CLOSE American airlines is testing a new feature that lets customers know when their flights have been overbooked. Buzz60's Natasha Abellard has the story. Buzz60
A Minnesota history teacher says American Airlines bumped him from a flight back to his home state from Washington, D.C., on April 5 − meaning his 16 students were down one of two chaperones on the plane. But the airline claims he volunteered.
Mark J. Westpfahl, a nominee for Minnesota Teacher of the Year, took his students on a class trip to the nation's capital, visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and seeing the blooming cherry blossoms, reports.
But Westpfahl wasn't able to complete the trip with them when it came time to return to St. Paul, Minnesota. He claims the airline bumped him from the plane. Another flight wasn't available until the next day, meaning his students had to fly home with just the other chaperone. The airline offered him a voucher and an apology letter, though he wasn't totally satisfied.
"Well, @AmericanAir overbooked our flight.... and guess who can't fly. Yup. Me," he on April 5.
"I'm really missing being w/the kids right now," . "I sent all the parents an email w/some updated information about when the plane's gonna come in, and some trip highlights. Still waiting to hear where they might put me up for the night, and what time I need to be back here."
Well, overbooked our flight.... and guess who can't fly. Yup. Me. 😟My name was pulled. So, my trusted best friend chaperone will be on the flight with our alone.
— Mark J. Westpfahl (@MarkJWestpfahl) The airline at him shortly after: "We're so sorry, Mark. Our team's going to work to get you to your destination ASAP. Thanks so much for working with us this evening."
The kids left without him. "Update: It's 11:00 p.m. & my students are probably flying over part of West Virginia or Pennsylvania right now… but I'm still sitting here in Reagan National Aorport (sic), because I got bumped from an overbooked @AmericanAir flight," . "I'm disappointed & bummed I'm not w/my #CHCougars."
Westpfahl about the situation several days later: "Update on my @AmericanAir situation. I feel like they are apologizing... but at the same time, don't really apologize. I'm not as concerned about rerouting me w/a layover, or that it delayed me. I'm more concerned that you pulled a chaperone of 16 middle schoolers."
He added in a that he was certain other flyers heard him while talking to his students about being bumped. He says American asked if others would volunteer, although they neglected to make an announcement explaining that he was a teacher flying with students.
The letter Westpfahl posted from the airline says: "I am sorry that as a result of your not having seat assignments at the time you arrived at the gate and you were ultimately denied boarding since the flight was oversold and the gate agents had not received any volunteers. If a flight is oversold, no customer will be denied boarding until we have asked for other customers to volunteer to give up their seats."
American gave Westpfahl a $525 flight voucher.
"According to our records, and after we consulted with our team in Washington D.C., as well, he volunteered," American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told USA TODAY. "As part of that process, he received compensation as a volunteer in addition to American paying for his hotel accommodation for the night and meals. We always seek volunteers before denying anyone boarding."
"Our customer relations team has also reached out to him directly regarding his concerns," Feinstein added.
Westpfahl tweeted excerpts of a message he sent to the company that claims he was bumped and told he couldn't travel with his group. "The other adult chaperone with me asked if they were being serious, as this all sounded like an elaborate late night prank. The gate agent informed me that it was not a joke, but that there is nothing they can do, as my name appeared last on the manifest and that he was sorry that I had to be randomly pulled from the flight."
Westpfahl told USA TODAY he isn't sure why the airline insists he volunteered. "In follow-up conversations with American Airlines customer support, they acknowledged that it is unlikely that I would have volunteered, but that their system from the gate agent says that I did," he said. He noted that an American representative told him he should have been given a check on the spot for $932 or a voucher for $1,165 as it was an "involuntary denied boarding."
"They wanted me to know that they are still fully investigating the situation," Westpfahl said. "My bigger goal is that American either enforces current policy or adopts new policy to not allow chaperones of minors to be pulled from trips.”
"I was not about to cause a scene by being aggressive with gate agents as that would not have helped our situation, my students or myself," he added. "I also needed to be aware that my students were looking to me for direction for how to act, and I had an opportunity to show my students how we can be a bigger person even when times appear tough."
American's letter to Westpfahl lays out the order of which people are bumped involuntarily from flights if enough volunteers don't come forward. First on that list are those who don't meet the minimum check-in requirement, and last are passengers who would face a hardship if denied boarding, i.e. the elderly, disabled or unaccompanied minors.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2019/04/12/american-airlines-trip-chaperone-claims-he-bumped-flight-students/3445560002/
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Middle-school chaperone says he was bumped from American Airlines flight; airline disagrees