What assistance can I expect as a mother of a toddler and an infant in a bad situation?

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Jan 17, 2019
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#1
I was scheduled for UA 850 from Beijing to Chicago on December 18, which was canceled due to mechanical issues. I am deeply concerned about the lack of protocol in place when such an issue occurs. I was traveling alone with my two daughters, 5months and 26 months old. Once we were informed the flight was canceled, groups of us were lead through the airport by your staff. We were not informed of where we were being taken, what to expect, or what was going to happen to us. We were lead through numerous security checkpoints, which were difficult for me as I was wearing my infant in a pouch and had my toddler in a stroller, and each time had to remove my infant, hand her to a guard, remove my toddler from her stroller, empty my formula bottles as instructed and go through security.
While I was doing this, others in my group were much faster and left me behind. This included the guiding staff member. I was also left to find my own way each of the five times we encountered a turnstile I couldn't get the stroller through and had to find security to unlock the staff exit and then find a staff member who spoke English to help me locate my group. Every time I was left I panicked, afraid of how I would navigate a very large, unknown airport in a country whose language I don't speak, with no phone or internet to look up information, with no idea of where I was going, as we were just instructed each time to follow a different staff member.
While I acknowledge that the turnstile and pedantic security measures are issues with the airport itself, leaving behind passengers who clearly needed help and were asking the staff to wait is a huge safety issue. Concern for my safety and that of my children were not convenient for the staff, who could not be bothered to wait or inform me of what to do, so it was ignored. I firmly believe that any other airline would have seen a mother and two babies traveling alone and adjusted pace to accommodate the situation.
We wove through the airport for 6 hours, and were never given so much as a bottle of water or a bathroom break. We were all afraid to leave the group because we weren't told where to go next and knew no one would wait for us. 6 hours without food is far to long for a two-year-old. I expressed this to the staff after about 4 hours, along with the fact that I didn't have any more formula because I had to dump it each time we went through security. I was told they didn't have formula and they would try to get me food for my toddler. After 3 requests for food or a break they brought a packet of cookies, a cup of instant ramen with no hot water to cook it, and a cup of yogurt with no spoon. My daughter had a pack of cookies for dinner.
Due to my various holdups I was the last person to be booked on a flight out, which meant staying in a hotel, where I was assured food would be provided. I had to be walked to a grocery store to get formula and more diapers and ended up missing dinner because we arrived only one half hour before they discontinued meal service. My infant also had a diaper rash by this time because, as I mentioned we were not given bathroom breaks.
I got on my flight the next day. When I arrived in Chicago I found out my connection had not been rescheduled and all flights to my destination were full for the next two days. I ended up getting on a standby flight, but was not offered any alternative arrangements for it that hadn't have worked out.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
16,218
14,807
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#4
Use our company contacts and go up the executive chain one by one. You need to decide what you want from them though. You won’t get a refund because they fiulfilled their obligation to get you home.

China is a hard country to travel to by yourself within 2 babies. It’s difficult enough because so few employees speak English. I experienced exactly what you did- being led from place to place with no explanation of where we were going. It’s just the way they operate - different from us.
 
Sep 19, 2015
3,841
5,052
113
48
#5
China is very different as Neil wrote.

Were you traveling as part of a group? Or is the group the passengers from the flight?

United as you noted has no control over airport security and their demands, nor the layout of the airport. I would have thought baby food would have been allowed but again that is on the local rules

With a canceled long haul flight there must have been hundreds of passengers. I am not sure it is reasonable to expect them to help with your children; there may be liability concerns.

What do you want from the airline?
 
Mar 23, 2015
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#6
I expressed this to the staff after about 4 hours, along with the fact that I didn't have any more formula because I had to dump it each time we went through security. I was told they didn't have formula and they would try to get me food for my toddler. After 3 requests for food or a break they brought a packet of cookies, a cup of instant ramen with no hot water to cook it, and a cup of yogurt with no spoon. My daughter had a pack of cookies for dinner.
What a horrible experience! I traveled with my youngest two on military moves so I definitely get it! I'm not sure what this translates to in terms of compensation though. Maybe you should ask for some goodwill vouchers? You wont get a refund though since you eventually got to your destination. And, this won't help you this time, of course, but when I traveled with toddlers or infants, I always put powdered formula in Ziplocs or empty bottles so that all I had to do was add water, (and turns out kids will drink room temperature or even cold formula if they're hungry--in fact my son preferred it cold from the fridge!) and wouldn't have to pour out liquid formula and I never had an issue with TSA etc... with the powder. I don't know if they still sell them but they used to also sell "single serve" measured packets of formula which would be even more convenient since they're factory sealed.
 

Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
1,231
2,068
113
#7
What a horrible experience! I traveled with my youngest two on military moves so I definitely get it! I'm not sure what this translates to in terms of compensation though. Maybe you should ask for some goodwill vouchers? You wont get a refund though since you eventually got to your destination. And, this won't help you this time, of course, but when I traveled with toddlers or infants, I always put powdered formula in Ziplocs or empty bottles so that all I had to do was add water, (and turns out kids will drink room temperature or even cold formula if they're hungry--in fact my son preferred it cold from the fridge!) and wouldn't have to pour out liquid formula and I never had an issue with TSA etc... with the powder. I don't know if they still sell them but they used to also sell "single serve" measured packets of formula which would be even more convenient since they're factory sealed.
Great suggestions! You may want to write a new post with all your "travel hacks when flying with infants/children". Could be a real hassle saver for those about to embark on this kind of journey.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
7,703
7,521
113
San Francisco
#8
I was scheduled for UA 850 from Beijing to Chicago on December 18, which was canceled due to mechanical issues. I am deeply concerned about the lack of protocol in place when such an issue occurs. I was traveling alone with my two daughters, 5months and 26 months old. Once we were informed the flight was canceled, groups of us were lead through the airport by your staff. We were not informed of where we were being taken, what to expect, or what was going to happen to us. We were lead through numerous security checkpoints, which were difficult for me as I was wearing my infant in a pouch and had my toddler in a stroller, and each time had to remove my infant, hand her to a guard, remove my toddler from her stroller, empty my formula bottles as instructed and go through security.
While I was doing this, others in my group were much faster and left me behind. This included the guiding staff member. I was also left to find my own way each of the five times we encountered a turnstile I couldn't get the stroller through and had to find security to unlock the staff exit and then find a staff member who spoke English to help me locate my group. Every time I was left I panicked, afraid of how I would navigate a very large, unknown airport in a country whose language I don't speak, with no phone or internet to look up information, with no idea of where I was going, as we were just instructed each time to follow a different staff member.
While I acknowledge that the turnstile and pedantic security measures are issues with the airport itself, leaving behind passengers who clearly needed help and were asking the staff to wait is a huge safety issue. Concern for my safety and that of my children were not convenient for the staff, who could not be bothered to wait or inform me of what to do, so it was ignored. I firmly believe that any other airline would have seen a mother and two babies traveling alone and adjusted pace to accommodate the situation.
We wove through the airport for 6 hours, and were never given so much as a bottle of water or a bathroom break. We were all afraid to leave the group because we weren't told where to go next and knew no one would wait for us. 6 hours without food is far to long for a two-year-old. I expressed this to the staff after about 4 hours, along with the fact that I didn't have any more formula because I had to dump it each time we went through security. I was told they didn't have formula and they would try to get me food for my toddler. After 3 requests for food or a break they brought a packet of cookies, a cup of instant ramen with no hot water to cook it, and a cup of yogurt with no spoon. My daughter had a pack of cookies for dinner.
Due to my various holdups I was the last person to be booked on a flight out, which meant staying in a hotel, where I was assured food would be provided. I had to be walked to a grocery store to get formula and more diapers and ended up missing dinner because we arrived only one half hour before they discontinued meal service. My infant also had a diaper rash by this time because, as I mentioned we were not given bathroom breaks.
I got on my flight the next day. When I arrived in Chicago I found out my connection had not been rescheduled and all flights to my destination were full for the next two days. I ended up getting on a standby flight, but was not offered any alternative arrangements for it that hadn't have worked out.
Your story almost makes me cry. I cannot imagine how you managed to maintain your sanity during this ordeal. Many people write to us using the words "disaster, horrible, ordeal, fiasco" ... and usually their story is something that is not at all out of the ordinary. Your story is just awful. I am so glad you finally got home and hope your kids have settled down and you are looking back on this thinking how strong a woman you really are. While I understand that airline personnel are not responsible for any special needs their passengers might have, surely something is in place to help? I am astonished that none of the other passengers offered to help you.

I suggest you write a polite, concise email to United informing them of your ordeal and suggesting that they take some steps to train their people at all the airports they serve. No traveller should be subjected to this kind of ordeal. I agree with my colleagues, United did transport you from Point A to Point B, so there's little compensation "due". However, nobody should be forced to endure six hours running around a foreign airport with two small children. Shame on those other passengers who could have really helped you.