DETROIT -- A Michigan soldier, who hadn't seen his family in a year, was trying to make it home to Monroe for the holidays -- but ended up shelling out thousands of dollars after the round-trip flight he booked with United Airlines was unexpectedly canceled.
Pfc. Benjamin Jimenez, 21, enlisted in the Army in June of 2017 and was stationed in Germany this February. Hoping to spend time with his family, including his grandpa who is set to fly to Michigan from Florida, Jimenez booked a round-trip ticket for $1,116 on Nov. 19 that would get him to the Detroit Metro Airport during the holiday weekend and back to Frankfurt in time to report back for duty in 2019.
When he got to the Frankfurt Airport on Saturday, Jimenez was told his flight had been canceled, according to his aunt Sarah Mundt, 31, also of Monroe. She said the airline also told her nephew a refund wasn't available for the first flight and that he would have to dispute the charge through his bank.
"They informed him that ... he no longer had a flight, and that if he wanted to get to the United States, he had to buy a one-way ticket for $2,500," Mundt said.
"And so, that's what he did."
Adding to the financial strain, the airline has since told the family the cheapest flight it could come up with for Jimenez to make it back to Germany before his leave expires was $3,000.
"(United) literally had us on the phone for two-plus hours," Mundt said. "They kept saying that they were trying to help us, but ... I was on hold for 30 minutes at a time, while they said they were looking into things."
Mundt said her nephew didn't have access to email or phone while out in the field, but the family is steadfast that notification of the cancellation was never sent. She added that they've gone through his inbox together.
Mundt said they were informed that United Airlines partners with the airline Lufthansa for German flights, and Lufthansa decided to increase their rates and cancel the flight.
"By the end of it, they said, 'Well, we sent out the email ... there's nothing we can do for you. We no longer hold your funds, so we can't return them," she said.
Mundt said they plan to work with Jimenez's bank to dispute the charge, but haven't had time yet -- her nephew just got home late Saturday evening. She thinks the airline should honor the cost of the original ticket, though.
"I made it very clear, I don't want anything for free. I understand this is a business, you guys have to make money. I don't mind paying the original fare that he originally bought ... but we want the $2,500 back, and we need a way for him to get back to Germany," she said.
"I've spoken to two separate supervisors. I spoke to a manager, and I spoke to their online social media team ... who said they had their reservation team review the situation," she said.
"Each time it's like they're reading from a script and they're just giving us the same old answers ... I feel like they made this worse."
As a result, Mundt said their family is spending the holidays trying to find Jimenez a flight back and pooling their money to buy him another ticket with another airline.
"Right now, the only available flights are Jan. 2, which makes this whole situation worse, because my father is extremely elderly and he's sick, and he's flying out from Florida to be able to spend a day with (Jimenez) before he flies back to Germany," Mundt said.
"My father flies in on the 1st ... Now, they're not going to be able to spend time together, like they were."
Madhu Unnikrishnan, a United Airlines spokesman, on Sunday confirmed the flight was canceled by Lufthansa, but said their records show that passengers were informed of the cancellation.
Unnikrishnan said he cannot speak to how Jimenez may not have received a notification.
"Our customer service team is looking into the matter and will contact Mr. Jimenez shortly to arrange his travel back (to Germany)," Unnikrishnan said.
Mundt said their family is extremely frustrated and would like to avoid having to deal with United Airlines in the future.
"The timing of this couldn't be worse, with it being Christmas," she said. "We're excited that (Jimenez) has been able to come home, but ... Instead of just being able to enjoy Christmas and everything, we're now trying to pool our money to be able to try and make sure he gets back to Germany, so he doesn't get in trouble. It's kind of affected everything."
This article is written by By Aleanna Siacon from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.