June 21, 2019 8:48 pm
Updated: June 22, 2019 2:58 pm

United Airlines admits mistake over boarding dispute with Calgary mom and sick child

WATCH: A Calgary mother says she and her sick infant son were denied boarding a United Airlines flight from Trinidad and Tobago even though they had a reservation. Joel Senick explains why an air passenger rights advocate believes the airline must address the situation.


United Airlines is apologizing for not allowing a Calgary mother and her sick infant on a flight leaving from Trinidad and Tobago, despite having a reservation.

Tatiana Tabarcea and her five-month-old son Nelson were visiting her husband’s family on the island of Tobago when the infant broke out with sores on his body. Tabarcea said doctors on the island initially couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so she booked a flight to Calgary on June 14.

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“I realized this was an emergency because his skin was breaking out very quickly,” Tabarcea said in an interview Friday.

“I took a flight from Tobago to Port of Spain to be there the next morning to board to go to Calgary.”

However, United Airlines agents couldn’t find her son’s reservation when she tried to check into her flight at the Port of Spain airport, according to Tabarcea. She said the agents refused to let her board the plane, so instead, she travelled back to Tobago because there were no other flights that day to Calgary.

“We kept arguing back and forth, obviously I was pleading to be able to get on that flight and essentially they just packed up and left the desk,” she said.

“I wanted to help my baby… I cried, I panicked.”

Tabarcea said Nelson’s sores got so bad in the days that followed that he was not able to travel and needed to be treated in Tobago. She said she spent days on the phone with United Airlines, hoping to have her ticket transferred to a new flight.

Airline issues apology

On Friday, United Airlines indicated that they were again in contact with Tabarcea, who is still in Tobago.

“We are deeply sorry to these customers for our mistake,” read a statement sent to Global News from the airline.

“We have been in touch with them to make this right and to get them home as soon as possible.”

Initially, Tabarcea said the airline had offered to refund her flights and give her a travel voucher, but wouldn’t transfer her June 14 reservation to a new flight. Air passenger rights advocate Gábor Lukács said he believes the company broke its contract of carriage with the two.

“It’s like any contract; you are supposed to be at the airport on time, they are supposed to transport, it is undisputed that she was there on time,” Lukács.

“Just imagine if you buy a ticket months and months in advance and they just give you a refund and cancel. That would leave you out of pocket with significant expenses.”

Lukács believes there’s a possibility for “a very serious multi-thousand dollar claim” if Tabarcea chooses to pursue that action. On Friday she said her son is now recovering from his skin condition and will consider what options she can pursue once she is back in Canada.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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