“Welcome to Rome Flight #1,” a banner greeting the group of weary travelers read.
It’s been a long and exhausting few days for a group of Manatee High School Manatee Marching ’Canes band members, directors and their chaperones, but they’ve finally reached their destination.
When they arrived in Rome, those fresh off the plane were greeted by the other part of the group — who had been there since Wednesday morning after taking a British Airways flight from Tampa — with signs and hugs.
The group of 45 people had a rough start to their long-anticipated trip to Rome after their Tuesday night American Airlines flight from Philadelphia was delayed, then canceled.
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After working with American Airlines officials in an odyssey chronicled by several news outlets, a special flight was created Wednesday night for the group. They departed John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday morning and landed in Rome around 5:30 p.m. Florida time, about 11:30 p.m. Rome time.
“We were really happy to get going but we were relieved. It was nice to not be in a hotel anymore and on the flight,” said Alison Bennett, 17, who plays the flute in the Manatee High School band.
Though the band did not make its scheduled performance Friday, members were relieved to finally be back together. They will still march in Sunday’s New Year’s Day parade. Now, it’s down to business. The band will rehearse with another band from Jacksonville to prepare.
“It’s going to be really exciting to go through Rome, and it’s really exciting to all be here together in Rome finally,” Bennett said.
“Everyone is just really thrilled we made it and didn’t lose any more time than we did,” Linda Boone, volunteer assistant band director, said. She and director Jim Bruce were part of the group that arrived Thursday.
But misery loves company, and the Manatee High School group wasn’t alone in their despair nor was their predicament unique.
Bennett and Boone said a band from a high school in Wisconsin also was stuck in Philadelphia without a flight to Rome.
Despite the delay, Boone said everyone handled it well.
Bennett said many of the Manatee High School students sat with those from Wisconsin on the flight.
“Kids on the delayed flight were extremely cooperative. Obviously they were upset but didn’t whine and complain, they tried to make most of it and best of it,” Boone said. “And parents that were with us were extremely supportive as well. Now that they’re here with their friends, they’re so excited that they’re here.”
Saturday’s plans for the late group include a trip to Pompeii, and Monday the group that arrived later will visit major landmarks like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Vatican. Boone said it’s important that they get to experience the icons of Rome as their classmates did.
Even though they made it in time for the parade performance, Boone still has a bitter taste left from their flight experience.
“Think they were trying to make up for it, but they cannot they cannot make up for lost time.”
Bennett was grateful the airline was able to work something out.
“They tried very hard to make it up for us, it was very nice of them,” Bennett said.
An American Airlines spokesperson apologized for the delay in the group’s plans, and the company paid for two nights in a hotel as well as provided meals and bus transportation from Philadelphia to JFK.