British Columbia

Girl, 15, stranded alone overnight at Calgary airport after flight delay, ticket error involving 2 airlines

Air Canada and WestJet "dropped the ball," says the mother of a 15-year-old B.C. girl who was stranded alone overnight at the Calgary International Airport because of a flight delay, a route change and a complex ticketing error.

Both WestJet and Air Canada now say they have apologized for the incident

A WestJet Boeing plane sits at an airport gate.
WestJet has apologized after a 15 year old B.C. girl was stranded overnight at the Calgary International Airport. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Air Canada and WestJet "dropped the ball," says the family of a 15-year-old girl who was stranded alone overnight at Calgary International Airport.

Emma Fenton was flying solo from Kelowna, B.C., to visit family in Fort St. John, B.C., on March 23, but she got stuck late at night in the Calgary airport after an Air Canada flight delay, a route change and a complex ticketing error.

"I felt very helpless, knowing she was there by herself at the airport," said Emma's stepmother, Christy Fenton, who had been awaiting Emma's flight in Fort St. John.

Emma spent the night on the airport floor as her parents attempted to reach Air Canada and WestJet.

"I was just so tired and so ready to go home," said the teen.

Emma Fenton often flies from her mother's home in Vernon, B.C. to visit her father and stepmother in Fort St John, B.C. This time, she ended up stranded overnight in the Calgary International Airport. (Contributed/Christy Fenton)

The problems began that morning in Kelowna, where Emma's initial flight was delayed by a combination of spring break travel volumes and the grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 planes, said her family.

Rerouted to Calgary 

When it appeared Emma would miss her connecting flight, Air Canada offered to reroute her to Calgary, where she could catch a WestJet flight to Fort St John.

But WestJet agents in Kelowna weren't able to "complete" her new ticket or give her a boarding pass, the family said. 

She was told the matter would be resolved at the departure gate in Calgary.

But once in Calgary, Emma said, WestJet staff directed her to leave the airport's secure area and visit the WestJet ticket counter.

But by then, the WestJet and Air Canada counters were not staffed, and the flight left without her. 

Emma Fenton's spring break trip to visit family included delays, rerouting, and a night alone on the floor of the Calgary International Airport. (CBC News Graphics )

'They didn't do the right thing'

Emma has flown many times between her parents' homes. But she said nothing quite prepared her for the runaround that left her stranded.

"They didn't even try to be helpful at all," she said of airline staff. "They [were] just kinda like — not our problem, go away. That's kinda what it felt like."

Her stepmother said the airlines should have done more to help the young traveller.

"They didn't do the right thing. They left a 15-year-old without a confirmed flight and then sent her out through security when there was no one there to help her," said Christy Fenton.

"Not one, but two airlines dropped the ball." 

'Hadn't slept in over 24 hours'

The next morning, Emma was able to fly out of Calgary — but only as far as Grande Prairie, Alta., more than two hours from her destination of Fort St John.

"She was a mess actually," said Christy Fenton, who drove to the Alberta airport to pick her up. "She hadn't slept in over 24 hours ... she was pretty drained."

Air Canada said Emma should have had adequate time to sort out any problems with her ticket during her Calgary layover, and "can't explain" WestJet's actions or the agents' direction to leave the secure area. The airline said three other passengers were able to make the connection.

WestJet, Air Canada apologize

On Thursday, Air Canada said, " We have been in contact with the family and apologized."

When CBC News first inquired about the incident, WestJet deferred questions about Emma's trip to Air Canada, the original booking agent.

The airline also said guests over age 12 who travel alone are subject to adult travel policies.

WestJet apologized on Wednesday. 

"Following a fulsome investigation by our teams, it appears that this guest experienced an unfortunate series of events," said Morgan Bell, a media and public relations adviser for WestJet.

"We will most certainly use this situation as a learning for our teams, as in no case, regardless of the carrier responsible, would we be comfortable with a 15-year-old being left alone overnight in an airport.  

"We sincerely apologize for not going above and beyond for this guest and letting her and her family down during her travels."

WestJet said Air Canada should have properly issued the ticket for Fenton's rerouted flight or made WestJet aware of any ticketing error earlier.

And WestJet said that because travel can be unpredictable, guests under the age of 18 travelling without an adult should have "a plan in place to handle any potential issues." 

It's not the first time a travelling teenager has been stranded alone at a major Canadian airport.

In three separate incidents — in  2017, 2016, and 2013 — teenage travellers were stuck alone overnight at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Listen to the full interview with Emma's mother, Christy Fenton:


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.