Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Airline takes 83-year-old to Puerto Rico instead of Tampa

TAMPA — Vera Kuemmel paced Tampa International Airport late Monday, waiting for her 83-year-old mother's return from New York.

The plane had been on the ground for hours. Where was her mother? Not in baggage claim, where the two had agreed to meet.

It was after midnight when Kuemmel's cell phone rang, her mother's frightened voice barely audible on the other end.

Mom, indeed, was at baggage claim.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Elfriede Kuemmel had been flown to San Juan instead of back home.

It seems the two flights shared one gate, and Elfriede got in the wrong line at the wrong time, her daughter speculates.

Vera had requested that her mother be given a wheelchair and helped to her plane. But boarding pass and all, attendants let her on the wrong flight.

"As much as they make you go through, I just don't understand it," Vera said. "Not that she needed to be hand-held, but you'd think someone would take her under their wing. It's just unbelievable."

Elfriede left Tampa for New York before dawn on Monday. The Tampa resident plans to move back to her native state and was interviewing for a possible apartment rental. She was scheduled to return to Tampa the same day. She didn't pack a change of clothes.

Things went wrong in Philadelphia, where Elfriede was supposed to switch planes.

And switch planes she did.

U.S. Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder confirmed the mistake. Wunder said she wasn't sure how Elfriede's boarding pass didn't raise a red flag.

"We are looking into what we could've done on our end to prevent that," Wunder said.

Pete Burgess, owner of Burgess Aviation Consultants and an expert in air traffic services, said attendants sometimes look at a list of scanned boarding passes before departing. But it's usually because potential passengers are on standby.

If no one was waiting for a seat, it's conceivable that the woman could have slipped on without notice. But that's no excuse, Burgess said.

"I bet they're embarrassed" Burgess said.

Airport officials in San Juan set Elfriede up with a hotel room and food while she waited for a 3:30 p.m. first-class flight home on Tuesday. It was the earliest U.S. Airways return available.

She was scheduled to make a connection in Charlotte, N.C., and arrive in Tampa at 9:30 p.m.

As a swarm of news media gathered and waited for Elfriede's belated arrival at TIA, skycap Simon C. Cordero told a reporter that a second passenger had been lost the same day.

Another woman, who had been flying to Brazil, accidentally ended up in Tampa. He said he served as her translator, but couldn't remember her airline.

"It doesn't usually happen,'' he said. "Twice is unreal.''

At last the plane touched down, and Elfriede emerged, escorted in a wheelchair by a skycap and looking weary.

She left the airport tram with her face covered with a black handkerchief, and didn't answer any questions until she had been reunited with her family and was about to depart at the curb outside the baggage area, where she paused.

The worst part about the trip was "just being lost,'' she said.

Asked how she liked Puerto Rico, she said, "I didn't see it. I was in the airport the whole time,'' although she did get to spend the night in a nearby hotel room courtesy of the airline.

She said she loved flying first class after the tiresome, unexpected diversion. She has never been to Puerto Rico before, she said, "and I'll never go again.''

Then she got into the family's car, and away they went.

Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

Airline takes 83-year-old to Puerto Rico instead of Tampa 11/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 6:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: For Class of 2016, college debt loads favor Florida graduates

    Banking

    Florida college graduates saddled with student debt: Take heart. The average debt Class of 2016 Florida grads must bear is less than students in most states.

    University of South Florida undergraduates gather at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa for last fall's commencement ceremony. A new survey finds their average student debt upon graduating was $22,276. Statewide, 2016 Florida grads ranked a relatively unencumbered 45th among states, averaging $24,461 in student debt. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Romano: One person, one vote is not really accurate when it comes to Florida

    Politics

    Imagine this:

    Your mail-in ballot for the St. Petersburg mayoral election has just arrived. According to the fine print, if you live on the west side of the city, your ballot will count as one vote. Meanwhile, a ballot in St. Pete's northeast section counts for three votes.

    Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections worker Andrea West adds mail ballots to an inserter Sept. 22 at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Service Center in Largo. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
  3. St. Petersburg will hold first budget hearing tonight

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City's new property tax rate looks exactly like its current rate. For the second year in a row, Mayor Rick Kriseman does not plan to ask City Council for a tax hike or a tax cut.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman talks about the state of the city on Tuesday, two days after Hiurricane Irma passed through the state. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. 'We were lucky': Zephyrhills, Dade City get back to normal after Irma

    Hurricanes

    Two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, residents and city officials in eastern Pasco — hit harder than other areas of the county — are moving forward to regain normalcy.

    Edward F. Wood, 70, tugs at a branch to unload a pile of debris he and his wife picked up in their neighborhood, Lakeview in the Hills in Dade City.
  5. After Hurricane Irma, many ask: How safe are shelters?

    News

    NAPLES — Residents of the Naples Estates mobile home park beamed and cheered when President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott strolled amid piles of shredded aluminum three days after Hurricane Irma to buck up residents and hail the work of emergency responders. But almost nobody had anything good to say about …

    The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area opened its doors to anyone seeking temporary shelter during Hurricane Irma. Evacuees were housed in the Istaba multipurpose building and was quickly at capacity housing over 500 people. [Saturday, September 9, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]