By Michael Kinney
Suzanne Parrish just wanted to get home. After spending a fun-filled weekend in Las Vegas with members of the Lawton Eisenhower 25 year class reunion, she was ready to get back to Oklahoma and her life.
However, when it was time for Parrish and more than 200 other Oklahomans to return home Sunday, the trip turned into a travel nightmare that was filled with flight cancellations, delays, anger and fatigue.
“The toughest part was the disappointment knowing my daughter was going to miss school to prepare for her finals for college and not getting home to my other two children,” Parrish said. “Worried I didn’t have enough money for us. Not knowing what our next step was very stressful. Panic over took my thoughts until I had to calm myself down and get in survival mode.”
Most of the problems centered around Allegiant Airlines, a small carrier based in Las Vegas. Allegiant offers non stop routes between Oklahoma City and Las Vegas at considerably lower prices than the major airlines.
However, Sunday, none of that mattered to the hundreds of Oklahomans who arrived as the McCarran International Airport to find out their flights had been canceled due to mechanical reasons. No other explanation was given.
While that is a common occurrence when dealing with air travel, what made the Allegiant situation worse is they only fly to Oklahoma City on Sunday and Thursday. So they informed the passengers they would have to wait in Las Vegas for four days until the next scheduled flights.
“Delayed I could have dealt with better than canceled until Thursday,” Parrish said. “But I was in shock they would cancel a flight without trying to help find accommodation for something else. Pure panic took over my thoughts.”
Allegiant Customer Relations emailed a letter to passengers stuck at the airport. It read “We regret to inform you that your upcoming Allegiant flight 454 originally scheduled to to depart McCarran International Airport (LAS) to Will Rogers World Airport (OKC) on Sunday, July 23 at 04:03 pm has been canceled.”
While some passengers were able to get on flights to Tulsa the rest of the more than 200 Oklahomans were left to fend for themselves to find a way home or other accommodations.
“I started looking for flights that didn’t cost over $1,500. Allegiant didn’t offer anything, or any way to get out of Las Vegas,” Parrish said. “That was on us to find. I started Looking for airports that would be seven hours less driving hoping Allegiant could take me to. Tulsa was all booked. I took Kansas City since it would arrive by 1 p.m. on Monday and that would give me time to drive a rental car and get home in reasonable hour. Left McCarran around 10 p.m. and found a close hotel to get sleep. Monday I arrived back at McCarran at 6 a.m. to catch the 8 a.m. flight to Kansas City.”
That was when things really got strange.
“The plane boarded, drove a small distance then turned around due to mechanical problems again, then unboarded. They told us to go to another terminal, then we loaded on another plane only to get unloaded again,” Parrish said. “I decided I wasn’t going to take the risk having to stay another night. The plane boarded again and unboarded again. I was to scared to even ride in the plane now. I bought another ticket on Southwest to get me to Dallas. Bought a rental car in Dallas arrived home around 3 a.m. Tuesday.”
Parrish, who was traveling with her daughter, spent more than $1,000 to make it home. She said she refused to take the $300 the airline offered passengers as a refund.
But it wasn’t just Allegiant that had problems. Lt. Colonel Chris Washington’s American Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Philadelphia was delayed two hours because a flight attendant didn’t show up and a backup had to be called in.
“When I got to my follow-on destination, I had missed my connecting flight to Germany,” Washington said. “I was rerouted to London and then Munich. The missed connection extended my travel time by eight hours. Not to mention, I had to ask for a food voucher. The airline wasn’t going to offer any compensation for my troubles.”
Laura Christensen Smith flew to Las Vegas Friday on Allegiant. When their flight was delayed several hours, that should have been a sign a problem was coming.
However, Smith flew on American Airlines leaving Las Vegas to Dallas Fort. Worth. After landing around 5:30 a.m. she found out her flight to Oklahoma City had been canceled due to weather on the East coast.
“We were taken gate to gate to just to be on standby,” Smith said. “I was like, this is ridiculous. There were 50 something people on standby trying to take the next flight to Oklahoma City. There was no way we were getting out that day.”
The airline offered no alternatives to Smith, who had been awake since Sunday morning. They were stuck at the airport for six hours until another passenger informed her of flights into Lawton.
Smith jumped on the next flight to Lawton, stayed the night, then drove home Tuesday morning. She arrived at her residence almost two days later than her original schedule.
While Smith said her experiences didn’t ruin her trip, Parrish couldn’t make the same statement. The great time she had with her Lawton Eisenhower classmates fell victim to the travel process.
“I had a great time in Vegas but it totally ruined my trip,” Parrish said. “Overwhelming panic caused both of us not to want to travel to Vegas again. It’s a memory that won’t go away.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com