Airline ticket mistake cancels students' trip to Fla. for music festival

Md., N.C. officials asked to help get $126,000 refund

April 19, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The North Carolina attorney general, a Maryland legislator and others are trying to help Perry Hall High School students who were forced to cancel a much-anticipated trip to a music festival in Orlando, Fla., because of a ticketing mix-up.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, an attorney for the Baltimore County school system and parents are trying to get back the $126,000 students and chaperones paid Educational Travel Consultants of Hendersonville, N.C., to arrange a four-day trip to the national festival.

The trip has been in the works for months, but it was canceled Tuesday by Perry Hall Principal Brian Gonzalez after he learned that ETC was scrambling to make last-minute airline reservations for the students - members of the school orchestra and chorus - who were to leave for MusicFest Orlando tomorrow.

In the aftermath of the cancellation, Cooper has passed on to his office's consumer protection division Perry Hall's complaint that ETC bungled its airline reservations, said Dana C. Jones, a spokeswoman for Bromwell, who asked Cooper for help.

Kevin Bartram, Perry Hall's orchestra director, said the travel mess began Sunday, when ETC's president called and told him that an employee had failed to make airline reservations for the 181 students and 18 chaperones. Bartram said the president told him, "We dropped the ball."

An attorney who represents ETC dismissed that version of events yesterday, placing blame on Perry Hall. "The company made every effort possible to make the trip to Orlando possible," said the attorney, Paul T. Cronin. "It was the school that had the contract with ETC and gave a notice of cancellation."

Cronin said that when ETC couldn't book return airline tickets for Perry Hall students for Monday, the company offered to cover expenses, including hotel, food and passes to DisneyWorld so the students could fly back a day later.

"School officials said, `No,'" said Cronin.

Gonzalez met with disappointed parents and students Tuesday to tell them that the trip was off. Gonzalez knew that the extra day would make it impossible for students to attend athletic and academic events, said Perry Hall Assistant Principal Richard Gudel.

At the meeting, Gonzalez told the group that the money students and chaperones had paid for the trip - much of it from fund-raisers - might not be refunded for at least six weeks. It was unclear yesterday if the $126,000 would be refunded in full. Students paid $639 each for the trip; chaperones paid $581.

"We're letting our school attorneys handle it from here," said Gudel.

Baltimore County school officials hope to soften students' disappointment by arranging for them to perform an alternate concert, said spokesman Charles A. Herndon, possibly at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

"We would be happy to work with the school system to find a date for the students to perform," said Lucinda Williams, vice president of artistic and educational programs with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

She said the canceled Orlando trip was "sad news" for her, too, because some of the BSO's top musicians had worked with the Perry Hall students to prepare them for the competition, which the school won six years ago.

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