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Letter to @United CEO Jeff Smisek: Why did United neglect to tell parents of a minor she was rerouted and leave her in an airport for ten hours?

This is the account of what drove me to write a letter to United CEO Jeff Smisek and the four changes I want him to make.

On Tuesday, March 5, PublikDemand received a frantic complaint against United Airlines from Tennessee-resident, Corinne Aguilar. PublikDemand immediately sent the below complaint to United Airlines via their social customer service Twitter account (@United).

Corinne Aguilar Complaint Against United by PublikDemand

Due to the urgent nature of the complaint, I decided to reach out to Ms. Aguilar personally to find out more about the situation. I reached her by phone a short time later.

According to Corinne, the family purchased a ticket for their 11-year-old daughter to fly from Great Falls, Montana back home to Nashville, Tennessee with only one connection. After a recommendation from the airline, the family paid an additional $150 to have the child accompanied by United Airlines chaperones. The family was assured that the child would not be placed on a red-eye flight in order to avoid having to stay overnight without a family member, standard practice for minors flying unattended.

Corinne said her daughter was transported to the Great Falls, Montana airport on time, by her father. Later that evening, she received a call from her daughter’s cell phone. Her daughter said she was calling from LAX but was unsure where she was going next.

Corinne began to panic and called the airline to find out where her daughter was going next and when she would be arriving in Nashville. She was shocked to learn that not only would her daughter not be home at the time indicated on her ticket, but that she had been rerouted through Cleveland without notifying her family.

Corinne questioned the United supervisor about the decision and whereabouts of her daughter, but was unable to receive a satisfactory answer as to why her daughter had been rerouted without notification or approval from her parents. The United agent allegedly recommended that the mother fill out a form and wait for a response from the company.

It was at this point that Corinne reached out to PublikDemand for help. After speaking to Corinne by phone, I reached out repeatedly to United for help via Twitter and Facebook.

After receiving no response, I called the United Press Relations line to ask for help. One hour later, I received the following email from United spokesperson Christen David asking for additional details about the situation.

Corinne received a call several HOURS later indicating that her daughter would not be home until the next morning. The little girl ended up staying ten hours, overnight, at the Denver International Airport before being rerouted through Houston. She landed at Nashville International Airport on March 6 at 9:36 a.m. after traveling for over 24 hours alone, tired but happy to see her mother.

United told the Aguilar family that they would receive a credit or refund for the $150 chaperone fee they paid but has not yet made good on the promise.

At no time did United attempt to contact Corrine about her daughter’s flight changes, they only attempted to notify the family after we harangued them with messages on Facebook and Twitter AND contacted the company spokesperson. The first indication that anything was amiss was from a child calling her mother on a dying cell phone.

We see hundreds of complaints every week and regularly work with brands to help solve complaints they somehow missed but the lack of care and consideration perpetuated by United this past week was absolutely unparalleled.

As further evidence of United’s complete lack of understanding of customer service and consumer trust, on Wednesday March 6, United blocked the @PublikDemand Twitter account from following or seeing tweets on the @United timeline -- making it more difficult to continue helping people who clearly would be otherwise ignored.

In fact, we currently have over 200 complaints against United on PublikDemand that United Airlines has yet to address. Earlier today I sent the following email to United spokesperson David Christen, asking him to pass it along to United CEO Jeff Smisek. I have also publicly posted my letter as a complaint on PublikDemand, opening up a place for you to leave your own United stories, comments or feedback. Please show your support by sharing this story with friends and family. View or share comments here.


Mr. Smisek-
I’m the founder of PublikDemand.com, where people go to get help from companies like United with the help of social media. I am also a frequent United flyer and a mother, making this story particularly meaningful to me.

Last week PublikDemand received a complaint from Corinne Aguilar, a mother whose daughter’s flight was rerouted without any notification from United to the family. Her daughter was then forced to spend 10 hours overnight in the Denver airport, in an empty kids room without anyone she knew.

When the child’s mother, Corinne, was unable to get answers from United (she spoke to a Mr. xxxxxx), she reached out to us for help. Only after repeated outreach by our team on Twitter, Facebook and a call to your emergency press line, was Corinne able to figure out what was going on with her daughter.

Every week on PublikDemand we see hundreds of complaints and we work with companies who graciously work to solve their customers issues. Unfortunately, United is not one of those companies. In fact, after we helped Corinne connect with United and get information on her daughter- someone at your company blocked us from viewing, searching or interacting with @United social customer service. We now have over 200 unresolved complaints against United.
I’m asking that you do the following:

  • Ensure that parents of minor, unaccompanied children flying United are notified BEFORE any changes are made to their children’s itinerary

  • Assess how your customer service team, both social and traditional, work to respond quickly to customers in need of immediate assistance

  • Unblock @PublikDemand from interacting with the @United social customer care team and work to solve the over 200 unresolved United complaints on PubilkDemand

  • Send the Aguilar family a full refund on their daughter’s ticket and fees

I’m happy to answer any questions, provide further feedback and am even willing to freely assist you in training your custom service teams how to better handle consumer complaints.


Courtney Powell
CEO, PublikDemand