Erno Ilyes filed the 108-page complaint on June 23 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, saying the airline violated its own policy by allowing his minor children to fly internationally without a notarized letter bearing his parental consent.
Though Ilyes shared custody of his two children with his ex-wife after their divorce in 2014, the complaint says he was the one whom the court entrusted to hold onto the children’s passports.
Claudia Ilyes, the ex-wife, is not a party to the complaint, which says she kidnapped the children in July 2015. The children were 13 and 10 at the time; both have birthdays in August.
As alleged by the father, Claudia received permission from the family court to take their children on a trip to Austria that summer to celebrate the 90th birthday of their maternal great-grandmother.
The court order stipulated, as quoted in the complaint, that Claudia was to leave the United States with the children on June 12, 2015, and return with them on July 6.
Ilyes says the trip went off as planned, with Lufthansa following its policy of requiring court documentation that permitted her to travel with the children but not their father.
When Claudia returned with the children on July 6, however, Ilyes says she signed onto the airline’s website for three new tickets that would take her and her three children back to Austria that same day.
The complaint says Claudia misrepresented the 13-year-old as an adult to avert Lufthansa’s restrictions on the purchase of air-travel tickets for unaccompanied minors.
Unaware of his ex’s actions, Ilyes says he never consented to the booking or to the travel.
“Claudia Ilyes never returned home to the United States with the children, and Erno Ilyes has not been able to find them or care for them since they departed from Newark on defendant’s airline on July 7, 2015,” the complaint states.
Lufthansa offered little comment on the allegations. “Lufthansa, and all airlines, take these matters seriously,” spokeswoman Christina Semmel said in an email. “Our sympathies go out to Mr. Ilyes during this difficult time. We cannot, however, comment on the substance of the complaint in light of the pending litigation.”
Ilyes meanwhile calls it a clear-cut case.
“For the small sum of $6,011.61, Lufthansa negligently looked the other way as two American children were kidnapped from U.S. soil,” the complaint states.
Ilyes says his ex’s scheme was furthered by a trio of her travel agent friends, who let her use the agency’s credentials to book the flight online and skirt the airline’s requirement that children’s international tickets can only be purchased in person by non-travel agents.
All employees of Travel Leaders World Wide and its affiliate Carlson Wagonlit Travel, these individuals are named as co-defendants to the suit, which alleges 54 counts of negligence and emotional distress, plus three more counts of conspiracy.
None of the travel agent defendants have replied to requests for comment.
Ilyes is represented by Richard Heleniak with the firm Messa & Associates.