How Airline Programs Designed to Protect Unaccompanied Children Can Sometimes Go Awry
In a given weekend, 300,000 to 400,000 children fly solo across the country.
And those little passengers make the airlines big money - charging parents an extra $300 roundtrip for their unaccompanied minor programs, which are supposed to keep kids safe. But as an Inside Edition investigation found, that’s not always the case.
A 13-year-old girl named Mackenzie spoke out for the first time to Inside Edition about a nightmare incident she says happened at 30,000 feet. Mackenzie says she was sexually assaulted by a fellow passenger sitting beside her in his assigned seat.
That passenger, 26-year-old Chad Camp, was arrested when the American Airlines flight from Dallas, Texas landed in Portland, Oregon. He was charged with abusive sexual contact and has pleaded not guilty.
“He was able to touch her,” said Mackenzie’s mother Rachel Miller. “He was basically able to do whatever he wanted.”
The family’s attorney Brent Goodfellow has filed a lawsuit against the airline. “From the beginning of the flight to when they found her crying, tears coming down her cheek, and the man's hand in her crotch area, it was approximately 30 minutes,” said Goodfellow. “It was a horrible event for this young girl.”
Inside Edition found that in the past five years, 244 complaints about unaccompanied minors were filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Last summer 5-year-old Andy Martinez was booked as an unaccompanied minor on a Jet Blue flight from the Dominican Republic to New York’s JFK Airport. But instead of going to JFK, Andy was somehow put on the wrong flight and accidentally wound up in Boston instead.
“It's a mother’s worst nightmare that their 5-year-old child is missing. This never should have happened,” said Sanford Rubenstein, an attorney hired by Andy’s family. "She goes to see him. It’s not her child. It’s another child with her son's passport."
Inside Edition wanted to see what it’s like for an unaccompanied minor to fly alone. So with the permission of her parents, Inside Edition flew 8-year-old Aaliyah Purdy from Newark, New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina by herself and followed her with hidden cameras.
Her father, Matt, was at the airport to see her off as she was enrolled in American Airlines' unaccompanied minor program.
Aaliyah was seated in the last row to make it easier for the flight attendants to keep an eye on her. She had the row all to herself. But while the flight attendants were busy serving refreshments, an Inside Edition producer was able to leave his assigned seat and go sit right next to Aaliyah. No one did a thing. The Inside Edition producer was even able to give the child a candy bar.
As for Mackenzie, her mother now says she’ll never let her fly alone again.
“You see this stuff and you think that's crazy and then it happens to you and it’s shocking,” said Mackenzie.
American Airlines says they fully cooperated with law enforcement in Mackenzie’s case and care deeply about young passengers and are committed to providing a safe travel experience.