Middle-school chaperone says he was bumped from American Airlines flight; airline disagrees

A Minnesota history teacher says American Airlines bumped him from a flight back to his home state from Washington, D.C., on April 5 − meaning his 16 students were down one of two chaperones on the plane. But the airline claims he volunteered. 

Mark J. Westpfahl, a nominee for Minnesota Teacher of the Year, took his students on a class trip to the nation’s capital, visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and seeing the blooming cherry blossoms, Star Tribune reports.

But Westpfahl wasn’t able to complete the trip with them when it came time to return to St. Paul, Minnesota. He claims the airline bumped him from the plane. Another flight wasn’t available until the next day, meaning his students had to fly home with just the other chaperone. The airline offered him a voucher and an apology letter, though he wasn’t totally satisfied.

“Well, @AmericanAir overbooked our flight…. and guess who can’t fly. Yup. Me,” he posted on Twitter on April 5.

“I’m really missing being w/the kids right now,” he wrote. “I sent all the parents an email w/some updated information about when the plane’s gonna come in, and some trip highlights. Still waiting to hear where they might put me up for the night, and what time I need to be back here.”

He added in a follow-up tweet that he was certain other flyers heard him while talking to his students about being bumped. He says American asked if others would volunteer though neglected to make an announcement that he was a teacher flying with students. 

The letter Westpfahl posted from the airline says: “I am sorry that as a result of your not having seat assignments at the time you arrived at the gate and you were ultimately denied boarding since the flight was oversold and the gate agents had not received any volunteers. If a flight is oversold, no customer will be denied boarding until we have asked for other customers to volunteer to give up their seats.”

American gave Westpfahl a $525 flight voucher.

“According to our records, and after we consulted with our team in Washington D.C. as well, he volunteered,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein told USA TODAY. “As part of that process, he received compensation as a volunteer in addition to American paying for his hotel accommodation for the night and meals. We always seek volunteers before denying anyone boarding.”

“Our customer relations team has also reached out to him directly regarding his concerns,” Feinstein added.

Westpfahl tweeted excerpts of a message he sent to the company that claims he was bumped and told he couldn’t travel with his group. “The other adult chaperone with me asked if they were being serious, as this all sounded like an elaborate late night prank. The gate agent informed me that it was not a joke, but that there is nothing they can do, as my name appeared last on the manifest and that he was sorry that I had to be randomly pulled from the flight.”

American’s letter to Westpfahl lays out the order of which people are bumped involuntarily from flights if enough volunteers don’t come forward. First on that list are those who don’t meet the minimum check-in requirement, and last is passengers who would face a hardship if denied boarding, i.e. the elderly, disabled or unaccompanied minors.

USA TODAY has reached out to Westpfahl for more information.

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