Dancing to the top

The Oak Lawn Community High School dance team competed in the first-ever Illinois High School Association state finals for competitive dance last weekend in Bloomington. The 10 dancers competed against 30 other teams, but did not qualify as one of the top 10 teams. Seen here are dancers Anna Oswald (front, from left), Andrea Pacetti, Samantha Cholke, Amanda Leone; and coach Ryan Brandt (back, from left), Chelsy Zamora, Hannah Papaleo, Guadalupe Navarrete, choreographer Jeff Orluck, Rebecca Mackowiak, Patrycja Kucharska, Olivia Dankowski and coach Jessica Shekleton.

History of the World

By Mark Andrews

Dec. 13: ON THIS DATE in 1769, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, one of the eight Ivy League schools, received its charter. In 2003, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. troops.

Dec. 14: ON THIS DATE in 1799, George Washington, the first president of the United States, died at age 67. In 1962, the U.S. space probe Mariner II approached Venus, transmitting information about the planet back to Earth.

Dec. 15: ON THIS DATE in 1890, Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and 11 other tribe members were killed in Grand River, S.D., during a clash with tribal police. In 1939, the motion picture "Gone with the Wind" had its world premiere in Atlanta.

Dec. 16: ON THIS DATE in 1653, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1773, the Boston Tea Party took place as American colonists dressed as Indians boarded a British ship and dumped more than 300 chests of tea overboard to protest tea taxes.

Dec. 17: ON THIS DATE in 1777, France formally recognized the United States. In 1903, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful manned, powered airplane flight on a beach near Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Dec. 18: ON THIS DATE in 1892, Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker Suite" premiered in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1940, Adolf Hitler signed a secret directive ordering preparations for a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Called Operation Barbarossa, it was launched in June 1941.

Travel Troubleshooter

By Christopher Elliott

Q: We recently booked a oneway ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Virgin America to get us home after our trip from Tahiti. But about a month later, our travel agent informed us that our return flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles had been canceled.

I called Virgin America and was told that it would cost us $180 to change the flight to the next day, when our new flight was scheduled.

There are more than four months between now and then to resell those two seats. If those four seats were not rebooked in the next four months, I would be OK with getting charged or losing my money. Virgin's "guest services commitment" promises the airline is "constantly striving to give you the kind of Virgin America experience you came to us for in the first place." I can't believe that an airline is so steadfast in a policy that it can't work with a customer

Vacationing is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable and sometimes plans change, which I understand. What I don't understand is that when things do change, why an organization like Virgin America has to make it stressful and inconvenient on their customer's pocketbook. - Bret Bickar, Alameda, Calif

A: You're right, there's something fundamentally unfair about airline change fees. If an airline can resell the ticket, why should you have to pay for the change?

But Virgin America is doing what other airlines also do, and have been doing for a long time, and I don't have the room for the argument in this column.

Here's what struck me about your case: You used a travel agent to make your booking, and if you did, then your itinerary should have been connected. That means Virgin America should have known about your change and would have put you on the next flight at no cost to you.

(Actually, that's one of the reasons you use a travel agent; they can ensure your itineraries are connected, preventing you from being stuck in an airport with no way to get home.)

Your travel agent should have told you that your Los Angeles to San Francisco flight was taken care of When you called Virgin America, the representative you spoke with should have also seen that you were flying in from Tahiti. But somehow, these flights were not connected.

This is a common problem with do-it-yourself travel agents. They buy several legs of a flight separately, assuming that they'll be taken care of when something goes wrong. But they aren't. You're considered no-shows when the flight is delayed or canceled and are forced to pay for a new one-way ticket to reach your destination.

I asked Virgin America to look into your itinerary. It refunded your change fee and allowed you to fly one day later at no extra cost.

(Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals'" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliottorg or e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Chnstopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)

Indoor ground-breaking

Moraine Valley Community College brought the outdoors inside on Thursday, Jan. 10 to break ground on its Health Education and Wellness Center. The college held the ceremony in the gymnasium complete with hardhats, shovels and dirt for officials who "broke ground" in front of a panoramic projection of the construction site on the gym wall.

The center is expected to open in February 2014. It will encompass more than 100,000 square feet and include a four-lane lap pool, three partitioned basketball courts, fitness center area with machines and weights, several group exercise studios, an athletic training room, a jogging track, and locker rooms. The college is currently in negotiations with a healthcare partner that will occupy space in the building, where its physicians' group can offer health-related programs and services to community members.

The groundbreaking ceremony was attended Andrea Ramirez-Justin, Moraine Valley trustee (from left); Elizabeth Gorman, Cook County Board commissioner; Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett; John Coleman, Moraine Valley trustee; Vernon Crawley, president emeritus of Moraine Valley; Sylvia Jenkins, college president; Joe Murphy, chairman of the Moraine Valley board; Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney; Lisa Szynalski, Moraine Valley trustee; Elizabeth Queen of the Chicago Blackhawks Charities; and Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin.

Church Corner

A new group that will aid persons who have experienced the loss of a loved one, job, home or marriage will meet from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 3 and 17, and March 3 at Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, 9411 S. 51st Ave. The group is for anyone who has experienced loss of a loved one, a job, a home or a marriage. Pastor Yvette Eber of Immanuel United Church of Christ in Evergreen Park will co-lead the group along with Pastor Peggy McClanahan of Pilgrim Faith. The public is invited, regardless of faith. For more information contact McClanahan at 422-4200 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .