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Judge rules in favor of Montana travel company in pandemic-era cancellation suit

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Posted at 3:52 PM, Jun 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-07 13:11:23-04

BILLINGS- A federal judge has ruled that Montana-based travel company Global Travel Alliance acted in accordance with its booking agreements after canceling school trips during the height of the COVID pandemic.

It's a victory for the travel company, which said it was trying its best to maximize safety during uncertain times.

“We have loyally served Montana communities for 20 years,” Global Travel Alliance President Ethan Screnock told MTN News in a recent interview.

Screnock says the pandemic was tough in general, and even though the travel industry took one of the biggest hits, the company had to do what was safe.

So, he says, the company prioritized safety by rescheduling impacted trips until it was safe to travel again.

Fast forward three years later, and that’s exactly what U.S. District Judge Susan Watters ruled Global Travel did. She wrote in her March 24 ruling that the company exceeded its contractual obligations with its voucher program to impacted families.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the travel company in 2020 see it another way, and they say they plan to continue their fight.

Related: Montana parents upset over thousands in charges over canceled student trips

In April of 2020, Bozeman parent Julie Wrobel said she paid over $4,000 to Global Travel so her then eighth grader could go on a class trip.

When the company canceled the trips, families were faced with two options for making new and rescheduled accommodations, but Wrobel says she was never given her full refund.

“Unusual circumstances call for unusual accommodations,” Wrobel said in a 2020 interview with MTN News.

Global Travel maintains they guided families through the options well in advance of those canceled trips, pointing to their cancelation policy and the contract provided.

“We are disappointed that the case got filed in the first place,” he said.

He says the company made every effort to keep school children traveling when it was safe to do so.

“So there was a voucher program, there were different rescheduled trips there were new trips to go on and tons of students did,” he said.

The Billings-based attorney for the plaintiffs, John Heenan, says parents are owed their entire refunds.

“Because it was real money that was taken by this company,” said Heenan.

Heenan says he’s already filed an appeal in Watters' ruling on behalf of the hundreds of families participating in the case, originally designated as a class-action lawsuit.

 “I guess I would just remind the company how hard it’s been for all these children and parents who are out the money still that was taken from them,” said Heenan.

The company says all their domestic trips were successfully rescheduled and completed in 2021 and impacted families were given that option or receive a refund in accordance with the company’s booking policy, something Wrobel said at the time was 70 percent of the cost.

But Screnock says these travel options have helped propel the travel industry back from the dead.

"You know, it’s been hard for those kids that went through the pandemic and didn’t get a lot of opportunities are now getting them, and it’s just been phenomenal to see,” he said.