A late August layover in Houston was the one thing that stood between Nevien Nematalla and her family’s trek back home from a relaxing, much-needed trip to Cancun.
The flight happened to coincide as Hurricane Harvey, a catastrophic storm that caused 82 deaths and $200 billion worth of damage to the area, made landfall.
Even with an eye on the forecast, the family arrived in the worst part of the storm without their suitcases including Nematalla’s daily medicine.
"I really had never felt so close to death," Nematalla said.
Her medication, packed in her checked-in bag, made it back to New England without her.
"I know it’s my error to not travel with medication," Nematalla said. "But this had never happened."
She said it wouldn’t have happened had United Airlines canceled or rerouted their flight when they called two days prior.
"They always say these things are an act of god and they’re not responsible, and I understand that," Nematalla said. "But they could have prevented all of these hundreds or thousands of people from landing in Houston. Everybody knew about this storm."
A United spokesperson told NBC Connecticut the airline only flies when it’s safe to do so and wanted to give Houstonians the option to get home safely.
United also initiated a waiver the same day the Nematallas called, giving passengers the chance to reschedule their flight for free.
Nevien said the United representatives she spoke with never informed her of the waiver in place, leaving her to think they had no choice.
The family found a Houston hotel on August 25 and hoped for the best. The next day, the city was underwater and Nevien was out of medicine.
"There were no pharmacies open, no doctors open, there were no cars, buses, trains- nothing," Nematalla said. "So I had to call an ambulance."
The hospital wasn’t filling prescriptions. She called everyone she knew and eventually, a friend connected her to a local physician who got her enough medication to get by.
"It was all a complete miracle how dark it got, how scared and terrified I was, and then suddenly I was able to get the medicine from strangers who didn’t know me," Nematalla said.
The family made it out of Texas through Austin on September 1. They immediately called United again to ask—given the lapse in communication—if the carrier would reimburse hotel and food expenses.
United initially offered $100 credits for each family member as a good faith gesture since they had a waiver in place. That wasn’t good enough for the Nematallas.
"I didn’t want to go back on United and I didn’t need any vouchers," Nematalla said. "I just wanted my money back."
Two days after NBC Connecticut Responds contacted United, Nevien got a call.
"They said they appreciate that we’re mileage plus customers and that they wanted [to make things right] for good will, and just to be generous and kind," Nematalla said. "I was just so relieved that we made it out alive."
United still honored its $400 credit and the Nematallas received an additional $1,200 which they’ll use to help pay for the ambulance and hospital expenses.