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Travelers stranded in paradise

February 20, 2007|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

A business retreat in paradise turned into an expensive extended vacation for 90 employees at a Valencia landscape company, which racked up $83,000 in hotel and airfare costs after their JetBlue flight home was canceled.

Landscape Development Inc. workers and their spouses were told Wednesday that their flight home from Bermuda had been canceled, and that the next available flight was in six days.

"It wasn't an option for people to stay there," said Chief Financial Officer Tim Myers. "They have children to take care of, they have obligations."

A total of 255 employees had gone on the retreat, but most had already flown back when JetBlue canceled flights. A quick calculation revealed that paying room and board for six days for the remaining workers would cost $90,000.

So Myers started calling other airlines, staying up through the night to rebook passengers on other flights. He spent $50,000 on airfare, paying as much as $1,240 per flight.

The employees began flying home Thursday. But because they all couldn't fly out at once, the company shelled out $33,000 for rooms and meals for stranded employees waiting for a ride. When Myers returned to Valencia, he called his credit card company and told them not to pay the $140,000 the company had charged for round-trip flights to Bermuda for the retreat.

A JetBlue spokeswoman said that the company would receive a full refund for the cost of the stranded passengers' trip to Bermuda, as well as vouchers for the amount the company paid for the tickets.

When told of the airline's pledge, Myers' memory of the episode appeared to soften.

"The bright spot is that we were stranded in Bermuda," he said, "and not at Terminal 6 at JFK."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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