In a heartbreaking turn of events, Carrol Amrich missed her last chance to see her dying mom after a ticket mix-up got her booted off a United Airlines flight—and no one's taking responsibility.
On January 16, Amrich learned that her mom, Dixie Hanson, was hospitalized in Minnesota. The Colorado woman had no money to buy a plane ticket, so her landlord, Ines Prelas, stepped in and booked her a $585 United ticket for the next day through an agency, Traveler Help Desk, which was the cheapest option she could find.
Around 2:30 p.m., the mom's condition worsened, and she wasn't expected to survive the night. Prelas told the New York Times that she didn't have Traveler Help Desk's number on hand, so she called United directly, thinking it would be the fastest method for urgent changes. Prelas also said the United representative on the phone assured her there wouldn't be a problem when she informed them she had booked the ticket through an online agency. So, she paid $75 more to have Amrich's flight switched to one that left Colorado Springs at 5:15 p.m. the same day. Amrich would fly standby through Denver and make a connection to Minneapolis.
The two rushed to the airport, and Amrich checked into Flight UA5712 and had her boarding pass scanned without any problems. But after she buckled into her seat, minutes before takeoff, a United agent told her that her ticket had been canceled.
According to the Associated Press, Amrich told the agent that she was trying to get home to see her dying mom.
"(The agent) goes, 'I can't help it. You have to have a ticket, no one flies for free. Please disembark.' I knew at that time I'd never see my mother again," Amrich recounted.
Turns out, Traveler Help Desk had canceled the ticket because the agency didn't know that Prelas had changed the flight directly through United.
Carolyn Gallant, a customer service supervisor at Traveler Help Desk, told Associated Press that the ticket was flagged as potential fraud because they only knew Amrich was no longer booked on the original flight. She said a representative had tried "numerous times" to contact Amrich before the cancellation, but both Amrich and Prelas said they had heard nothing from Traveler Help Desk. (For more context, online reviews of Traveler Help Desk have mostly been negative and critical, with many customers complaining about their customer service and charges.)
Amrich called Prelas in tears. Prelas offered to pay for another ticket on the phone with the gate agent, emphasizing they could straighten it out later, so long as Amrich got on the plane. It was the last flight of the night and the next flight wouldn't be until the next morning. But the agent said there wasn't time for that and didn't let Amrich on the plane.
So, Amrich decided to drive 1,000 miles nonstop to Minnesota, but a few hours into the trip, she got a call that her mom had died.
"I am just so sorry for Ms. Amrich's loss," the Traveler Help Desk representative told the New York Times. "It is tragic. I understand it was unfortunate the ticket ended up voided. Had she contacted us directly to make the change, this all would have been avoided."
United refunded the tickets and fees. Prelas said someone from United's Chicago headquarters also called and offered to send flowers to Amrich.
"What are the flowers going to do? You took away from her that she might have been able to see her mother alive," Prelas said. "If I’d have been at that gate, I would have done everything in my power to get her back on that plane."
People are outraged that neither United nor Traveler Help Desk has been held accountable.
It's tragic to think about what small actions could have made a world of difference for one mom and her daughter.