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Delta’s mix-up raises fears for grandfather

Other children at risk, he says

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / June 11, 2010

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A Revere grandfather has accepted the apology of Delta Air Lines for an apparent mix-up that sent his 9-year-old grandson, who was flying alone to Boston to visit him, and another unaccompanied child to the wrong destinations Tuesday, but he is concerned that the same mistake can happen again during the summer travel season.

“There are a lot of ‘what ifs,’ ’’ said Larry Kershaw, the grandfather of Kieren Kershaw Gerow, who was mistakenly flown to Cleveland from a connection in the Midwest instead of to Boston, where he was to have a week-long visit.

An unidentified girl who was supposed to fly to Cleveland was sent to Boston instead.

“What if he had gotten lost or had to stay in a strange city overnight,’’ Kershaw said. “That’s a lot for a child that young to take.’’

The children were apparently mixed up in Minneapolis-St. Paul and put on each other’s connecting flights. The airline has reimbursed both families the cost of their tickets. Kieren’s roundtrip ticket, from his hometown of Spokane, Wash., to Boston, with a $200 unaccompanied minor fee, was approximately $600.

Yesterday, Paul R. Skrbec, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines, called the mistake “exceedingly rare’’ but said “beyond the statement we’re releasing, I’m not really at a point where I can comment further on what happened. We are doing our own internal investigation.’’

According to the statement, the two children “were inadvertently boarded on incorrect connecting flights as a result of a paperwork swap.’’

Kieren, standing in his grandfather’s backyard yesterday, recounted his adventure.

On Tuesday morning, he waved goodbye to his mother, Nicolette Kershaw, and boarded a Delta airplane with an attendant by his side. On the flight, he filled out crossword puzzles. When the plane landed in Minneapolis-St. Paul, a Delta employee walked him and several other unaccompanied children to a waiting room “with lots of PlayStations,’’ Kieren said.

Inside the room, he played a dirtbike racing game with two other boys. About a half hour later, he heard his name and another name called over a loud speaker, directing both parties to the front of the room. There, the attendant asked him and a girl their names and destinations, Kieren said.

As they replied, the attendant “wasn’t paying attention,’’ Kieren said yesterday. “She was talking on something, a radio,’’ he said, cupping his right hand over his chest.

The employee walked the children to the girl’s gate first. There, Kieren noticed the word Boston over the desk.

“I thought that was strange, but I didn’t say anything. I wish I had said something. Then we went to my gate. I didn’t see the sign this time, and I just went on the plane. When I sat down, I heard that we were going to Cleveland, but I just thought I had to catch another flight to get to Boston.’’

He eased into his seat, and listened to the band Nickelback on his iPod. He fell asleep and woke up in Cleveland, where an attendant walked him into the terminal, where the unidentified girl’s grandmother was waiting.

“When I got off the plane, the grandmother looked at me and asked, ‘Who is this?’ ’’ Kieren said, holding his hands up. “I knew something was wrong because all the people around me said, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ ’’

Meanwhile, at Logan Airport, Kershaw was arriving at the terminal to pick up his grandson, when he received a call from Delta Airlines informing him that Kieren had been mistakenly placed on a flight to Cleveland.

“They told me to not be upset, that everything was being taken care of,’’ he said. “I was able to stay calm because really, there was nothing that I could have done at the time.’’

He said an airline official in Minneapolis called him later and apologized, saying the mix-up originated there. “They told me it was a paperwork problem. How can that happen, though? When we fly, we have to match our flight information with our IDs several times before we can get on, so I don’t understand what went wrong.’’

Kieren said Delta officials initially put a wristband on him in Spokane, but that it did not appear to contain any identifying information.

According to their website concerning unaccompanied minors, Delta issues a red-and-white striped identification button to unaccompanied minors. Skrbec could not confirm yesterday whether such a button was issued to Kieren or the girl.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.

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