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Parents warn about program that helps children fly alone

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By Erica Bryant, Paul Boyd, WSOCTV.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After accusations that a minor was a victim of a crime at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, a whistleblower inside American Airlines sent an email to Channel 9 anchor Erica Bryant, raising questions about a company at the airport that helps care for children.

The whistleblower claimed that the company has had multiple problems in the past.

In a 9 investigation, Bryant uncovered the details of a recent case and information about how to protect your children when they are traveling alone.

As summer travel season begins, more young people will be flying solo. Many of them will do so without a problem, but in January, police reports suggest that wasn’t the case for a 16-year-old girl from Florida.

Her American Airlines flight was canceled and she was stuck at Charlotte Douglas. As a minor, she needed help booking a hotel room.

She claimed that Oliver Webb, an employee with Prospect Air, a contract company for American Airlines that assists unaccompanied minors, exposed himself to her in a room inside the airport.

Webb was arrested.

When the case went to court in April, Bryant was there, but the 16-year-old girl did not show up. Prosecutors pushed to continue the case in order to give her parents time to return from Florida. The defense argued that the juvenile might never return to Charlotte for a hearing and that Webb’s life should not be put on hold.

The judge dismissed the case.

As Webb left the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, Bryant questioned him, but he had no comment.

After repeated requests for comment from Prospect Air, the company finally revealed that Webb is no longer employed there. A Prospect Air spokesperson said the company continues to work with law enforcement and American Airlines to make sure such an incident doesn’t happen again.

Oliver Webb is no longer employed by Prospect. Prospect responded swiftly and appropriately to the incident involving Mr. Webb, and has since continued to cooperate with law enforcement and work with American Airlines to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

American Airlines spokesperson Katie Cody told Channel 9 that the airline does have an official program to care for unaccompanied minors. It is an additional service that parents can pay for.

The services are contracted out to Prospect Air.

Cody said that per their guidelines, there are male and female staffers on each shift such that children should be assigned to an escort of their same sex.

She also revealed that the young lady in the January incident was not a part of that program, and simply sought help after becoming stranded in Charlotte.

Cody said that starting at age 15, young people can travel by themselves and are not required to participate in the unaccompanied minor program. However, they can request and participate in the program up to the age of 16 if they choose.

Cody advised that parents use the program for extra protection and that they book departures early in the day. In case of delays or cancelations, that would allow more opportunities for child passengers to catch a later flight.

A young traveler not connected to the January incident told Channel 9 that the unaccompanied minor lanyards that children must wear are very large and conspicuous. She said she felt like it made her a target for pedophiles or others who would seek to do her harm because it broadcast the fact that she was traveling alone.

She had advice for other children flying alone.

“I would say for people who are going to fly, to be smart, have your phone charged,” she said. “Maybe fly with a friend if you can because there is safety in numbers. Try to upgrade so you will be watched a lot closer. Speak up if something doesn’t feel right, no matter what. If someone next to you is too close, ask to move. It is worth it. They will figure it out. It is important to say something and be heard and that you feel comfortable.”

More advice for minors flying alone:

  • Parents should try to upgrade their children to a seat in first class if they can afford it. This may allow them to be watched more closely.
  • Teach your child to feel empowered to speak up to the flight attendant if something is wrong.
  • If you need help, go to someone in uniform. If you cannot find someone in uniform, look for a mom who has young children

Cody also suggested that parents purchase an account with Gogo Inflight, which provides in-flight broadband internet service that allows parents to be able to stay connected and communicate with their child at all times.

 

 

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