Flight nightmare for Va. mom, daughter after FAA grounds Boeing jets

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet flies over Mesa, Ariz., en route to Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport Wednesday afternoon, March 13, 2019. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. is issuing an emergency order grounding all Boeing 737 Max 8 and Max 9 aircraft in the wake of the crash of an Ethiopian Airliner that killed 157 people. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)(AP/Elaine Thompson)

By 5:30 a.m., Fran Denicola of Woodbridge, Virginia, was obviously tired, exasperated, and at times still shaking when talking about the problems she had getting her daughter’s flight home from Florida rebooked.

“It should have never been this catastrophic, never,” Denicola said after she had just finished talking with a rep from Southwest Airlines at Reagan National Airport.

Denicola’s 15-year-old daughter is in the Tampa area for spring break with some friends. She said her daughter was supposed to fly home Thursday, but when the FAA grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, that meant her flight was canceled.

Both Denicola and her daughter struggled to get any help online or over the phone. She says they both got cut off by the automated system after waiting for two hours to figure out how to rebook.

But it was when Denicola’s daughter went to the Southwest gate at the airport in Tampa that things got really bad.

“Instead of them booking her on another near flight,” said Denicola, “they waylaid her all the way til March 21. To come back seven days later … she’s only 15 years old.”

A quick look on Southwest’s website showed a number of flights leaving Tampa for Reagan National Airport on Thursday, and while some were sold out, others were not.

“Seven days without being able to book a hotel, because she’s only 15-years-old and it’s illegal for a 15-year-old to book a hotel,” vented Denicola.

The good news is that Denicola was able to get some help from Southwest agents stationed at Reagan National and her daughter will be flying home Friday.

“The nice people here at DCA … thank God,” said Denicola, who also got a voucher for future tickets in the ordeal.

“But the incompetence in Tampa Bay Southwest is reprehensible. There was no reason for anybody to be that incompetent at any counter,” said Denicola.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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