Kids with Illnesses Flying Alone Held Overnight—and Parents Weren’t Notified

A group of children with special needs are still shell-shocked after a flight delay left them stranded overnight with limited access to food, beds and phones to call their parents.

They were returning to the West Coast from a week-long camp for children with neurofibromatosis—a genetic condition that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue—called Camp New Friends in Charlottesville, Virginia when the American Airlines flight was delayed during a layover due to mechanical issues. Then the pilot and co-pilot had to be switched out after working too many hours, further delaying the flight until the next morning and leaving the children to sleep in an unaccompanied minors room with not enough beds for every child. To make matters worse, the vending machine in the room was broken and most of the children hadn’t eaten since breakfast, even though some of them needed medication that was to be taken with a full meal to prevent migraines and seizures.

Kristie Hoyt, mother of 8-year-old Hudson, told The Washington Post that her son, who suffers from anxiety, is reluctant to ever fly again after the harrowing experience.

“I felt scared,” Hudson said. “When the plane stopped moving, I was afraid I was never going to see my mom again.”

Hoyt, whose other son Ezra was also on the flight returning from the camp, said she was listed as their emergency contact, but was never notified about any of the updates with her sons’ flight. This is not consistent with the airline’s policy for unaccompanied minors, which notes that “if a flight changes or is cancelled, or if schedule irregularities occur at any city and it’s likely that the minor won’t make a connecting flight, we’ll call the contacts on the unaccompanied minor form and arrange an alternate flight if necessary.” And when she asked for a direct contact for the status of the children, she was denied. The mom only found out about the delays when a 12-year-old on the flight called her.

Hoyt took to Facebook with a series of posts, tagging American Airlines and demanding answers. “American Airlines how are you ok with leaving 9 unaccompanied children all with medical needs on a plane for over 5 hours and not giving their parents updates? Or allowing the kids access to electricity to charge their phones to talk to their parents?” she wrote in a post the night they were stuck. “You are disgraceful! And harming these children!”

The next morning, the kids boarded a 6 a.m. flight without being fed, despite promises, according to Hoyt. When they finally touched ground in Oregon, the mom said she was asked to sign for a child that wasn’t hers. She was finally reunited with her sons after a struggle with the airline.

American Airlines has since issued a statement of apology, saying it was going through a review process and contacting the kids’ families, according to KOIN.

“The children were kept in our dedicated unaccompanied minor room where they were kept safe and comfortable in the care of American Airlines personnel at all times,” the statement said.