A special direct flight has been created for the 45 Manatee High School marching band students, chaperones and teachers headed to Rome, Italy, who were stuck in the Philadelphia International Airport, an American Airlines spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday night to the Herald.
The trip to march in a New Year’s Day parade in Rome took nearly two years of fundraisers and three years of planning.
Just as it looked like the entire band would not be there to perform, American Airlines came up with a solution.
A direct flight will be provided and depart from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport at 9 a.m. Thursday. The special flight is scheduled to arrive in Rome later the same day, according to Victoria Lupica, an American Airlines corporate communications official.
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“Teams from American Airlines made it their top priority, working throughout the day, to establish a dedicated flight for the students and their chaperones. We wanted to ensure the band made it to their competition performance in Rome Dec. 30,” Lupica said in an email. “We sincerely apologize for the disruption to their travel plans. Our customer relations team will be reaching out to all of the students and their chaperones who were impacted by the previous flight cancellation from Philadelphia to Rome.”
American Airlines is also providing bus transportation to JFK for the flight. The airline also has paid for two nights of accommodations in Philadelphia and provided meal vouchers.
Before the plans were announced, those still in Philadelphia voiced their frustrations with the hitch in their itinerary.
“What was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime has turned into a disaster,” said Terri Bennett, a parent volunteer stranded with the students.
Bennett said half of the group flew out from Tampa on a British Airways flight and arrived safely and on time in Rome Wednesday morning. The group was supposed to be touring ruins and rehearsing with a band from Jacksonville for the New Year’s Day parade. The band is to play in Rome on Friday and Sunday.
What was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime has turned into a disaster
Terri Bennett, parent volunteer
The other half of the group, including band director Jim Bruce and Linda Boone, the volunteer assistant band director, was scheduled to fly out via an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia Tuesday night. But there were delays along the way. Lupica said the original flight was canceled because of mechanical issues, and Wednesday night’s flight was completely booked.
Their luggage was stuck on the original plane until Wednesday night, and although the airline put them up in a hotel, many students had no spending money because they had already converted their American dollars to euros.
“There was a pool table,” said Sugar ’Canes dance team member Sara Trinci, 17, describing her day at the Philadelphia hotel. “Most people just slept.”
“We’ve been raising money because it is very expensive for us to go. We were selling anything you could sell, we did hams and turkeys for the holidays, we sold candles, mattresses,” Trinci said.