Vacationing Scouts grounded by airline

The Baltimore Sun

For eight Girl Scouts from Howard County who sold hundreds of boxes of cookies to travel to Hawaii, the dream trip never got off the ground yesterday.

US Airways canceled the first leg of the teenagers' trip, a 7:30 a.m. flight to Phoenix, and then added another dose of bad news: No other flights - even on other airlines - would be available to fly them to their final destination until a day before the Scouts were scheduled to return to Maryland.

"It was crushing news," Troop 251 leader Patty Salazar said. "It obviously shattered all of them."

With funds raised from hawking thousands of Thin Mints and Shortbread cookies since their elementary school days, the high school seniors pinned their hopes on a long-planned trip to Honolulu this week.

"We were supposed to go snorkeling and go to Pearl Harbor," said Centennial High School senior Shayna Meliker, 18, of Ellicott City. "It's our spring break."

Meliker left for BWI Marshall Airport at 4:45 a.m. and returned home hours later after waiting with hundreds of people in a customer service line.

Salazar said some girls felt cursed because an excursion to New York City planned for the fall of 2001 had to be scrapped after the Sept. 11 attacks, and a snow-tubing adventure failed when an unexpectedly large number of snow-tubers boxed the Scouts out.

None of the passengers, including the Scouts, was offered vouchers for an additional free flight, a once-common balm for customers inconvenienced by flight changes. US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said the flight had been canceled because of maintenance issues.

Customers' ire at the airlines seemed to explode recently when JetBlue Airways stranded passengers on planes on snowy New York runways for more than 10 hours last month. The airline canceled scores of flights over the Presidents Day weekend as it worked to get service on track.

Some passengers believe the airlines should be doing more. The Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, for example, is pushing for federal legislation to require airlines to compensate those bumped or delayed more than 12 hours with 150 percent of the ticket price, The Sun reported last month.

In January, carriers nationwide canceled 2.5 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, up from 1.7 percent in January 2006 but down from 3 percent in December 2006, according to the most current Federal Aviation Administration statistics.

Salazar, who has led the eight girls as a troop for more than 10 years, said the Scouts endured hours of uncertainty after yesterday's flight was canceled. But in the end, she said, the girls regrouped and decided to book another Hawaii trip after graduation in June.

"This is all about what they learn in Girl Scouts," Salazar said. "They're going to be traveling a lot in their futures, and now they know how to handle the bumps in the road."

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