought to light…the daughter’s well being and the stress of a father not knowing the whereabouts of his daughter. Delta failed big time, bottom line!

  7. This is a great learning experience despite the family’s experience. I try to teach everyone I know that travels via airlines about flightaware.com and the tracking features using both flight number and tail number. It only takes a second to get the tail number and text it to someone in your family to track.

    I don’t have children but if I did they would not fly solo like this until they understood and could read boarding passes and had a phone with the airline app installed and knew how to use it. GoGo would be a must.

    Glad this ended as happily as it could. Live, learn and teach.

  8. @Graydon – such a great comment and many great ideas I missed. Yes. What you said. Txs for your and other readers input. We are all learning!

  9. What’s the big deal? It all worked out in the end, as things usually do. After all, Delta is the World’s Most Trusted Airline.

  10. 100% Delta’s fault.
    your suggestions are for what Mr. Donovan COULD have done to make sure Delta did its job.
    Is he their boss? no.
    Delta didn’t do it’s job.

    regardless of how stupid he was for redeeming 65k MR for the flight, or for picking a non-direct flight.

    Having used the unaccompanied minor program, I can attest to the fact that their paperwork is abysmal, and I’m not surprised, and I will never again pay for Delta’s UM program again if I can avoid it.

    Last time, I was charged the RT UM fee at booking (WHICH IS REQUIRED TO BE PAID AT TIME OF BOOKING). My Aunt was charged the UM fee at dropoff. They tried to charge me the UM fee again at pickup. They tried to charge me AGAIN at dropoff for the RT, and they tried to charge my aunt AGAIN at pickup. That’s $2,000 in fees they attempted to collect. My aunt paid the first time (she didn’t realize I had already paid it), then scoffed when they tried to charge her again. That’s when she told me about it, and I had to get her first payment refunded.

    They do not have have a computer system that can even tell them if the UM fee has been paid even though it’s mandatory to pay the fee upon booking. It’s a disaster, and when it comes to UMs Delta is behind the game.

    Another anecdotal story. A similar series of events as Mr. Donovan happened to my boss, on a direct DTW-ATL flight.
    Her 10 year old daughter met her at baggage claim unescorted.

  11. Sounds like a case of blaming the victim here. People entrusted Delta to handle their UM. There are lots of procedures in place to make 100% certain the kid is tracked. Yeah, well, so much those.

    In hindsight there are always things which may have been done better but I don’t feel an inexperienced traveler would think of these things. After all, how could this possibly happen? — you said as much yourself!

    Number of miles is irrelevant. Like most people he went to the website and picked what came up, just like Delta would prefer we all do. And Gogo? Sure, not a bad idea, but you wouldn’t even have that option a few years ago nor I don’t think it should be seen as a requirement just so your kid can text you. And what if Gogo didn’t work? You’d freak out double.

  12. Have you lost your mind? Go ahead and blame the victim. Why not say as well as purchasing GoGo and a non-stop flight, maybe he should have rented a couple of armed guards to accompany his daughter…if he really loved her.

    This is the first time that I am just plain mad at anything you have written. The father paid for the UM program which should have taken care of things. When you post like you did, you simply come off as a shill for Delta.

  13. Just last year on a Delta flight I took to South Korea, there was an unaccompanied minor in the seat next to me. When we landed at Incheon he got up when the rest of us did and started heading down the aisle in front of me, while the flight attendants didn’t even notice…until I stopped at the first one I encountered to let them know about the minor, at which point they pulled him aside.

    So do I believe that Delta may have allowed this girl to leave the plane unaccompanied??? Heck yeah! 🙁

  14. @Carl H – First off I did not “blame the victim” and I do and did hold Delta to account. Anyone reasonable will see that in the body of the post. I gave suggestions we can all learn from for the future as we know as regular traveler that things do not always go as planned. I was a UM MANY times as a kid (yes years ago).
    .
    About GoGo. Delta has it on almost all it’s flights and it words VERY reliably. I say that having flow over 150 segments on Delta in the past year and a half.
    .
    About the points. Mr. Donovan himself mentioned how he paid for the ticket in his story. I said it did not matter for safety but he mentioned it. I just showed that it was a poor use of points – this is a blog about Delta and about POINTS after all!
    .
    Thanks – EVERYONE – for the input on this and your feedback.

  15. I think this is a big fail on Delta’s part, and I’ve already said that I would never let any UM I care about, or my dog ever fly Delta (I think they’ve lost two dogs in very recent memory).

    I’d like to answer the question Mitch posed of “What’s the big deal?” Well, when you’re a parent and your child goes missing even for a second, a feeling of unparalleled fear grips your body so tight it makes you physically ill. Every single horrifying scenario of what could have happened to your child runs across your mind’s eye and panic takes over. Even after you’ve found your child and breathed a small sigh of relief, you will often continue to have visions of “Oh my god, what if…” running through your head while you’re having dinner, laying in bed at night, at work, etc.

    Losing someone’s child, even for a second, is nothing to just brush off “cause everything worked out”. A parent who experiences even the briefest “misplacement” of a child deals with a type of emotional panic and distress that non-parents may never even begin to comprehend.

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