Fort Worth

Spring heartbreak: Southwest High music students may lose Broadway tickets after flights canceled

Members of the Southwest High School band, shown here competing in 2013, are headed to New York City for spring break, but last week’s flight cancellations have forced them to change their plans.
Members of the Southwest High School band, shown here competing in 2013, are headed to New York City for spring break, but last week’s flight cancellations have forced them to change their plans. Star-Telegram archives

Things are looking up — way up — for Southwest High School music students’ spring break trip to New York this week, according to band director Stacey Dunn.

The trip was delayed from the original itinerary last week by icy weather and flight cancellations. The new trip plan calls for flights to New York on Thursday and returning on Sunday.

The Star-Telegram reported Monday that Dunn was having difficulty getting his group of 147 students on return flights Sunday so that each group would have an adult chaperone. The students had been divided among 25 flights with layovers in Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Atlanta; and Houston.

By midevening Monday, American Airlines representatives had worked out a more suitable schedule, Dunn said.

“The flights outbound on Thursday are perfect: [Students are] on two flights and will all be in New York by 11 a.m.,” Dunn said Tuesday. “The return flights are scattered, but they did get a parent with the kids on every single return flight.”

Dunn is still trying to rebook theater tickets for two Broadway productions that had been missed. The tickets had already been purchased for a total of $30,000, but the theaters are balking at issuing new tickets or returning the money for the originals.

He was contacted late Monday night by a New Yorker named Doug Kenney who operates a web-based service called ShowHelpMe that works with theaters to help people get theater tickets. Kenney is working on his end to resolve that matter, Dunn said.

Posts to the agency’s Twitter account were hoping to get #GetSouthWestHighToBroadway trending on Monday night to help out the cause.

“I want so bad to be a #FairyGodmother right now,” tweeted one woman.

Among the flights canceled Thursday because of snow were a few that Southwest High music students were supposed to be on as part of a hard-earned trip to Broadway.

On Monday, band director Stacey Dunn was still scrambling to make alternate arrangements to ensure that the band, orchestra and choir students still have a spring break to remember in the Big Apple.

Two big issues remain: the likelihood of students being booked randomly on as many as two dozen return flights Sunday and the possibility of losing up to $20,000 in prepaid theater tickets that might not be refunded or rescheduled.

“I’ve been a band director 32 years and I’ve never had a problem [with a trip] until now,” Dunn said Monday as he tried to rebook all the group’s travel accommodations and entertainment plans.

The group of 147 students and their chaperones was originally due to fly to New York last Thursday on American Airlines flights and to return Sunday. Now the group will make the trip a week later.

Originally, the students and their chaperones were flying in groups of 40, with staggered departures and arrivals every hour, Dunn said.

Each student has paid $1,182 for the trip. Many worked the concession stands at Globe Life Park in Arlington last year to save up for it.

“What worries me is that the return flights on Sunday are so fragmented, and they’ve taken 147 kids and divided them into groups of one to three or four, or six or seven,” said Dunn. “They’re sending some through Chicago, some through Charlotte.”

The flights depart New York between 6:30 a.m. and 5:40 p.m. Some are direct to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, but many aren’t.

There were 25 groups booked by Monday, many without an adult chaperone, and Dunn says that won’t fly.

“I’m very worried because I don’t feel comfortable to have a child flying to Chicago, which is more weather-prone in my opinion than New York,” he said, adding that return flights were still being rebooked to make sure there is at least one adult chaperone with every student group.

Jaime Caballero, president of the Southwest band boosters, feels the same way.

“I wouldn’t want my kid on that flight without a chaperone,” he said. “And we do have freshmen who are going.”

“These airports, sometimes it’s confusing to me and I’m a seasoned flier,” he said. “What would it be for a kid that’s never been on a plane before?”

An American Airlines spokeswoman said by email Monday that “we’ll look into this, to see what can be done” and requested Dunn’s flight and contact information. “When flights cancel, the system automatically reaccommodates them on the next available flights until the flight is full,” she wrote.

Though rebooking the flights three days before the trip is daunting enough, Dunn was alarmed early Monday that the theaters where students had tickets to see musicals including Jersey Boys and Wicked seemed to be waffling on honoring them.

“Today I got an email that said we won’t get any seats because they’re sold out,” he said. “I can go online right now and see 90 seats still available.”

The group paid $13,000 for tickets to one show and about $7,000 for tickets to the other. The money is usually not refundable.

By late Monday afternoon, Dunn said, it appeared that the Jersey Boys venue, the August Wilson Theater, would find seats for the students.

Choir students have a performance date at the New York Public Library, but the rest of the trip was based on exposing the fine arts students to the best of musical theater.

If the tickets fall through, Dunn said, “I guess I’ll just build a trip for us to see the city, but not the things we intended to see.”

Michelle Marlin, who will serve as an adult chaperone and whose daughter MacKenzie is going on the trip, was keeping her fingers crossed.

“We might not have anything to do for two nights,” she said. “We may have to do our own production.

“I’m hoping the theaters will come through, at least one of them.”

Other attractions and accommodations have been gracious, Dunn said. The group had $30,000 in reservations at Hotel Edison, which made good on the deal with short notice and even decided to put up the students in a number of unoccupied suites for the weekend.

A Saturday night cruise to see the Statue of Liberty illuminated was an easy switch.

“One way or another, these little guys are all going to have a fantastic trip,” Dunn said.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @shirljinkins

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