Airline errors strand Vancouver students in New Jersey during 33 hour delay

A group of Grade 10 Templeton Secondary School students travelling home to Vancouver after a trip to Peru was delayed by 33 hours and bounced around the United States last week after a series of delays, missed connections, and administrative errors. 

The trouble started for the 21 students and three chaperones when their flight from Lima, was delayed for an hour and a half, says travel agent Keri Montgomery. She said in order to make up for an unattainable connection the airline decided to split the group in two.

The first group flew to Houston for an 11 hour layover before boarding a flight to Vancouver. Meanwhile, the other group with 15 children and two chaperones was booked on a flight from Houston to Newark, New Jersey, where they were expected to catch an Air Canada flight home.

Unfortunately, once arriving at the Air Canada counter in Newark the group was told there was only a record of two people. As a result, they all missed the flight and were stranded in Newark for the night. Eventually they boarded a plane and arrived in Vancouver nearly 33 hours late, according to parents.

Stranded in New Jersey

Karen Cowan's 15-year-old daughter was in the group that stayed in New Jersey. She says she reached out to United Airlines over Facebook, asking what the company intended to do. 

"There was a huge amount of time where we just had no clue what was going on, where the kids were going, how they were getting home, what was going to happen to them that night. And you can imagine when your kid is in Newark and you're in Vancouver and you don't know what's going on? It's nerve racking to say the least."

"Families were getting texts and a couple of phone calls just saying guess what happened now, and no we're not going to get on a plane … We felt helpless and incredibly frustrated, and also really bad for the students because they were not having the best experience," said parent Peter Cech. 

Emilia Vadacchino is a teacher at Templeton secondary school and was a chaperone on the trip. She says the airlines offered no real apology and were blaming each other like they were on a playground.

"It was very frustrating, because they weren't sure and we weren't sure, like the chaperones we were trying really really hard to guarantee these flights … United was blaming Air Canada, Air Canada was blaming United, we didn't really care who was to blame, we just wanted to get on a flight."

Despite a lack of sleep, Vadacchino says the students kept their spirits up and decided to make the best of the unscheduled delay by travelling into Manhattan for a few hours to visit Times Square. 

United Airlines responds

"It was just how it was handled or mishandled by United Airlines. The customer service was absolutely appalling and they were so dismissive of the entire group," said Keri Montgomery, both the group's travel agent and tour guide.  

"They wanted to pass us on to Air Canada, and Air Canada wanted to pass us back to United, and yeah it was just handled very poorly."

Montgomery says United Airlines has now reached out to offer each of the 24 passengers travel vouchers and gift cards as compensation. 

"We let these customers down and we are deeply sorry. We are reaching out to each family individually to apologize for this experience, and as a gesture of goodwill, we are covering the cost of airfare for the group's roundtrip travel as well as additional costs incurred by each customer during their delay," said Maddie King with United Airlines.