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A French passenger named Lucie Bahetoukilae (who doesn’t speak any English) boarded a flight in Newark (EWR) that she expected was going to her hometown of Paris (CDG). Five hours later, she landed in San Francisco (SFO). She reportedly missed a gate change announcement, and was able to board the flight to SFO even though she had a boarding pass for CDG.
From my travel experience, I’ve seen many times when a boarding pass is scanned, an error comes up and the gate agent simply waves the passenger onto the plane. That’s likely what happened in this situation. The scanners should have picked up from the barcode that this passenger was boarding the wrong flight. If she had then taken an empty seat and the flight departed as normal, I could see how this situation would’ve happened.
But, it gets crazier — Ms. Bahetoukilae’s seat, 22C, was already taken by another passenger, leading her to seek assistance from a flight attendant in getting a new seat. Instead of checking the boarding pass for a cause of the double-booked seat, the FA just assigned her another seat, which was the second big failure in this situation.
Ms. Bahetoukilae’s niece was quick to point out the security issues associated with United’s failure to catch this problem. She said United “didn’t pay attention. My aunt could have been anyone. She could have been a terrorist and killed people on that flight and they didn’t know they didn’t catch it.”
While that’s an extreme hypothetical, she does bring up a good point: a passenger on a no-fly list could theoretically use a decent-looking fake boarding pass to make it through security and then try to get on a flight. While United is cracking down on fake boarding passes used to enter lounges, it seems that the airline has some work to do to ensure boarding pass errors are investigated at the gate.
The family contacted New York City’s ABC “7 On Your Side,” which then contacted United Airlines about this incident. According to the investigative team, the “airline admitted fault, saying it: ‘mistakenly put her on the wrong flight.'” While the family supposedly wasn’t seeking a refund of the flight, United provided a refund of her flight and accommodations in San Francisco while waiting for her new flight to Paris. The airline has also pledged that it “is working with their team in Newark to prevent this from happening again.”
H/T: ABC 7 NYC
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