JetBlue placed a five-year-old returning home alone from the Dominican Republic on the wrong flight, sending him to Boston instead of New York City—and delivered a different child to his confused mother, the Daily News reports.
"I thought he was kidnapped," Maribel Martinez told the News. "I thought I would never see him again."
Martinez and her son, Andy Martinez Mercado, flew to the Dominican Republic together on July 28th. Martinez returned to her home in Hamilton Heights a week later, leaving Andy with relatives until August 17th. Andy's family dropped him off at Cibao International Airport in Santiago, where he was supposed to board a flight scheduled to arrive at JFK shortly before 8 a.m.—instead, he ended up in Boston, and another five-year-old boy got on the JFK-bound flight in his place.
It's not clear how the two boys switched places. Martinez had paid a $100 fee for a JetBlue representative to escort Andy onto the plane. The unidentified boy who was supposed to be Boston-bound was carrying Andy's passport at the time, which may have caused the mix-up. However, Martinez told the News that Andy was wearing a wristband with his name on it.
According to JetBlue's website, unaccompanied minors traveling between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic are required to carry passports, and Dominican nationals leaving the Dominican Republic must also have an exit permit signed by their parents.
Upon arriving at JFK, the boy was questioned by Port Authority police while JetBlue and Martinez tried to figure out what happened to Andy. According to Martinez, it took the airline more than three hours to locate her son.
"I was freaking out. I didn't know if he was alive," Martinez said. "I still haven't stopped crying."
Both Andy and the unidentified boy were reunited with their families later that day. "Mami, they put me on another plane," Andy told his mother after arriving in New York.
A JetBlue spokeswoman said in a statement: "Two unaccompanied children of the same age traveling separately from Santiago, Dominican Republic, one to New York JFK and one to Boston—each boarded a flight to the incorrect destination. Upon learning of the error, our teams in JFK and Boston immediately took steps to assist the children in reaching their correct destinations. While the children were always under the care and supervision of JetBlue crew members, we realize this situation was distressing for their families."
JetBlue refunded Martinez $475 for the flight and gave her family $2,100 in credit for future flights, but she says she'll never use JetBlue again. She is taking legal action against JetBlue for their negligence and for the emotional duress they caused her family.
"Any parent can understand the terrifying fear a mother goes through knowing that her child is missing," Martinez's lawyer Sanford Rubenstein said. "This should have never happened, and the JetBlue employees should be ashamed of themselves."