The parents of a five-year-old girl travelling alone are furious with WestJet for breaking its own guidelines and allowing a stranger to accompany the child offa flight.
Sara-Maude St-Louis, 5, was taking her first plane ride Thursday from Edmonton, where she lives with her mother, to Montreal to see her father. The parents paid a special fee to ensure someone from the airline would look after her.
Her mother and stepfather took Sara-Maude to the gate under the impression that WestJet staff members would check on her during the flight and then escort the little girl off the plane when she arrived at her destination, which is the company's policy for unaccompanied minors.
Instead, nobody checked on her at all, said her father Steve St-Louis. He's furious with the airline and says Sara-Maude could have been kidnapped or hurt if not for a Good Samaritan who sat next to her.
Pierre Cataford, a father of four from Montreal, played games and drew pictures with Sara-Maude during the long flight.
The girl was wearing a large VIP tag around her neck, but Cataford told CBC News that he did not see flight attendants check on her.
When the plane landed in Montreal, Cataford said he waited for someone to escort Sara-Maude but no one came, so he walked the five-year-old off the plane as crew members waved goodbye to them.
Sara-Maude's father said he was shocked to see a stranger walking into the arrivals area with his daughter.
"She was alone. Nobody came to see her. Nobody asked if she was okay. I mean it was terrifying. It was unbelievable," St-Louis said from his home in Pontiac, Que.
WestJet confirmed it's investigating the incident and issued a statement Friday: "The situation is of utmost concern for WestJet and we are taking this matter very seriously. We have apologized to the parents of the child and are doing all that we can to ensure that this does not happen in the future."
No federal rules for unaccompanied minors
Canada does not have a policy that makes it mandatory for airlines to look after children who travel alone.
"Canadian laws are set out that way as we speak right now and they give all the flexibility to air carriers to establish their own rules," said Jadrino Huot of the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The agency said it asked Air Canada to clarify its policy on unaccompanied minors last month after a 13-year-old girl was not escorted by airline staff to meet her mother in Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
Sara-Maude's parents say they plan to sue WestJet.
The airline is flying Sara-Maude's mother and stepfather toMontreal to pick her up at the end of the month, and the parents saidthey won'tlet the girl fly alone again until she's much older.