Young boy forced to sleep at Melbourne airport on his own after Virgin Australia flight diverted

Helen Coffey
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A nine-year-old boy was forced to sleep in an airport lounge after his flight was diverted.

John Meredith was flying solo from Brisbane to Sydney to visit his grandparents when his Virgin Australia flight had to land at Melbourne instead due to storms on the east coast.

Despite being an unaccompanied minor, John and two other children were given pillows and blankets and put up in a meeting room in the Virgin Australia lounge. They were also provided with cardboard boxes to play with.

Melbourne hotels were fully booked due to the F1 Grand Prix, leaving thousands of passengers stranded at the airport last Thursday.

John’s mother accused the airline of not keeping her informed of his whereabouts.

“I couldn’t get onto anyone all night, I was on hold for an hour or so with Virgin because it was a 1300 number,” Katie Meredith told news.com.au. “They need to have a 24-hour emergency number so parents and guardians can get in touch at all times about unaccompanied minors.”

She added: ”It isn’t so much about where he stayed, it’s about not knowing where your child is 100 per cent of the time.”

Ms Meredith described John as a “happy-go-lucky kid” but said she would never have let him stay on an airport floor as he’d undergone heart surgery the month before.

She was only aware that his flight, due to land in Sydney at 9.10pm, was diverted when she checked a flight tracking app at 11.12pm, having had no communication from Virgin Australia.

Ms Meredith called her parents, who were waiting at Sydney airport – they had also been unaware of the diversion, despite being John’s nominated guardians on the flight booking.

“They got a call at 11.40pm Sydney time to say a Virgin staff member would be receiving John when his plane arrived,” she said.

Katie Meredith located her son at Melbourne airport using a tracking app (Melbourne Airport)

“At 12.15am, they called to say John was going to a hotel and the kids were having a snack of McDonalds, and we’ll call you tomorrow.

“My mother said, ‘No, I want to know where you’re taking him, please let me know’, which they agreed to. And then we didn’t hear anything again until 2.30am when they said, ‘John’s OK, here’s his new flight details’.”

John’s mother was forced to confirm his whereabouts using the Find My Phone tracker, linked to his iPad, which showed him to still be in Melbourne airport.

Ms Meredith said she wants the airline to investigate the incident so that it doesn’t happen again in future.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson apologised for any “breakdown in communication”. They told The Independent: “In times of weather disruption, we do our best to accommodate guests onto other flights or provide accommodation when their flights have been diverted.

“We take the utmost care when transporting unaccompanied minors and aim to ensure their nominated guardians are aware of any developments as they arise.

“In this instance, our ground crew supervised the child and made him as comfortable as possible in a room in our Melbourne Airport Lounge ahead of his flight the following morning.

“We apologise for any breakdown in communication between our team and the child’s guardian during the course of the evening.”