Girl, 9, Was Feared Missing After Flight Change

Published December 23, 2011 11:18PM (EST)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A 9-year-old girl flying by herself to visit her grandmother had to change planes unexpectedly, sending her relatives into a panic when her original Southwest Airlines flight landed without her.

Chloe Boyce took off from Tennessee on Tuesday, bound for LaGuardia Airport in New York. Bad weather forced her plane to detour, and the passengers had to change planes. When the plane she was initially on arrived at LaGuardia, family members said it took close to an hour to locate her.

"When I got the text (from her mother) that she wasn't on the plane, and Southwest doesn't know where she is, I started freaking out," said Joseph Kerr, the girl's stepfather.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said the airline apologized to the family for not letting them know she had changed planes.

Chloe, of Clarksville, Tenn., was accompanied by Southwest employees during her trip, but she said she was a little nervous because nobody told her why she had to get off the plane in Baltimore.

"I was like 'I'm supposed to be getting off at LaGuardia. I'm not supposed to get off this plane,'" she said.

Chloe's journey started in Nashville. She was rerouted to Cleveland, then went to Columbus, Ohio, before landing in Baltimore. From there, she made it to New York, 3 ½ hours later than scheduled. After meeting with her relatives, they drove to her grandmother's house in Danbury, Conn.

Her stepfather is an Army sergeant based at Fort Campbell, Ky., so she is used to traveling, her family said.

"She was definitely more calm than we were," said Elena Kerr, her mother, who reached Chloe by cell phone at the Baltimore airport when she did not show up on time in New York.

Southwest gave the family a $250 flight voucher and refunded the girl's ticket, but Chloe's family has not received an explanation for why the airline did not tell them about the changes. He said they plan to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to require airlines to notify guardians of any changes to flights carrying unaccompanied minors.

Hawkins, the Southwest spokesman, said the airline tries to notify parents of "irregular operations," even though it is not mandatory. He also said the airline tries to avoid such situations by booking unaccompanied minors on itineraries that don't require changing planes.

For the return trip, Joseph Kerr said they will be driving back.

"That way we know where she is, who she is with, and she is safe," he said.

By Salon Staff

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