When Duncan High School agriculture teacher Kayla Sexton-Presley arrived back in town Tuesday night, she and her students had a law enforcement escort and they were greeted with hugs, kisses, flowers and other gifts.

After four days of stress and headaches, they were much appreciated, Sexton-Presley said.

The group of 11 was caught up in all of the drama caused when American Airlines cancelled more than 2,000 of its flights over Halloween weekend because of staff shortages and weather issues.

Sexton-Presley, a chaperone, two Duncan High graduates and seven current students left on Oct. 27 to participate in the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Everything was great during the three-day event. Graduates Kaitlyn Lunt and Eli Frie received their American FFA degree, the students hear from motivational speakers and they attended the expo, Sexton-Presley said.

On Saturday, during the degree ceremony, they received texts their American Airlines flight, scheduled for later that day had been cancelled.

She spent two hours on hold only to be told they couldn’t get another flight until Sunday, Sexton-Presley said.

She booked the flight. It was cancelled. She booked another flight. It was cancelled.

Not having a choice, the district paid $700 to put the group up for another night in a hotel, she said.

Not having a rental car, Sexton-Presley took a taxi to the airport. Wanting to get her students back in class and the adults back to work, she tried to get a flight to anywhere in the West and nothing was available.

The best American could do was to book a flight for Monday morning and offer up hotel vouchers to what turned out to be a rather shabby motel, Sexton-Presley said.

Their misadventure didn’t end there, however.

Their 9:30 a.m. flight was delayed again and again and ultimately cancelled.

Rental car companies wouldn’t rent vans to them and Greyhound tickets cost too much, she said.

After waiting in a three-hour line yet again, Sexton-Presley said she struck out. There were no other flights that could accommodate all 11 people.

Ultimately, the decision was made to spend another $3,000 and book flights on another airline for Tuesday, she said. Not wanting to rely 100% on another airline, DUSD Superintendent Elden Merrell and Baseball Coach Brett Jensen got into two school vans and headed east.

The two men stayed in Oklahoma City Monday night until the group got on their Southwest Airlines flight. They then headed to Houston where they stayed until assured the group made their second flight out of Houston, Sexton-Presley said.

Finally, they arrived home to an especially warm welcome at 10 o’clock Tuesday night, she said.

“Our community is so amazing,” Sexton-Presley gushed.

Not only did they welcome them home, but the entire time they were gone members of the community were sending money through Venmo.

“They’d say ‘Here’s something, get the kids something to eat. Here’s something, go do something fun,’” Sexton-Presley said.

Words also can’t describe how overwhelmed she was when Emmett Darnell’s family gave her a check for $3,000 to help cover the extra expenses, she said.

Darnell, who was killed in a traffic accident in February 2020, was a Duncan FFA member.

American Airlines has since notified her that a request to reimburse the district for some of their airfare has been approved, Sexton-Presley said.

Despite the logistical nightmare, folks missing work and school and stressing over little ones left at home, there were bright spots, she said.

“The kids were awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of kids to be stuck with,” she said. “They were patient and always trying to be helpful.”

Wanting to avoid another disaster, American Airlines announced over the weekend that flight attendants who work between Nov. 23 to Nov. 29 and Dec. 22 to Jan 2. will receive a 150% premium, according to an internal memo viewed by CNN. Those with no absences between Nov. 15 to Jan. 2 will receive an even higher premium of 300% for the hours they work during the peak holiday period.

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