While violent protests break out around them, a church group from New Jersey has been left stranded in Bolivia — and they’re blaming American Airlines for ditching them at the airport. The airline told News 4 the group arrived just 35 minutes prior to an international flight, putting their own trip in jeopardy.
Seventeen teens and seven chaperones from the Arcola United Methodist Church in Paramus left last Monday for the service trip and should have returned Tuesday night, but only six made it out to Miami.
Others remain stranded in South America spread between Colombia and Bolivia. A mother of one of the boys who made it to Miami says the group was not allowed to go beyond the check-in counter after getting to the airport at 6:25 a.m. for their 7 a.m. flight. That's because the flight had already boarded and was about to depart -- and many of the other 100-plus passengers abroad could have risked missing connections in Miami if the departure was delayed, an American Airlines spokesman said.
An airline spokesman said its recommended arrival times -- 1.5 hours for a domestic flight and at least two hours for international travel -- are intended to allow plenty of time to check in with or without bags and clear security and immigration/customs before departure.
"American cares deeply about all our passengers and is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience," the airline's statement continued. "Even though the group missed their flight, and were charged to rebook, in light of the circumstances, our team will be refunding the difference the fees and difference in fare. We are working to get everyone back to their loved ones as quickly as possible."
The church has been going down to Bolivia to help the local community for a decade. This year, they had spent a week running a camp for more than 100 kids from a nearby rural village.
The mother of one of the teens on the trip said American Airlines offered $300 vouchers for use on the same route — New York to Bolivia — within the next 12 months, saying she doesn’t expect anyone on the current trip to take the offer.
The group in Miami is expected back in New Jersey Thursday night, but the Bogota flight is still delayed. The pastor and those still in Bolivia are hoping and praying that they will be home by the end of the week.