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Okay I have to admit when I first saw this story, I thought we were talking about a man with 16 BIOLOGICAL kids and I thought “Woah and I thought *I* had a lot of kids!!!”. As it turns out, this story involves a man named Mark Westphal, a Minnesota history teacher who was chaperoning 16 middle school kids (ages 11 to 14) as they returned from a trip to Washington DC on American Airlines.

an airplane on the tarmac

What happened here?

Well… we don’t know for sure. As is typical with these types of stories, there’s a lot of “he said, she said” and each side has an incentive to make themselves look as good as possible. Trying to read between the lines, here’s at least some of the facts

  • Mark Westpfahl, a Minnesota history teacher, was chaperoning a group of 16 middle school kids ages 11 to 14 on a trip from Minneapolis to Washington DC along with (at least) one other teacher.
  • On the return flight back, the flight was overbooked, and he was denied boarding. He was given a $525 voucher, a hotel room and rebooked the next day.

That’s as far as I can get with undisputed facts. Mr. Westphal asserted that the denied boarding was involuntary, while (at least initially), American indicated that he voluntarily chose to take the voucher voluntarily.

Mr. Westphal took to Twitter

So what really happened?

Again, I’m not sure what exactly happened, based on the limited information that’s come out. My guess is that the chaperones thought that they were being involuntarily boarded. It’s certainly possible that the gate agents gave them that impression (either intentionally or not). For people that are not frequent travelers, it’s totally understandable to not fully get the nuances between VDB and IDB and what your rights as a passenger may be in either case.

Or… it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question that the American gate agents didn’t follow their own policies and procedures (which preclude bumping a chaperone of unaccompanied minors, though maybe since there was a 2nd chaperone this didn’t come into play?), and then spent the next bit trying to backpedal as the story blew up on them.

In any case, it continues to boggle my mind how involuntary denied boarding remains a thing. There’s always a price people! United gave one lady a TEN THOUSAND DOLLAR voucher in one case. You’re telling me you couldn’t have found one volunteer on this flight for a 5 figure voucher?

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