TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – Hayden and Holden Metcalf, ages 11 and 13, had never flown anywhere without their parents until they journeyed to Tallahassee to spend a week with their grandmother August 6th. Their father Ken Metcalf was on his way to Tampa International Airport to pick up his boys on their return flight August 13th when his phone rang. “My youngest son called me on his cell phone in tears,” said Metcalf. “Dad, we’ve been kicked off the plane.”
Hayden and Holden were already strapped in and ready to go home on a Silver Airways commuter flight when the flight crew forcibly removed them form the aircraft. “I was just like, what—no,” Said Hayden.” And Holden was like what, what!” The boys weren’t misbehaving, they were just too young—or at least 11-year old Hayden was—to fly on Silver Airways without an adult escort.
South Florida-based Silver Airways requires children under 12—Hayden turns 12 in December—to pay a $150 per leg as an escort fee so that a Silver Airways employee can chaperone them safety from the gate to the plane and off again. Ken Metcalf says he accurately noted his son’s ages when he completed their flight reservations on Silver Airways’ website back in June, but says the software never flagged the problem or tried to bill him for an escort. The boys’ unescorted flight from Tampa to Tallahassee went off without any problem noted by Silver Airways staff.
But the return flight a week later quickly turned into a disaster on the tarmac at the Tallahassee airport. “They kicked the children off over $150 when they could have called me and asked about the situation,” said Metcalf. “I would have happily paid it.”
Metcalf says he was crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge on his way to TIA to pick up the boys when he got Hayden’s panic call. He raced to the Silver Airways counter at TIA but couldn’t find a manager who could quickly resolve the issue. “It took them about 45 minutes to address the problem,” said Metcalf. “By that time the fight had already left and they were stuck in Tallahassee.”
The boys’ grandmother had already left Tallahassee’s airport and quickly doubles back to take custody of the boys. Metcalf eventually worked out the problem with Silver Airways managers in Tampa and Tallahassee who agreed to waive the $150 fee. But the airline still insisted on a company escort for Hayden when the boys boarded another Tampa-bound commuter flight seven hours later.
“They basically just babied us around,” said Hayden. “They followed us down to where our parents were even though we were totally capable.”
Metcalf says when he later protested about his sons’ ejection from the airplane, Silver Airways managers referred him to Rule 50 on page 11 of the Contract of Carriage, which indicates “children under the age of 12 will not be accepted for transportation unless they are accompanied on the same flight in the same compartment by a parent, legal guardian, or other passenger at least 16 years of age. Silver airways may require documentation at check-in verifying the child’s age.”
Metcalf says he never says he didn’t see the contract when he made the flight reservation and no one questioned his boys’ age until their humiliating removal from their seats before the return flight.
The website AirSafe.com indicates that every airline has their own set of rules regarding children and it’s always best to inquire with the airline when booking a flight. The cost and level of supervision of unescorted children varies from airline to airline depending in their company policy.
The DOT indicates Florida-based Silver Airways logged 96 consumer complaints during the first six months of this year but is not big enough to be ranked nationally compared to other carriers.
Silver Airways has not responded to several emails from Eight on Your Side inquiring about the issue. Ticket agents at the airlines’ counter at TIA insisted they can’t comment and referred us to the company’s media inquiry hotline. But when we called that number from the TIA counter we ended up with the same recorded dead end message we heard last week when we first called: “The person you are trying to reach is not accepting calls at this time. Please try your call again later.”
Friday, we did get through to someone at Silver Airways guest relations on a different phone number. During that call a staff member who would only identify herself by the first name of Candace insisted “it could have been handled better but for legal and security purposes they had to take him off that airplane.”
Candace told us Silver Airways personnel who allowed Hayden and his brother to board the original flight “should be reprimanded” for not flagging the problem before the outbound flight in Tampa.
She also indicated that flight reservation software that failed to flag Hayden’s underage status should also be fixed. Metcalf said he checked the online system Friday and the same error could have happened again to another family.
“We don’t want this to happen again,” said Candace. She promised to notify someone to make the necessary changes. “I’m going to bring this up to IT,” Candace said. Whatever changes take place, they won’t come soon enough for the Metcalf family.
“They’re just trying to make us pay all these feels and put all our money in their pockets like they’re milking a cow,” said 13-year old Holden Metcalf, who never left his younger brother’s side during their ordeal at the Tallahassee Airport.
“My dad said we’re never going on this airline ever again,” said Holden Metcalf. “It wasn’t scary, I was just really mad at the people.”
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