How Does This Even Happen? Woman Fails to Get Off Plane, Takes 14 Hour Multi-Stop Journey

A woman with dimentia arrived at her destination, but failed to get off the plane. Southwest Airlines didn’t notice. A next flight’s passengers boarded, the plane took off, and she wound up flying a total of 14 hours before winding up back in Greenville, South Carolina.

Melody Allega was looking forward to seeing her mother who was flying in from Texas. She got to GSP Airport in plenty of time for her 6:15 arrival.

“I get to baggage claim. Her bags are there, but there is no mother,” said Allega.

…Finally Allega got some answers. Dolores arrived on time to GSP, but no one from Southwest escorted her off the plane. So she stayed on while a new group of passengers loaded and then took off to Baltimore.

She started in Dallas. Here’s her routing:

Her second arrival in Greenvile came after midnight, “hungry and confused” although Southwest insists they bought her food.

The passenger’s daughter says this incident is “national security biting the dust” but I think that’s somewhat hyperbolic. Though I’m surprised Southwest took off with a passenger count that wouldn’t have matched the flight manifest, I fail to see how requiring terrorist to buy airline tickets is an especially effective protective measure.

(HT: Catherine)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. People should start taking responsibility instead of blaming the airlines for these incidents. I’m sure if the daughter called WN and mentioned her mother’s condition, WN would’ve offered some assistance from the start (similar to unaccompanied minors).

  2. Well, Jim, if you had bothered to read the linked article before rushing to post your uninformed opinion and blame the victim, you likely would have learned this (assuming you are fully literate): “Allega said she and her family did everything they could to keep this from happening. In an email from Southwest Airlines to Dolores’ son on Monday, the airline acknowledged Dolores had dementia. The email even outlined the plan to get Dolores safely to Greenville.”

  3. Someone could have purchased a hidden city ticket HOU-(GSP)-BWI or XXX-HOU-(GSP)-BWI where the BWI ticket was cheaper than GSP. WN explicitly allows such tickets, but asks that you inform the GA if you terminate your trip early. It’s possible that a passengar either didn’t tell anyone (perhaps because they didn’t know WN’s policy is different from other airlines) or maybe told an FA or pilot or someone else who didn’t pass it on to the GA. Usually when that occurs, the count is off and it takes a few minutes for the GA and FA’s to sort out that someone bailed. If in this case, one person left and the passenger with dementia stayed on board, the counts would match up (both through count and total count).

    If that’s true, it doesn’t excuse the fact that WN was supposed to have someone escorting this passenger whom they knew had dementia, but it is a plausible explanation for how they could have closed out the flight with “wrong” counts.

    What’s too bad is that the passenger’s daughter didn’t know that meeting a mother with dementia should have qualified her for a gate pass. Most people don’t know those are even possible anymore, so they don’t even ask, they just wait at baggage claim. If the daughter had known and had been at the gate, she could have stopped the GA before boarding and said “hang on a sec, where’s my mom?”

  4. This could only really happen on Southwest. Between assigned seats and the propensity for out-and-backs on the Big 3, they would’ve noticed. Southwest’s sale of flights where the plane stops but not all passengers get off makes this possible.

  5. Well, Douglas, there was no need to be so condescending to Jim. The link in this article is not terribly obvious. If Gary’s summary had included the phrase, “in spite of a plan the daughter had made with SW in advance”, nobody would have had to read the link at all. There’s too much rudeness in online comments.

  6. The daughter did not do “everything they could”. First, the mother should not have been flying alone. The daughter or son should have flown to Dallas and flown back with her mother. Short of that, second they could have gotten a pass to meet her mother at the arriving gate, the email even suggests that. Then when her mother did not deplane, they could have resolved the situation immediately. Short of that, third they could have arrange for her mother to give the flight attendant on each plane a note indicated her condition and her final destination. Short of that, fourth they could have told her mother to call them each time she landed and then they could have advised her to get off the plane. So NO they did not do “everything they could”.

  7. Larry, please consider the following. The mother could have been given a note to give each flight attendant but she would probably have forgotten to do it. They could have asked their mother to call each time she landed but she would probably have forgotten to do it. Having a parent with dementia is a horrible experience. Why do you feel the need to make it worse by your smart ass comments?

  8. Well I think southwest airlines is awesome, I had to send my mom home by herself they wheelchair her from gate to gate, plus told her to call when she got to each destination, went with her to get on waited till she boarded, but I’m with a lot of you if at all possible have someone go with them, my mom’s issue was not dementia but walking and heart condition

  9. My husband was flying to Reno, fell asleep during the flight, was left sleeping while on the ground in Reno and ended up in Seattle. In first class on United. It happens. But watching out for a passenger with known diminished capacity, assuming it really is known, is the difference between a good corporate citizen and not.

  10. Well, Harry, I did give four options not just those two. But my first option is proven more my your suggestion that she would have forgotten to perform the final two. I will not respond to your rude comment at the end of your post since I believe in civility and obviously you do not.

  11. Why wasn’t the daughter waiting at the gate? Southwest will give you a pass to clear security. I know because I have used it several times taking or picking up my disabled cousin to her gate so she could fly down to her Dad’s.

  12. If the handicapped passenger’s daughter is looking to find fault in this situation, she should be using a mirror, not a telescope!

    If a passenger does not have sufficient adult cognitive percipient and proactive capability to enable them to be responsible for themselves to disembark the plane, then the passenger should be traveling as an unaccompanied minor, with payment to the airline of the additional fee of $100-$150 each Way for the additional responsibility, and potential liability, being imposed upon the airline, or should be traveling with a passenger who does have this capability.

    Merely informing the airline of the passenger’s Handicap without paying the fee for the airline to be responsible for, and be compensated for, providing an additional service normally provided only to children is selfish, unrealistic and unfair to the airline.

    The mere act of informing the airline of the passenger’s handicap no greater duty then for the airline to have a wheelchair and wheelchair valet waiting at the jetway during Disembarcation.

  13. Here’s one way it happens as someone who’s worked in the business, though it really shouldn’t…

    Traditional HUB-Spoke airlines usually have planes do turns. IE: airplane goes from PIT-YYZ then back to PIT. It’s less like that on the mainline runs, but still an aircraft would go YYZ-YYC then MAYBE YVR but more likely back to YYZ. NRT-YVR-YYZ might happen but would require customs clearance.

    With WestJet and Southwest (I’m sure others) they are more point-to-point, but to maximize aircraft they run to wherever they can basically. So SEA-NSH is really SEA-NSH-MDW-BWI, these flights are often sold as such or as flights with 1 stop. They often don’t even change flight numbers. At WS we used to have a flight 398 that went something like YVR-YYC-YYZ-YHZ-YYT it literally crossed the entire country under 1 flight number and while almost no one would fly that from YVR, people will if it’s cheaper so we always had 1-2 bags going all the way to YHZ or YYT. Point being flying SEA-BWI, or something like that there’s a decent chance the FA will see the same passenger multiple times and think nothing of it. With a bit of luck and no one assigned that seat (does WN even assign seats?) then that person may never even be asked to move from the seat and the turn times are quick 30-45 minutes so it’s not unreasonable for the person to stay on the plane.

    My point is, I don’t really BLAME WN, though they were made aware. Someone with dementia I don’t think should be flying alone, nor should they be subject to making connections unless no other option is available. So there’s fault and bad luck on both sides here. I won’t say this could NEVER happen on DL/AC/AA but it’s a lot less likely. I didn’t include UA there because they have some creative flights, I had ORD-SEA, and I knew there was a stop in SFO. But departing at the exact same time was a non-stop flight, furthermore, while the flight number DIDN’T change, the aircraft did, so I had to make a connection in SFO not a stopover.

  14. There were many issues here, the family needed to take responsibility here and someone should have flown to Dallas to accompany their mother, also the airline is pretty good about doing a head count before the next group of passengers boarded. What happened to the family at the airport when dear ole mom didn’t get off the plane, did the family go to the gate and wait for mom to deplane? Yes, the airline didn’t notice dear ole mom, but this family needs to take responsibility for not doing everything to make sure that mom made it to their destination. I see this happen at work where the family refuses to take responsibility for their screw up, what family would fly mom who had a medical condition in which she might not know who she is or where she is going, by herself!!

  15. Let’s see. Is deplane the same as disembark? How about exit the aircraft? Deplane. I’m not sure the stupid word is even a word!

  16. This basically happened to me once, although not as bad. I was on a Southwest Flight with a stop. I was supposed to get off somewhere and switch planes to get back to BWI, but i was asleep (after a long weekend…). When I woke up, it was late at night and I was in a strange city at the end of the line (it’s been at least 10 years, so don’t even remember where). Southwest put me up for the night on their dime and got me home the next day.

    I’m not making any comment on the situation with this woman, etc., but i suspect there are lots of people that sleep through these stops on Southwest.

  17. I would be extremely surprised if this turned out to be true, without serious idiocy on the part of the family.

  18. So many of you seem to profoundly happy to give your hot take blaming the victims. I find that odd. And distressing.

    And Pam if someone hasn’t learned to click on hyperlinks yet, in 2015, they should probably just stick to facebook.

  19. @Douglas I blame the family, wasn’t the family at the airport pick up dear ole mom, wouldn’t you think that if the plane landed and Dear ole mom was no place to be seen, they would have said something to the airline??? Too many holes in this story… Again, where is the accountability of the family in this??

  20. I am not a fan of SW but SW is not in the wrong here. the Kids are!!!
    It was elder abuse by the children not a national security

    1. Do not put elderly on anything but a direct flight!
    2. Do not put a person with dementia on a plane unaccompiaed
    3. Ask check in for pass to greet elderly parents at gate!
    4. If mom “does not live alone and does not take care of herself” then she can not fly herself
    5. SW needs the children to take responsibly to take care of their parent!

    See their website:

  21. @Nonya:
    Perhaps you are not aware of Southwest’s policy of doing a count, but if there is a crew change, with a short connection, they will let the plane go knowing there are extra passengers.
    When I was much younger I’d buy a ticket HOU-SAT and stay on the plane to Las Vegas. Same on the return, but LAS-PHX.
    I screwed up once when I took a midday flight and everyone got off the plane except me.
    That’s where the full-fare “throw-down” ticket comes in.

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