A nine-year-old child whose solo flight to Sydney to visit his grandparents was diverted was forced to sleep in an airport lounge
John Meredith, 9, was an unaccompanied minor on last Thursday night's Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane to Sydney, where he was visiting his grandparents.
Wild storms on the east coast forced the plane to divert to Melbourne. But the F1 Grand Prix meant the city's hotel rooms were booked out, forcing thousands of stranded passengers to stay overnight at Melbourne airport.
John and two other children were given blankets and pillows and a meeting room in the Virgin Australia Lounge to sleep in, with cardboard boxes used to entertain them.
Meanwhile, his frantic family weren't told for hours he was OK, John's mum Katie Meredith said.
John's flight was due to land in Sydney at 9.10pm, where he would be picked up by his grandparents, who were John's nominated guardians.
Ms Meredith said it was 11.12pm when she found out on a flight tracker app her son's plane had diverted to Melbourne.
"My parents were sitting in an empty airport," she told news.com.au. "I got in touch with them and told them, and they went to the desk and got it confirmed.
"They got a call at 11.40pm Sydney time to say a Virgin staff member would be receiving John when his plane arrived.
"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 was put on a 10am flight from Melbourne to Sydney.
Until then, as the airline was unable to find a hotel room for him, he and two other children slept in a room in the Virgin Australia lounge.
Ms Meredith was not contacted by the airline directly and didn't know this was the case until the next morning.
"He was happy, he's a pretty happy-go-lucky kid, but he just had heart surgery last month and I would never have allowed him to sleep on the floor of an airport," Ms Meredith said.
"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 had to use the Find my Phone tracker to locate John's iPad at Melbourne airport.
Virgin Australia said the child was under constant supervision and was made "as comfortable as possible" during the night.
The airline apologised for "any breakdown in communication" with the John's guardian.
"In times of weather disruption, we do our best to accommodate guests onto other flights or provide accommodation when their flights have been diverted," a Virgin spokesman said.
"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."
Ms Meredith said she has been told the airline is investigating the incident.
She wanted better procedures in place for unaccompanied minors, which is an airline service she had used previously.
"It's not often something like this happens weatherwise in our country but I want something to be changed so this doesn't happen again," she said.
She said her name, as John's mother, and contact details were also on the paperwork sent to the airline.
"They should always call both parties and when you're dealing with a minor you should always call the parent," she said.
"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. They need to have a 24-hour emergency number so parents and guardians can get in touch at all times about unaccompanied minors.
"I'm a little upset (Virgin is) saying there was adequate communication because not 100 per cent knowing where your child is not good enough."