It was a pretty routine trip for 9-year-old Julien Reid: Canada to San Francisco and back. But this time, the boy had an unplanned layover in Chicago -- one that lasted nearly eight hours.
Julien visits his dad in San Francisco about six times a year. He headed back to Ottawa on Saturday at about 6 a.m from the Bay Area via Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. That's where things went wrong.
The United Airlines plane landed at O'Hare at about 11 a.m. and Julien was to board a plane bound for Ottawa just before 2 p.m. But instead, he was taken to a sort of kids' lounge.
Over the next several hours, Julien waited in the "tiny, little room cramped with kids," where a video was looping over and over again, the Ottawa Citizen reported. The only thing the young vegetarian was given to eat was McDonald's food.
Back in Ottawa, his mother, Genevieve Harte, went online to track the flight and saw that it was supposed to land an hour late so she waited at home a little longer then headed to the airport to pick him up. But, when everyone got off the plane, her son was nowhere to be found.
Then she got a call -- Julien was on the other end, saying he was still at the Chicago airport. Julien passed the phone to the attendant watching the kids. The attendant let it slip that Julien had been in the waiting area for nearly nine hours.
Nobody fetched Julien when it was time to board the Ottawa-bound flight so he just stayed in the kids' waiting area for the whole time. Harte suspects her son was bumped from an overcrowded flight and just kept quiet while he waited to be escorted to his connecting flight.
"It's a lot easier to have a kid that's not going to say anything," Harte told the Ottawa Citizen, "than an adult who has a business meeting that's going to scream at you in front of everybody."
Julien eventually made it home to Ottawa on a flight that landed at 7 p.m.
United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said the airline has apologized and is reaching out to Harte to provide a refund for the cost of taking care of Julien those long eight hours. There's also word of some kind of undisclosed goodwill gesture from the airline.
Julien has a simple message for the folks at United: "Next time tell them to get me a better flight."