North Hills trip to New York back on

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
There’s a happy ending to the story of students from North Hills Christian School and their senior trip to New York City.
The good news is: The trip is on.
JetBlue Airways, a carrier that flies from Charlotte to New York’s JFK International, is providing North Hills’ six seniors and their two chaperones round-trip tickets.
This comes after Skybus, the low-cost carrier initially booked for the trip, went out of business last week, leaving students no way to get to New York and no apparent refunds.
Representatives of JetBlue contacted the school Friday to tell them they were giving them free tickets.
“The kids are absolutely elated,” said Matt Mitchell, head of the school. “It really was a surprise.”
The trip involves the private school’s entire senior class. Members had been saving for the event for years. Mitchell said when they learned Skybus had gone belly-up with no means of refunding money, students were disappointed but not livid.
He said they began making plans instead for a bus trip to Atlanta.
Enter Tim Hilton, a JetBlue pilot who lives in Mooresville. He learned of the plight of the North Hills seniors through the area media.
“I saw it and I thought, ‘I think I can fix things for these kids,’ ” Hilton said.
He contacted JetBlue’s corporate offices on Thursday and by Friday morning, approval had been granted to fly the North Hills party of eight to and from New York City. The tickets would have cost about $300 apiece.
“I’m proud of my company for stepping to the plate,” Hilton said.
Jenny Dervin, a spokeswoman for JetBlue, said the airline encourages its employees to take actions like Hilton did. She noted that the company has 12,000 employees (JetBlue refers to them as “crew members”), about 300 in the Charlotte area.
“Our crew members don’t just live there, they’re neighbors with real concerns,” Dervin said.
She said JetBlue has worked to assist school groups in similar situations on a handful of previous occasions. “We help out where we can,” Dervin said.
For individuals stranded by the unexpected bankruptcy of Skybus, JetBlue is offering $50 standby fares through Sunday. That means anyone who booked with Skybus can fly to the same destination on JetBlue for $50 providing there are seats available.
JetBlue flies primarily the East Coast and Caribbean. From Charlotte, the airline flies nonstop to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., New York City and Boston.
Dervin said that while the airline is pleased to assist North Hills’ students, she’s happier still that group members will get to enjoy New York City.
“We’re not the story,” she said. “The story is the kids.”
Meanwhile, the head of North Hills joked that the students feel they’ve been upgraded going from Skybus to JetBlue. “It’s a better airline,” Mitchell said. “They have nicer seats and they have TVs at each seat.”
JetBlue’s offer to help the North Hills group isn’t the end to the story of those coming to assist the students.
Mitchell said Charles Bailey called the school after reading earlier this week that the students were apparently going to miss out on their trip. Bailey offered $2,500 to pay for the students to book tickets on another airline.
Mitchell said the students were at first “speechless,” but then decided it wasn’t right for them to take the money from an individual.
“They said they hadn’t spent that much on the tickets,” Mitchell said. “They said they’d have a good time no matter where they went. I thought that was so incredibly mature of them.”
He said Bailey eventually sent the school a $500 donation to be used by seniors to help cover expenses on their trip. The group leaves May 8 and returns May 15.
Contacted Friday, Bailey, a Salisbury resident, took a sort of “aw, shucks” attitude toward his gesture, initially not sure if he even wanted his name mentioned in a story about the matter.
“I was just trying to help them out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mitchell said group members may have a little better time as a result of the difficulties they’ve overcome this week.
“They were on a tight budget,” Mitchell said. “Free tickets and an extra $500 gives them a little more cushion.”
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or