sfIt’s every parent’s worst nightmare: Your 11-year-old son is scheduled to fly home on his own, but on the eve of his departure, the airline tells him his ticket is no good. Specifically, he has no ticket.

It happened to Meera Gopalan this weekend. Here’s the frantic email I got from her on Saturday.

We are writing to you about an emergency. The time is now 11:23 p.m. on July 11. My son Jay Gopalan traveled with us from Philadelphia to San Francisco by US Airways on July 1. We have already returned and he is supposed to return unaccompanied tomorrow, July 12 by the 8:30 a.m. US Airways flight 706 from San Francisco.

For the unaccompanied trip, we paid an extra $100. We just called to reconfirm everything and to our shock, US Airways told us that his reservation was canceled because he never made the onward trip! In fact, he did make the trip and is in San Francisco right now. We have no idea what will happen and are petrified for his safety.

How could US Airways cancel a return flight? If a passenger doesn’t make the outbound flight, then it would automatically cancel the return.

I asked the airline to look into the canceled reservation. A a representative told me it “looks like his boarding pass wasn’t scanned or given to the agent, and therefore his itinerary was canceled.”

By the time I checked my email, Gopalan’s father, Raja, had already sent me an update.

After having more hysterical conversations with US Airways, they finally agreed that our son Jay had, in fact, made the flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco and said they would reinstate his ticket.

It is shocking how an airline could take more money for an unaccompanied minor and then blithely cancel the reservation by stating that he never made the onward flight! If this is the attention they gave to the onward journey (when he was not unaccompanied but traveled with my wife) what hope can we possibly have for the return anyway? More critically, what does this say about the overall US Airways unaccompanied passenger program and the danger to which it exposes our children?

I asked US Airways about its unaccompanied minor program, and was assured that it was “in line with industry standards.”

Needless to say, this could have turned out very badly.

Question is, could it have been prevented? If Gopalan’s ticket had been scanned, none of this would have happened. But how can a ticket — and particularly a ticket belonging to an unaccompanied minor — not get scanned?

Something looks wrong here. But until it’s fixed, make sure your tickets are scanned before you board.