A group of teens from a Lexington church had planned and saved for two years to take a mission trip to Mexico, but a blunder at the airport caused them to lose about two days of their week-long trip.
William Davis, youth pastor at Clays Mill Road Baptist Church, said the youth group of 40 had planned to fly from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Leon, Mexico, via American Airlines on the morning of Aug. 7.
The group arrived at the airport about two hours before their 7:54 a.m. flight, but they got to the gate at 7:47 a.m. because of a chaotic experience at the ticket counter, Davis says.
And then, Davis wrote in a social media post, “the lady at the gate (Jennifer) told us that the door was closed and that we could not get on the airplane that was sitting right there because we were 3 MINUTES LATE.”
He says he “begged her to let my 40 teens on the airplane that we had showed up at 5:58 to catch.”
Instead, the group watched as their luggage was removed from the plane.
“She sent that airplane without 40 passengers,” Davis said in an interview.
He says the group’s experience at the ticket counter took nearly an hour and a half and is what caused them to get to the gate so close to takeoff.
He says that as the woman behind the counter began to check them in upon arrival at the airport, another employee “came over and suggested something I have never heard of.”
“She told (the employee checking them in) to process all of our 40 tickets and then process all of our 40 bags.
“I have flown with many groups in my 10 years of working as a youth pastor, but I have NEVER seen any airline process a group like this,” Davis wrote.
The 40 bags were placed in front of the counter, and the 40 passengers were provided their tickets.
Then came the problem.
Davis wrote that the woman who had suggested processing all the bags at once after ticketing “attempted to run all 40 bags under my name. Apparently this strategy didn’t work.
She then had go back and do it the regular way ... and we had to (hand) many of the tickets back as she proceeded to put names of the teens on bags...”
“As bags were tagged, we put the bags on the scale to be weighed, many times waiting for someone to get the bag off of the scale.”
Davis says there was only one employee helping the group of 40 people.
At 7:24 a.m., Davis says, the bags had been checked, although the teens’ names had been placed on them at random and he had been handed a stack of “tickets and passports in random order.”
“We made it through security and ran to the gate,” Davis wrote, only to watch as their bags were unloaded from the plane.
The group flew out of Cincinnati the following afternoon.
Keith McCarty, manager of corporate communications for American Airlines, said Friday night that “we apologize for the inconvenience.”
He said the company’s customer relations team is responsible for determining if any type of compensation is offered in situations like this.
Davis said the group spent $880 on 11 hotel rooms in Cincinnati Tuesday night, $530 on 11 hotel rooms in Mexico that they didn’t get to use that night, $150 renting a bus and $320 on an unplanned breakfast at the airport.
“They didn’t offer any assistance for anything,” he said.
Davis said that when he asked for replacement flights, he was initially told “those were not a possibility because this was not ‘American’s issue.’”
But he said the airline did ultimately provide them with a flight out of Cincinnati the following afternoon.
Beyond that, Davis said, the airline representatives he has spoken with have told him “it was our fault that we were late, and so there’s nothing they can do.”
He said the students and their parents will file complaints with the airline as well.
“These kids had to raise $1,500 to go on this trip, and they missed two days of it,” he said.
Davis said he’s been taking groups on mission trips for years, and arriving at the airport two hours early “has always been enough time.”
He said it’s the first time he had booked the group’s flight on American Airlines.
“I want them to admit that it was their fault,” Davis said. “We were just trying to get there to do something for the Lord. Their mistake hindered our trip.”
He said the group had planned to get busy on the afternoon of Aug. 7 offering “Bible Club” activities for children in Irapuato, Mexico, but instead it was the morning of Aug. 9 before they could start working.
Still, overall, Davis said, “it was a great trip.”
The group flew back into Cincinnati on Tuesday.
But he said the airport problems weren’t over. Among the glitches: three bags were lost.
“Mine is still en route,” Davis said Friday night. “They did find it today in Cincinnati.”