Students’ tour group blames airline after mask snafu delays flight to Bahamas

CHARLOTTE — Dozens of passengers experienced a nightmare at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on Monday, telling Channel 9′s Glenn Counts that first mechanical problems and then a group of people refusing to wear masks left them stranded in the Queen City.

Passengers on American Airlines Flight 893 to Nassau, Bahamas were in a position to depart Monday when they said a group of high school students decided to stage a mask rebellion that lasted for hours.

“Some people’s vacations are ruined. They were only going for a couple of nights. Now, they have to get rebooked,” passenger Stephanie Krzywanski said.

But the student travel company that was hosting the group of high school graduates placed the blame on the airline and said the flight was delayed due to a change in crew members.

The flight was supposed to depart at 9:30 a.m, but a mechanical issue meant passengers had to switch planes. That’s when passengers told Channel 9 a group of students from a Boston-area high school decided to act up.

“It was bad. First, they were yelling. They were cursing. They were being very obnoxious,” passenger Malik Banks said.

Banks was seated next to the group of more than 40 students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still requires masks on all flights because of COVID-19.

“It wasn’t all of them. I would say 75% to 80% of them were being terrible kids, saying smart stuff,” Banks said.

“All they had to do was follow the rules, put the mask on, sit there. No smart-mouth comments. And they couldn’t do it,” passenger Christina Randolph said.

The result was the flight got delayed until Tuesday, which meant Randolph got one less day of vacation.

“Well, I’m a nurse, and it’s really, really hard to get time off work. So when you finally get time off, you really want to be somewhere you want to be,” she said.

“Everyone has to follow the rules. Nobody likes it. Nobody wants to sit around and do this, but you’ve got to follow the rules,” Krzywanski said.

Police sources said that no one was arrested. American Airlines acknowledged the incident, saying the flight from Charlotte Douglas was delayed until Tuesday. The airline said the delay was due to passengers who would not wear face coverings and then “became disruptive to other customers and refused to follow crew member instructions while onboard.”

“Per procedure, the customers involved were asked to exit the aircraft. We expect our customers to comply with our policies when they choose to fly with us, and we take action when that is not the case,” the airline said in a statement.

Passengers who were stranded were given a hotel voucher. However, because the students are either 17 or 18 years old, they were too young to get a room, so they had to spend the night at the airport.

“The handling of this situation by American Airlines was incredibly disappointing”

According to the host company, Breakaway Beach, the group of 47 high school graduates were on the flight as part of a tour from Boston to Nassau.

The company said in a statement that the plane had mechanical issues, resulting in the aircraft spending at least two hours on the tarmac. During this time, some of the students “may have removed” their masks due to ventilation and “unbearable conditions,” Breakaway Beach said.

One or two people in the group “acted in a manner that resulted in them being removed from the aircraft,” the company said. One person was escorted off the plane but was not ticketed or charged.

“The actions of this passenger resulted in the entire group of graduates being labeled ‘unruly’ or ‘disruptive,’” Breakaway Beach said in its statement. “The handling of this situation by American Airlines was incredibly disappointing -- of course, safety is an absolute priority and any passenger not abiding by aviation rules and regulations must be removed from an aircraft. However, the act of one individual is not the responsibility of others, and the students that were abiding by the rules should not have had to endure this type of treatment. The group was treated in an improper and overly harsh manner, causing unnecessary stress and aggravation to the travellers and their parents from afar. Regardless, and perhaps especially because of their age, these students should have been treated in the exact same way as every other passenger and had lodging and meals provided. We are happy that ultimately Breakaway was able to ensure the safety of the group, get them to their destination and celebrate their graduation, a trip which they had been anticipating for well over a year. Our hope is that the individual staff and the airline will learn from this situation so that it does not repeat, and compensate the group for a missed night of a much-deserved graduation, and apologize for the treatment the group received.”

Breakaway Beach said it gathered the following information from travelers and the trip leader who was aboard the flight:

  • One or two passengers acted in a manner that resulted in them being removed from the aircraft. It is unclear if this involved removal of masks or was unruly behaviour.
  • One passenger was officially escorted off of the aircraft but was not ticketed or charged with an offense.
  • The actions of this passenger resulted in the entire group of graduates being labelled ‘unruly’ and ‘disruptive’.
  • Passengers were told the aircraft was delayed due to a mechanical issue.
  • The plane spent at least 2 hours on the tarmac, during this time some passengers including the students may have removed masks due to no air-conditioning/ventilation, quite unbearable conditions.
  • Eventually, after the prolonged delay, all passengers were deplaned/offloaded due to the mechanical issue.
  • At the time of reboarding, the group of graduates were refused reboarding.
  • In speaking with American Airlines at the airport and via the call center, Breakaway was told that the actions of one individual were the responsibility of the entire group
  • For several hours the group was told they would not be allowed to reboard and that they would miss their graduation trip (as rebooking them would not have been possible as flights did not have availability for several days).
  • After several hours the group was told they would be allowed to reboard and take their flight, (the plane had not departed as the crew or pilot had to be changed due to hours).
  • Prior to the group reboarding, the flight was postponed to the following day because the pilot was out of hours and a replacement could not be provided.
  • Passengers from the flight were provided meal vouchers and overnight accommodations by American Airlines, however, our group was excluded.
  • The group of graduates were advised that they could not be provided with an overnight hotel because they were ‘underage’, despite 70% of the group being 18 years old - no accommodation or meal vouchers were provided to the group.
  • Breakaway booked and paid for a hotel for the group and provided them food and a private transfer back to the airport the following morning.
  • A Private transfer was necessary because other passengers from the flight were hostile and aggressive with the group due to their perceived responsibility for postponing the flight.

(WATCH BELOW: Video: Man gets into confrontation with gate agent at Charlotte-Douglas)