American Airlines accused of holding two children in ‘jail cell’ overnight

A mother from Florida has accused American Airlines of “misplacing” her two young children and holding them in a jail-like room overnight without food, water, blankets or pillows when their flight got cancelled.

Amber Vencill filed a lawsuit in New York claiming that the airline was "reckless, careless, and negligent" toward her sons and broke its policies when the boys were supposed to be under their care.

"The worst part was they were in an airport; they could have been taken anywhere," David Jaroslawicz,  Ms Vencill’s attorney, told Insider.

He said that the boys now are scared to fly because they worry they would be “lost or abandoned.”

"They were in an airport with all sorts of nuts around,” he added.

Ms Vencill’s two sons, aged 10 and 12, were flying alone from Missouri to Syracuse, New York, with a layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, on 30 July 2022.

The boys, only identified as J.V. and R.V., were headed to meet Ms Vencill’s partner, identified only as Ted, and other family in New York, but their connecting flight in North Carolina was delayed several times before it was cancelled, according to the lawsuit obtained by the outlet.

American Airlines allegedly called Ted, who was listed to pick up the children once they arrived in Syracuse, and told him that the children would be on a flight the next day around 9am.

Yet, Ms Vencill was unsure what flight her sons would end up on, as the airline fed her different information, telling in an email at 11.30pm on 30 July that they would be travelling again at around 5pm the next day.

Ted was told that the two boys would be in a "nice room for unaccompanied minors where there were beds and their own bathroom," Insider reports.

But, the lawsuit alleges that the boys were actually left to sleep in a “lost children’s room” that was “freezing” and “akin to a jail cell,” the lawsuit alleges.

The two children were given food and drink by an airport employee (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
The two children were given food and drink by an airport employee (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The two children allegedly slept on a sofa with the lights on in the room the entire time they were waiting for their new connecting flight.

Ms Vencill tried to get in touch with the airline while her sons were in the Charlotte Douglas International Airport but could not get through on the phone number provided, the lawsuit states.

The worried mother did, however, get through to a “kind” employee working at the airport who got her in contact with her sons.

One of her sons allegedly said that they “had not had anything to eat or drink since the night before, not even a pretzel or snacks that are usually given out by the airline”.

The lawsuit claims that the employee was the one to end up giving the two boys some food and drinks.

An extra $150 fee is charged by the airline for unaccompanied children on top of their ticket price, according to the American Airlines website.

The site states that children will be escorted from the gates, and an “unaccompanied minor lounge” is available for children to wait and play games if they are waiting for a connecting flight.

“In the rare case that your child needs to stay overnight because of a missed connection, we’ll arrange for overnight accommodations, meals and supervision. We’ll call if this occurs,” the website says.

Ms Vencill said in the lawsuit that she later contacted an American Airlines customer relations rep who issued her an apology and refunded her the $150 unaccompanied child fee.

"Particularly offensive is that after learning of their clear failures, defendant merely offered a hollow apology and a refund, in essence telling plaintiff, sorry we lost your kids lady but here is your money back," the lawsuit stated, according to Insider.

"How to avoid it in the future or how to improve the unaccompanied minor service."

The lawsuit is also accusing American Airlines of not launching an investigation into what happened and is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages.

American Airlines said in a statement to The Independent regarding the claims made in the lawsuit that “the safety and comfort of our customers, including unaccompanied minors in our care, are our highest priorities and we’re committed to providing a positive experience to everyone who travels with us.”

“We have been in touch with Ms. Vencill directly and we are reviewing the details of the lawsuit,” the airline added.