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Airline troubles ground wedding guests

It seemed like a perfect plan. Perhaps too perfect to be true. And in the end it was. Just months before my wedding, no-frills, low-cost airline SkyBus announced it would begin flights between Greensboro, just an hour from where I was to get married, and an airport (Chicopee, MA) serving Hartford, CT, where my sister Kelly would normally have to travel from. And on top of that, ticket prices started at just $10 each way. Yup. $10! So we quickly bought my sister tickets to come to the wedding the first weekend in April for $10 (plus taxes) each way. She was even able to come south for an engagement party and shower in January, just a couple days after SkyBus started the new route (though one leg of the trip cost $35 instead of $10). That first trip went off without a hitch. Our cousin Mike, who lives in Hartford, also booked tickets for the wedding.

Then the news got even better. A few months ago SkyBus announced it would add flights from airports near Philadelphia (Wilmington, DE), where several more cousins and friends would come from, and Chicago (Gary, IN), where my aunt and uncle live. Within a few hours, most of my family had bought $10 tickets.

Fast forward to April 3. Despite a little weather delay, Kelly flew in and met up with our cousins Lori and Rob, who came in from Wilmington, DE, where they, conveniently, work. Friday, three more friends were to come in from Delaware, but weather cancelled their flight. Nothing you can do about that. They wound up having to go back to Philadelphia and fly to Raleigh. A mechanical problem delayed the flight from Gary that brought my aunt and uncle, but they said otherwise the flight was fine. More cousins flew in from Wilmington and Chicopee that night. There were again weather delays for them, but they made it. We'd been kidding for weeks that if everything worked out, we'd send SkyBus a letter to tell them about their role in our wedding. My sister even bought me a SkyBus t-shirt on the plane (one of the ways the airline tried to make money) as a wedding gift. She said she planned to buy my soon-to-be wife one, too, but the one for me was the last one. We didn't think she meant the last one of all.

I got the call early Saturday morning from my Aunt Lynn, who's three sons, daughter-in-law, grandson and one son's girlfriend were all supposed to fly back to Delaware Sunday afternoon. "SkyBus filed for bankruptcy last night," she said. "They've cancelled all their flights."

In all, 16 relatives and friends now had no flight home as rising fuel prices killed three airlines in one day (ATA and Aloha also closed their doors April 4). Those $10 flights soon became a scramble to find one-way car rentals to get everyone home. The three friends who had their flight down cancelled wound up hitching a ride to Washington, DC, with one of my groomsmen and then somehow got back to Philadelphia and points beyond.

It was a big dose of wedding day stress we all could have lived without. Fortunately, it was the worst thing that happened that day, and my family and friends all pretty much just shrugged it off. My sister even took picture of the drive home in one of the vans full of cousins. It's already one of those stories we're looking back at laughing about. After returning from our honeymoon yesterday (air travel on Delta) I had to cancel hotel and rental car reservations for a $10 trip my wife Tiffany and I planned to take to Los Angeles in July. Fortunately I'd bought the travel insurance on that. I also had to call my credit card company to try and get a refund for another trip to Philadelphia in August.

So is the game of chance you take on low-cost airlines. The irony is that for months I've followed every news story I could find about SkyBus to make sure the airline would still be in business when the wedding rolled around. We thought we'd be the official family of SkyBus thanks to the wedding travel. I guess in a way we are. But for all the wrong reasons.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo

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