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Airline causes travel nightmares for Salt Lake City non-profit group

Posted at 5:42 PM, Apr 25, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Excitement filled Tobie Spears and her travel members with the "Be Humanitarian" non-profit group as they recently made their way to Guatemala. However, that excitement was stifled when the first of their travel nightmares began.

"We missed our flight because of mechanical issues, so they kept us in the airport all night long, they ran out of hotel vouchers in Dallas," said Spears.

Spears claims American Airlines told her she could find her own hotel but would only be reimbursed for a reasonable amount. She found a hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport that would cost over $5,000 for the rooms, but was worried the airline would find that amount unreasonable to reimburse.

So instead, they had what Spears called a sleepover in the airport with 14 teenagers and three adults.

The group eventually made it safely to Guatemala and their trip was incredible, but their travel troubles continued on their way back to Salt Lake City.

"We woke up at 2 a.m. to arrive at the airport for a 4 a.m. flight, but the gate agent said they had never issued our tickets," Spears said. "There were 15 tickets that had not been issued and they didn't have room for us on the plane."

Spears was met with differing answers as to why their tickets were not issued, but the agent said their best bet at getting back home was to fly to Miami.

When the group arrived in Miami, Spears said she pleaded to another gate agent that she, her volunteers, and their tired teens needed to get back to Salt Lake City as soon as possible. Some of the teens were calling their parents saying they'd pay them back if they bought them an expensive flight home.

"By the end of it we had kids that flew from Delta, United, Southwest, and a couple were actually able to make it with American," Spears explained. "Seven of us, five teenagers, my husband and I were stuck in Phoenix for an extra night."

After hours on the phone and thousands of dollars spent, American Airlines offered Spears $250 credit per ticket.

"What I asked American Airlines after she said she would give a $250 flight voucher is what would that get us? Our ticket to Guatemala was over $1,200, so what would $250 get anybody?" Spears asked.

American Airlines did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

With summer travel season approaching, experts say there is a proper course of action for travelers when dealing with airline inconveniences.

"The airlines must follow the rules which are now written in their dashboard and that will tell you whether or not the airline you're flying will move you to another airline, if they'll give you food, and hotel information," said Charlie Leocha with Travelers United. "The other thing you should do is know you have to ask the airline for the hotel accommodation money or the food voucher."

Leocha says when dealing with unresponsive airlines, travelers should file a complaint with the United States Department of Transportation.

"The DOT will then forward the complaint to the airline and they have 30 days to tell you if they've received the complaint, then they have another 30 days to come up with a response," he explained..

Before talking to the Department of Transportation, it's important to have a record of flight numbers, inconveniences, and extra fees.

Even after everything Spears and her group went through, she says she will fly American Airlines again if they make it right.

"We just want them to fix the problems they created so at the end of the day the parents and students can say we had a fantastic trip in Guatemala and we got reimbursed and compensated fairly."