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October 30th, 2013 NIGEL JAQUISS | News Stories
 

Paying Double

Technical problems at PDX? Not our problem, says the Port of Portland—and everyone else.

news3_3952LEFT AT THE GATE: “To my mind, the buck stops with the Port of Portland, whose name and brand are on the facility,” says Brandi Morris, whose Paris trip with her daughter, Audrey, got delayed because of a fueling snafu at PDX. - IMAGE: cameronbrowne.com
The readers of Travel + Leisure love Portland International Airport. They said so in a survey published Oct. 15 that named PDX the nation’s best.

“Portland, OR, has a reputation for hipsters,” the magazine wrote, “but its airport makes a positive impression on all kinds of travelers thanks to quality food and shopping options and the likelihood of an on-time departure.”

Brandi Morris disagrees.

What started off as a dream vacation for Morris has revealed a loophole in PDX’s operations that exposes anyone using the airport to financial loss. 

A breakdown by the company that delivers jet fuel to planes caused more than dozens of flights to be delayed last June, including Morris’. She incurred more than $1,800 in costs to rebook her flights and wants someone to reimburse her.

So far, no one will. 

The Port of Portland, which owns and operates the airport, has sent Morris into what she calls a “vortex of events” in which no one—the airline, the fuel company or the port—is willing to take responsibility.

“It feels like a raw deal to be out an additional nearly $2,000 for something you already paid for,” Morris says.

Morris provided letters and emails that document her efforts to be made whole—and the runaround she got in return.

On June 14, Morris and her 7-year-old daughter, Audrey, left their Sellwood home headed for Paris. They were scheduled to meet up with Morris’ sister and niece.

“We had promised my niece that when she graduated from high school, we’d take her to Paris,” says Morris, 39, who co-owns an advertising agency. 

Morris travels a lot, so she knows to expect delays. She says she and Audrey arrived at PDX at 5:15 am for a 7 am departure to Los Angeles on a Virgin America flight. They were to catch an Air Tahiti flight to Paris.

But a fueling delay of five hours at PDX delayed their departure, causing them to miss the Paris flight. Air Tahiti said it had no seats on later flights and told Morris  it was the Portland airport’s fault, not the airline’s. Morris’ husband jumped online and bought two one-way tickets for an additional $1,812.40. Morris and her daughter got to Paris a day late.

When Morris got back, she sent an email to the Port of Portland seeking reimbursement.

“The airline said responsibility for the delay lies with airport facilities and not with them,” Morris wrote July 13. “I will also forward the receipt for the new tickets.”

In a series of polite emails, port customer service representative Donna Prigmore told Morris to take up the issue with the fuel company.

Air Service International Group, according to its website, provides aviation fuel and other services at more than 80 airports worldwide. The company itself is owned by BBA Aviation, a London-based airport services company with more than $2.1 billion in revenues last year.

Morris says the port then bowed out. She tracked down Lawrence McMahon, a vice president with Air Service International Group, based in Los Angeles.

“Today I received a call from Larry McMahon at ASIG,” Morris wrote to the port’s Prigmore on Oct. 22, “and while he admitted fault in the system failure, [he] said that they would offer no compensation for my redundant ticket as they ‘have no contractual obligation to me.’ According to this guy, their contractual obligation is with the airport.”

“OK, it’s now official,” Morris added. “Every party in this situation has blamed every other party while no one has accepted responsibility for their contractual obligation to me and I’m still out lots of money.”

Longtime port spokesman Steve Johnson says what happened to Morris is unusual. “I can’t think of a comparable example in the last several years,” he says.

Johnson says 14 people complained about the June 14 delays and eight sought compensation or reimbursements.

But he says the port has no responsibility for the losses suffered by Morris and others. That’s because the airlines serving PDX collectively own the fueling equipment and contract with Air Services International Group to operate it.

“The airlines are collectively responsible,” Johnson says. “We don’t have the authority to tell the airlines to make a reimbursement.”

Air Services International Group and its executive, McMahon, did not respond to a request for comment.

Morris says she’s frustrated with the port’s refusal to fix the problem.

“I keep thinking that I’m somebody’s customer, but nobody wants to take responsibility,” Morris tells WW. “It’s a little scary to think some version of what happened to us could happen to anyone at any time.” 

 
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