Retired school teachers Wendi and Rob Meehan booked a bucket-list tour of Europe last year. Wendi said she planned every detail of the March trip back in August, down to picking seats on the flights for her husband and parents.
"We were going to do a river cruise; we were going to start in Amsterdam," Wendy said.
Boarding passes showed the Meehans, along with Wendi's father, William Winger, and mom, Donna, set to fly United from Tampa to Chicago on March 23rd. Then they were set to fly on to Amsterdam via Lufthansa.
Wendi told Scripps News Tampa that they checked into their flight the day before takeoff.
"We checked our luggage, got our boarding passes, went through security," Wendi said.
The group boarded the plane. United even bumped Wendi's parents, who are frequent United fliers, to first class. Wendi said what happened next came as a shock.
"This gentleman came on, and he said to my parents, I need your passports," she said.
Then, the Meehans said another United employee quickly approached their group and asked them to get off the plane. Her husband, Rob, described it as more of an order than a request.
United Airlines staff escorted the foursome back to the gate, but the family said the agents' only explanation was that there was a problem with their tickets.
The Meehans used Wholesale Flights to book the round-trip tickets. But it was Lufthansa, a United partner airline, that charged her card over $3,700.
So what went wrong?
Scripps News Tampa asked the airline, and in an email, United sent this response:
"The Winger family used a travel agency that was restricted from selling United tickets. Their reservation was ticketed under Lufthansa; however, the first leg of their trip was on United. The agency received several "unauthorized sell" messages to alert them of the issue on the itinerary. The United reservation was issued as a "paper ticket" – meaning, a gate agent would need to review their reservation upon boarding (which is how they were able to clear check-in, security, etc). It's understood that the gate agent allowed the Winger family to board before syncing their ticket in an effort to keep from delaying the flight. Immediately after the agent attempted to clear the ticket, they found the issues with the reservation, which is why the customers needed to be taken off the plane."
We reached out to Wholesaleflights.com but did not receive a response.
This story was originally published by Jackie Callaway at Scripps News Tampa.