Local News

Travel Delays Leave Brothers Stranded In NY For Two Days

Posted September 7, 2001

— Air travel can be a huge hassle, especially when it involves crowds, delays, or worse: cancellations.

Rhodora Cuntapay's cancellation nightmare was so bad because it involved her two young nephews, 7-year-old Aaron Tadeo and his 10-year-old brother Mark. The two were coming from Italy to visit their aunt in Wake Forest. And because of what they went through to get here, they now say they never want to fly again.

The boys were to fly Delta airlines with a family friend from their home in Italy to JFK International in New York City. Then, they were to travel by themselves to Raleigh.

"It is a horrible experience, such a horrible experience," Cuntapay says, an experience that started before the boys left Italy, when Delta switched them to an American Airlines flight.

But the real problems began when they got to New York that Friday night. Problems Cuntapay did not find out about until she was already at RDU International to pick them up.

The monitors showed the boys' flight, and all remaining flights from New York, were canceled.

So Cuntapay and her husband got on the phone and immediately called both Delta and American Airlines. An American representative told Cuntapay, "They don't have the boys, and it's not their responsibility," Cuntapay recalls. "They have given them back to Delta."

But when they reached a Delta representative, "They were like, 'No. They're not our responsibility. It's American's because they're holding American Airline tickets,'" she says.

"I felt absolutely helpless at this time," she says.

It was almost 11:00, again, on a Friday night and neither airline could tell Cuntapay what happened to her nephews after they arrived in New York City.

Finally, after more phone calls and questions, Delta told Cuntapay that the boys were in fact in their care and now staying at an airport hotel.

"I am panicked. I am like, 'What am I going to do?" she says.

But she knew there was nothing she could do.

So after finally hearing the boys were OK and with a Delta employee, Cuntapay looked to their arrival the next day.

Little did she know it would actually get worse. The boys were again bumped to a night flight. And they were taken from JFK International across town to LaGuardia Airport. Still, Delta had not contacted the boys' family about any of this. And again, Delta could not say who the boys were with. Cuntapay says they told her if she wanted to talk with the boys she should try the airport's paging system.

And then, the flight was canceled again.

"I said, 'You're kidding me. You've got to be kidding me,'" Cuntapay says.

So the 7- and 10-year-old brothers were about to spend a second night in New York.

"I'm like, 'Guys, is not anybody hearing me? Can you not understand what I'm going through right now? Can somebody not at least realize my panic at this time?" Cuntapay says.

Finally, Delta sent the boys back to JFK where they took a flight to Atlanta and then to RDU. They arrived at 12:56 a.m. on Sunday. So, a trip that was supposed to take 12 hours took almost two days.

"They were very hungry. They were in the same clothes. They were just happy to be home," Cuntapay says.

She says through the entire ordeal, Delta representatives were rude and unsympathetic. After she got an attorney involved, the airline sent a letter apologizing for "any inconvenience ... because of flight irregularities." Delta gave the boys $175 each in travel vouchers which the boys' parents do not want.

Cuntapay says one thing is clear: "I can't believe it happened and never would I let my kids go by themselves."

A spokeswoman told WRAL that Delta is now re-evaluating its compensation offer and will contact the family to discuss the ordeal.

If your children must fly alone, keep in mind:

  • Direct flights are best. If a plane change is required, go through a small, less intimidating airport.
  • Morning flights are less likely to be delayed because of weather or mechanical problems.
  • Teach your children how to read information on airport monitors.
  • Give children a written copy of their itinerary.
  • Make sure children have the information, means, and know-how to call you if they need to.
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