Delayed on her way to Cleveland, but is she owed anything?

Taking your child to college is a bittersweet time for most parents. There is pride in your offspring and sadness at seeing your little bird leave the nest.

Becky Hawks was experiencing these mixed emotions when she packed her son and all his belongings up, and they made the road trip from Elyria, Ohio, to Western State Colorado University in Gunnison, Colo., driving out so he would have a car there.

The next day, Hawks boarded a Frontier Airlines flight in Denver and headed back to Cleveland, with a stopover in Atlanta. All the trouble began as they approached Atlanta.

The flight technically got to Atlanta, but couldn’t land because of lightning and severe stormy weather in the area. They circled for two hours and then were diverted to Knoxville, Tenn., because the plane was low on fuel. “Not something you want to hear the pilot say,” Hawks remarked.

The passengers sat in the plane for two hours in Knoxville while the plane was refueled and the pilots waited to get a new flight plan back to Atlanta.

But before they could go anywhere, the pilots exceeded their FAA hours of allowed flight time and were unable to fly anywhere. Hawks and her fellow passengers were let off the plane.

Unfortunately, there were no other flights, planes or pilots available. The passengers sat in the Knoxville airport for hours. Hawks said, “At 11 p.m., they brought us icky pizza.”

At midnight, Frontier loaded everyone up on three Greyhound buses and sent them off on a four-hour road trip to Atlanta.

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The passengers arrived there at 4 a.m. The Frontier area in the Atlanta airport was deserted: no ticket agents; everything was closed. At 6 a.m., the agents started showing up. Of course, nobody knew anything about their flight troubles or where these passengers had all come from. The agents informed everyone that they had to wait for management to arrive before anything could be done.

A half-hour later, Frontier management came to the conclusion that the fastest way to get the passengers to Cleveland was to fly them back to Denver.

Three hours later, they boarded the plane, and three hours after that, landed back where they had started in Denver — but not without stress.

“We did an O.J. Simpson,” Hawks explained, “running down the concourse to make the flight to Cleveland, which was due to leave in less than 15 minutes by the time we got there.”

After another three-hour flight, they landed in Cleveland, roughly 36 hours after Hawks left her son at his new college dorm room. “I swear I was ready to kiss the ground,” she stated.

Hopefully, everyone was able to get mileage points for this trip. The distance these passengers traveled was approximately double that of their originally scheduled flights.

Original trip — Miles from Denver to Atlanta to Cleveland: 1756

Actual trip — Miles from Denver to Atlanta to Knoxville to Atlanta to Denver to Cleveland: 3906

Long hours on the planes, stuck for hours in Knoxville, bad pizza, a long bus ride, a return to the original starting point and a sprint through the airport. A travel nightmare.

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Should passengers be compensated for this debacle of a trip? Or is it just bad luck that Frontier handled the best they could?

According to the government’s website on what are called travelers’ “flyweights,” “Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements.”

They point out an airline may provide “meals or a phone call.” Frontier meant well, even if the pizza they provided was “icky.”

In addition, “Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline’s control. Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

Frontier’s policies on delays and cancellations do cover several items that sound very reasonable, but all clarify that they are not responsible for what they term “uncontrollable situations,” which include stormy weather. Therefore, that explains why they didn’t provide hotel accommodations in Knoxville.

“Hotel accommodations will not be furnished to a passenger whose trip is interrupted at any point en route when the interruption is due to uncontrollable situations.” They express similar sentiment on meal vouchers and monetary compensation.

Do you agree that these passengers were just unlucky recipients of storms and bad timing, and were at the mercy of Frontier? Was Frontier’s treatment of the passengers acceptable?

Or are they due some type of compensation, such as frequent flyer points, travel vouchers … anything? Log on and let us know; would you ask for more compensation or let this one go?

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Hawks said, “I don’t want to travel again anytime soon.” Hopefully, she will have changed her mind by the time Western State Colorado University’s parents’ weekend comes around.

Christy Wood

Christy Wood is a writer specializing in transportation topics. She lives in Salem, Ore.

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