'Trip of a lifetime' to Holy Land ruined by United Airlines blunder, Houston group says

HOUSTON – A group of 53 people from Houston is in the process of filing a claim for lost plane tickets and several are still waiting for their luggage after what was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime turned into a nightmare.

Anna McFarland and Marielle Spin were among the people on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Tel Aviv to be part of the trip to walk where Jesus walked, but they never made it.

“I was really excited to go to see where Jesus walked,” McFarland said. 

“We were pinching ourselves. It was a dream of a lifetime,” Spin said.

The group booked their United Airline tickets months in advance and left Houston Thursday for a connecting flight to Tel Aviv in Newark, New Jersey, but the weather had other plans.

“Due to the bad weather, we got diverted to Cleveland,” Spin said. 

In Cleveland, they were told by United representatives that their Tel Aviv flight was also canceled that night, but they would be able to fly out in the morning to Newark to board another connecting flight.
On Friday, though, they were no longer in the system.

“We were told that we dropped from the manifest, so we were no longer on that flight, and they sold the tickets to other people,” McFarland said.  

“It was like a surreal moment. You were like, 'What?'” Spin said.

Some of the luggage went to Tel Aviv, and instead of finding a replacement flight, McFarland and Spin say they were given tickets to go back to Houston on Friday. 

“I’m very disappointed in them that they handled it so badly,” McFarland said. “They made plans for us to come back to Houston it took until 7 p.m. on Friday night to get everyone ticketed to get back to Houston ... the last people came back Saturday afternoon."

“We certainly don’t blame them for the weather but make it right," Spin said. “It’s just one thing after the other. I don't understand how they operate but the thing that really hurt us, was just their lack of concern, it's like they didn't care."

United Airlines released a statement saying, “We know that Winter Storm Avery resulted in frustrating travel experiences for many customers. Flight 443 from Houston to Newark was diverted to Cleveland due to weather, and flight 90 from Newark to Tel Aviv was canceled due to weather. Our customer service team has been in contact with the group to have the customers' bags sent back to Houston and returned to the individuals, and we have apologized for their experience."

For McFarland and Spin, who waited a long time for this personal journey, the damage has been done.
“Not only were we heartbroken to be cheated out of this trip, but people took vacation time. People made arrangements for their kids,” McFarland said.

There is still no word on whether the group will be refunded or given new flights to the Holy Land.

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