An 82-year-old woman with dementia was left on a plane as it filled with new passengers and then took off on another sector, turning a four-hour flight into a 14-hour nightmare for her waiting daughter.
The apparent blunder by Southwest Airlines has infuriated the daughter, who is demanding an apology.
The elderly woman, Dolores Runnels, was supposed to fly from Dallas to Houston (a 55-minute feeder flight within Texas) and then on to her destination in Greenville, South Carolina, according to an account on South Carolina-based news channel WYFF News 4.
Instead, Runnels ended up flying another two sectors, a massive dogleg that took her right across the US. She flew from Dallas to Houston to Greenville to Baltimore to Chicago and then back to Greenville.
Daughter Melody Allega said she arrived at the airport in plenty of time for her mother’s early morning arrival.
“I get to baggage claim. Her bags are there, but there is no mother,” Allega said.
She tried to remain calm as the realisation dawned that the airline had lost her mother and had no idea where she was.
It turned out that her mother had arrived at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport on the flight as scheduled, but no one from Southwest escorted her off – so she stayed aboard while a new group of passengers loaded. The flight then departed to Baltimore.
“Who counted that plane?” Allega demanded, adding “That’s not just an old person that needs help or a person with dementia that needs help, that’s national security biting the dust.”
The family had contacted Southwest beforehand and the airline had emailed them, outlining a plan to get Runnels safely to Greenville.
Instead, Runnels arrived hungry and confused, almost 14 hours late.
Allega wants an apology from Southwest and a plan for change so it never happens to anyone else.
A Southwest Airlines spokesman told WYFF News 4: “A passenger travelling alone on Flight 486 from Houston Hobby to Greenville-Spartanburg arrived at her intended destination but did not get off the aircraft and travelled on with other passengers to Baltimore/Washington [BWI].
“Upon her arrival at BWI and after learning of the situation with this customer, our airport employees did what they do best – they jumped into action, bought her food, and diligently worked on flight arrangements to get her back Greenville-Spartanburg that day.
“At Southwest, we consider each customer an extended part of our family. We’ll complete an internal review of what happened.”
Written by Peter Needham