QANTAS has been forced to admit it lost track of an unaccompanied child passenger last month, leaving the 11-year-old boy to wander on his own late at night in a crowded airport.
Airline staff not only lost the paperwork relating to their young passenger, they failed to realise he was even in their care.
The incident happened late on the evening of September 28 when the arrivals hall of Hobart Airport was in mayhem because storms in Melbourne had led to flight delays, passenger disruption and lost baggage.
The boy had been dropped off at Melbourne Airport by his uncle and passed into the care of Qantas cabin crew. In Hobart, he was to be met by his mother, Leanne Decleva.
After the flight touched down just before 1am, the boy, wandering alone through the crowd, spotted his waiting mother.
Ms Decleva asked him why he was on his own. ''And he said he didn't know. Anyone could have come along and just creamed him up in a couple of seconds,'' she said.
Ms Decleva, a child protection worker, said the full extent of the airline's failure became apparent when she marched back to the counter.
She said the staff did not know the boy was supposed to be with them, they had no paperwork to sign for his collection and did not know who was authorised to pick up the boy.
Her son identified Ms Decleva as his mother. ''I've shown my licence as ID. And they just [said] take him. But there could have been a custody battle in train and I may have been prevented from having any contact with him. Working in child protection, I know all this stuff, because it happens all the time.''
When The Age approached Qantas for an explanation, the airline first claimed the boy was always with a staff member but eventually conceded the breakdown in procedure, which it attributed to ''human error''.
''It was one of those really busy days and this is a really unfortunate situation,'' a spokeswoman said.
Ms Decleva said she had declined the airline's offer of a $1000 travel voucher, and was considering her legal options.
She added that her son had been ''anxious'' before taking his most recent unaccompanied flight to Melbourne last Friday night, a mood unlikely to have been eased by a staff member's quip at the departure gate. ''It's all right,'' the staffer said. ''They don't go missing very often.''