Local News

United puts Raleigh teen on wrong international flight

Posted July 1, 2019 5:56 p.m. EDT
Updated July 2, 2019 10:26 a.m. EDT

— A Raleigh couple said Monday that their son almost ended up in the wrong country because a United Airlines worker put him on the wrong plane.

Fourteen-year-old Anton Berg was flying to Sweden to visit his grandparents, and United required that he fly as an "unaccompanied minor," meaning airline personnel would escort him to his flights. His parents had to pay $150 one-way for the service.

The flight from Raleigh to Newark, N.J., went off without a hitch, but United then put Anton on a flight to Dusseldorf, Germany, instead of his flight to Sweden, according to his parents.

"He texted me, because he still was on his phone, 'There are a lot of people speaking German on this flight. That's kind of odd, isn't it?' I said, 'That is kind of odd,'" Christer Berg said.

The plane was next in line for takeoff when Anton realized he was on the wrong flight. Berg and his wife told Anton to alert a flight attendant, who was able to get the pilot to head back to the terminal. He wasn't able to make his correct flight, so United booked him on another flight to Sweden.

"We had no way to reach the airline. We were sitting there with a child on the runway about to fly to Germany – the wrong country – and we had no way to reach them," Brenda Berg said. "We realized they had no idea where our son was, so I was [in] absolute panic."

Anton arrived safely in Sweden on Monday and was at his grandparents' house.

"The safety and well-being of all of our customers is our top priority, and we have been in frequent contact with the young man’s family to confirm his safety and to apologize for this issue," United said in a statement. "Once [United partner airline] Eurowings recognized that he had boarded the wrong aircraft in Newark, the plane returned to the gate before taking off. Our staff then assisted the young customer to ensure that he boarded the correct rebooked flight later that evening. We have confirmed that this young customer safely reached his destination."

Brenda Berg called the incident "a cosmic failure" by the airline.

"When somebody says unaccompanied minor, wrong airplane, wrong country, everybody should’ve stepped up and done something," she said. "It was a matter of seconds between a 14-year-old speaking up on an airplane and [him] landing in Germany."

Christer Berg said his son was capable of flying by himself to Sweden, but as an unaccompanied minor, he had to turn over all of his documents to United personnel.

"You relinquish responsibility to the adult, the professional," he said. "He could not easily at least cross-reference that he was at the right gate, right flight."

United needs to tighten up its unaccompanied minor procedures, Christer Berg said.

"They track bags. They should also, of course, track the kids and have safe and sound handover procedures when they go from one flight to the other," he said. "There must be hundreds of kids every day that are in these programs across airlines, and parents should worry about it until they can start putting these processes in place."