When an armed attacker in a truck mowed down scores of holiday revelers on the Promenade in Nice, France, in July, the world watched the horror unfold on their TV screens.
The Mecollari family of Morton Grove watched it just feet in front of them.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” Megi Mecollari told NBC 5 Responds. “When the attack happened, it literally missed my brother, myself and his wife by about 15 feet.”
Within in seconds, the family’s dream vacation destination turned grisly and horrific.
“I heard the gunshots right away, instantly. It didn’t feel like the fireworks. And then I just screamed, ‘Oh my gosh, my children,’” mom Mirela said.
The family’s hotel, which fronted the crime scene, soon became deserted. With other guests gone and no food or water available, the family says they had no choice but to leave. Then, they say, a surprising obstacle got in their way: their trusted travel website where they booked the trip, Orbitz.
Mom Mirela and daughter Megi say they were not able to deal directly with airlines to make the changes. Instead, Orbitz had to do that for them. But they say they couldn’t get any help from Orbitz—via phone, email or social media.
“I called at least six times. Each time I either got hung up on or disconnected,” Mirela Mecollari said. “We felt so neglected.”
When the situation facing them seemed like it couldn’t get any worse—it did. Unable to change any of their flight plans themselves due to rules and restrictions with booking through a third-party provider, Mirela’s son had no choice but to follow the his planned itinerary. He managed to get to the airport in Nice, and boarded a plane to Istanbul, Turkey. He landed in Istanbul at the same time a military coup attempt unfolded. The airport was closed, with him and his fiancé hiding inside it. The family, still stranded in Nice, lost all contact with him.
"You've gone through something so traumatic you don't think it can be topped and somehow it manages to happen," Megi Mecollari said.
The family says no one at Orbitz returned their calls or provided any assistance while they were in Nice, even as they were prepared to pay all the fees attaches to any flight change. In the days after they arrived home, the Mecollari’s say they tried to get through to Orbitz management, to let them know how harrowing the situation was, made worse by the travel booker’s refusal to help them.
“Not only did they not handle it properly, they made us relive the story over and over again,” Megi Mecollari said.
When their conversations with Orbitz went nowhere, the family reached out to NBC 5 Responds.
“After hours and hours on the phone….they kept mentioning to me, ‘Well, you were there and you stayed,” Mirela said. “’If you stayed, that means you consumed the vacation.’ It’s a little bit beyond insulting to call what happened to us a vacation.”
When NBC 5 Responds reached out to Orbitz, a spokesperson for the company responded with an apology and a refund.
“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience the customer faced while on the trip,” Marita Hudson Thomas, a spokesperson for Orbitz, said in a statement. “Orbitz will be fully refunding the customer's entire hotel portion amount of $2,177.23. As for the airline tickets, we are bound by the rules of our airline partners and they will not provide a refund for the tickets because they were used. However, what we’d like to do because we are so sorry for the inconvenience is provide two airline vouchers for Ms. Mecollari to use for a future trip.”
The company offered Mecollari her choice of two roundtrip flight vouchers to travel within the continental United States/Canada, or two roundtrip flight vouchers for travel to Mexico/the Caribbean.
“We would like her to have her choice so that she can go exactly where she wants,” the statement read. “Again, we apologize for the inconvenience.”
Back home in Morton Grove, the Mecollari’s say the ordeal changed their notions about peace, and changed their minds about their formerly favorite travel website.
"It's so sad they had to work this way. I mean, where were you people when I was crying?” Mirela Mecollari said.