83-year-old flying to NO ends up in FL

Maria Nieves
Maria Nieves

GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - A man will spend Thanksgiving without his mother. She did not arrive at the airport as scheduled. Instead of flying to New Orleans, she ended up in Florida.

One seat at the table will remain empty this Thanksgiving at Robert Ortiz's home in Gonzales.

"It's not going to be the same Thanksgiving I had planned with her being here," said Ortiz.

That's because for the past several years, Ortiz' mother, Maria Nieves, 83, has made the trip from Chicago to New Orleans to spend Thanksgiving at the dinner table. That was the plan this year. Nieves should have arrived in the Big Easy this past Saturday.

"She missed her direct flight, and Southwest Airlines put her on a connecting flight through Nashville," said Ortiz.

Ortiz had specifically requested wheelchair assistance for his mother. Because she missed her nonstop flight, Southwest still accommodated her to New Orleans, but with a plane change in Nashville.

Before taking off from the Windy City, she was told by a Southwest representative: "As soon as we land, stay seated. Someone will come get you and will take you to your connecting flight," said Ortiz.

But, Nieves told Ortiz that someone never came. The next thing she knew, the plane she was on was backing up from the gate again.

"At that point, she mentioned to the flight attendant that she was supposed to be going to New Orleans to be with her son. The flight attendant just responded, 'Well, this flight is going to Tampa,'" said Ortiz.

Wendy Eichinger, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines responded to questions about the mishap.

"If she requires wheelchair assistance, why did an attendant not come and get her?" asked Chawla.

"Whenever customers request wheelchair assistance, they do make that notation when they make the reservation, but with the missed flight, there was the opportunity to not have that note in the record," said Eichinger.

She was asked numerous times if Southwest failed to follow procedures in Nashville.

"Obviously, the customer was supposed to end up in New Orleans and going to Tampa was not her correct destination," said Eichinger.

"Are you guys supposed to do a head count before a flight takes off?" asked Chawla.

"We do a thorough count when an aircraft stops in a city and continues on," said Eichinger.

"Was a head count not conducted in this case?" Chawla questioned.

"I don't have that information. No, we conduct a head count every time, so I don't have the information on what the number was for the head count," Eichinger responded.

Fortunately, Ortiz has a sister who lives about an hour from Tampa, so his mom will now spend Thanksgiving there.

Copyright 2011 WAFB. All rights reserved.