- 06.16 / 01:13 fresnobee.com
Mechanical issues stymie long-awaited Wilson Middle School class tripStudents, chaperones stuck more than 14 hours at Fresno Yosemite InternationalAfter US Airways cancellation, Washington tour rescheduled for next month … Click to Continue…
Mechanical issues stymie long-awaited Wilson Middle School class trip
Students, chaperones stuck more than 14 hours at Fresno Yosemite International
After US Airways cancellation, Washington tour rescheduled for next month
Wilson Middle School history teacher Michael Martin, right, waits Saturday at a Fresno Yosemite International Airport gate with some of his recent eighth-grade graduates from the Chowchilla school for a class trip to Washington, D.C. The group of 11 students and four chaperones waited at the airport for more than 14 hours as their US Airways flight to Phoenix was repeatedly delayed and ultimately canceled. | Special to The Bee Special to The Bee
A group of recently graduated eighth-graders from Chowchilla’s Wilson Middle School wait in vain Saturday at Fresno Yosemite International Airport for a US Airways flight on a class trip to Washington, D.C. Eleven students and four chaperones were stuck at the airport for more than 14 hours as their connecting flight to Phoenix was repeatedly delayed and ultimately canceled. | Special to The Bee Special to The Bee
A dream trip to Washington, D.C. for a group of Chowchilla middle-school students turned into a nightmare Saturday as aircraft issues forced the cancellation of their flight and postponement of their adventure after hours of waiting at Fresno Yosemite International Airport
Eleven recent eighth-grade students who graduated from Wilson Middle School, along with their history teacher Michael Martin and three other adult chaperones, were supposed to take off at 6:18 a.m. Saturday aboard US Airways flight 2746 for Phoenix. There, they planned to catch their connecting flight to Baltimore to meet up with other student groups for their five-day tour in and around the nation’s capital.
But the airplane, a 76-seat CRJ-900 Canadair regional jet operated by SkyWest Airlines for US Airways, never got off the ground.
Martin, who has led similar field trips for his students for the past 10 or 11 years, said the group got to the airport by 4:30 a.m. so they would have plenty of time to check in and go through the security screening. But soon airline agents announced that the flight was delayed because of mechanical issues. “When they first told us the flight was delayed, I knew we weren’t going to make the connection in Phoenix because we only had 45 minutes between flights,” Martin said. “That’s when I started asking if they had some other plan to get us to the East Coast, on another airline, to some other airport in the Washington area.
“I couldn’t get any information from the airline. The people in Fresno told me their manager was working on it and would call them back,” he added. “I couldn’t get a straight answer out of them. … It was like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.
It wasn’t until almost 7 p.m. — after three other US Airways flights left Fresno for Phoenix throughout the day — that passengers were told that the flight was canceled. By that time, the Chowchilla group and other passengers had been stuck at the airport waiting for almost 15 hours. Martin said agents in Fresno told him several times during the day that a replacementairplane was coming. But no other aircraft materialized.
American Airlines, which merged with US Airways in late 2013, offered its apologies to the group in a statement issued Monday and said it was looking into what happened Saturday.
Total flights by SkyWest from Fresno Yosemite International Airport, January 2014 through April 2015
Number of SkyWest flights departed more than 15 minutes late. The average delay was about 1 hour 7 minutes
Number of SkyWest flights cancelled from Fresno, January 2014 through April 2015
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureua of Transportation Statistics
Chowchilla students Riley Jenkin and Janai Rodriguez said they and their classmates were excited when they arrived at the airport in the predawn hours. The first sign of trouble came after the group checked in and was about to go through the security checkpoint. “We looked at the screen and it said it was delayed by an hour,” 14-year-old Riley said. “I thought it was just going to be another hour to relax. … But the hours just kept adding up and we were all starting to fall asleep.
“It was pretty boring,” added Janai, 13. “Some of us were getting really hungry, and a lot of us slept on the floor.
Riley said later that “it was just a feeling of disappointment, shock and frustration” when the realization dawned that evening that the trip was in jeopardy.
“This is a big event for the kids; they work really hard for it and it’s disappointing for them when something like this happens,” Martin said. “We started planning it over a year ago. We did bake sales, bingo tournaments, spaghetti dinners. The whole community really comes together to help the kids out.
“If they had told us the first thing in the morning that the flight was going to be delayed until after 6:30 that night, maybe we could have made other arrangements,” he added. “Instead, they held us hostage in Fresno all day and essentially ruined our chances for this trip.
Cheri Farmer, one of the parent chaperones traveling with her 14-year-old daughter Kylie, said “the worst part was getting strung along all day.
Adding to the frustration was the refusal of the airline to provide any help, in the form of vouchers, for something to eat at the airport’s restaurants for students who had gone without a meal for hours on end, Martin said. The teacher said an airline agent told him US Airways only provides vouchers to passengers at its major hub airports and not at smaller airports like Fresno. About 3 p.m., Martin said, a supervisor said he would buy meals for the students at the restaurant, but two hours later the supervisor said his manager only authorized him to spend $50 on the entire group — maybe enough at airport prices to buy a soft drink and a bag of nuts for each person.
“Anybody who flies gets delayed, and I understand that,” Martin added. “But I’ve never had an airline treat me, especially traveling with a group of kids, with such callousness and seem to go out of their way to hold us hostage at the airport.
|Chowchilla News Day
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