I am sorry to learn about your situation.
While each situation (whether it involves boarding an airline, or an automobile accident) is dependent on the specific facts and circumstances of the actual incident (so I cannot tell you whether or not the airline was out of order in denying you (individually or as a group) access to the plane), I can provide you with some information to help you evaluate your situation, and perhaps a way to pursue a resolution with the airline.
The FAA does have a very firm rule prohibiting the boarding of intoxicated passengers: http://fsims.faa.gov/WDocs/8900.1/V03%20Tech%20Admin/Chapter%2033/03_033_006.htm (Unfortunately, the rule does not give a good definition of the term "intoxicated").
The airline personnel have a wide latitude of discretion in enforcing this rule, and as long as they have a reasonable basis to make this determination (passengers exhibiting any of the following: slurred speech, problems with balance, belligerent behavior, etc., and more importantly an inability to follow instructions/commands), they can deny boarding.
Similarly, passengers who are non-compliant with aircrew and groundcrew can be denied entry. So if members of your group were not intoxicated, but where acting in such a way that made it difficult for groundcrew or aircrew to issue instructions or commands to safely operate the aircraft, they can deny boarding.
If none of the above appear to apply to your situation, you can attempt to work with the airline to get some sort of resolution/compensation for the decision made by their groundcrew.
- *First: start with the company's customer service and dispute the claim. Keep your complaint in writing. If you speak to someone by phone, follow up promptly with a "confirmation letter" (see my note below).
- *Second: (you can do this at the same time), if you paid by credit card (not debit card) you can open a dispute with your credit card carrier (follow the instructions with your credit card company). (Some banks do allow for charge disputes on your debit card - but not all, the laws are not the same and debit card purchases do not have the same protections, if you paid by debit card, contact your bank and see if they do have dispute resolution remedies).
- *Third: open a dispute with the BBB. The BBB offers consumer dispute resolution that is fast, free to consumers, and is usually effective, they have no enforcement authority, but all BBB disputes result in a public report regarding resolution so businesses do respond to them. You can open a BBB dispute here: bbb.org/consumer-complaints/file-a-complaint/get-started
- *Fourth: if you believe that the company is acting fraudulently (not just charging high rates), you can report them to the state Attorney General. The AG's office does not prosecute individual claims (so they will not get your money back for you), but they will investigate and potentially take administrative and/or criminal action against the company.
- *Finally: you can file a small claims action against them for breach of contract. Small claims actions take approximately 3-8 months to go to trial. There is no guarantee of success in these disputes, but filing a small claims action does open an opportunity to negotiate a resolution (in addition to the above opportunities and can lead to mediation - many courts offer mediation programs for their small claims docket).
Confirmation letters: Keep written records of all communications - so if you speak to someone by phone, promptly send a follow up "confirmation letter" summarizing your conversation, who you spoke to, when, and any agreements you reached. Keep copies of your outgoing correspondence, as well as anything that you receive.
I wish you the best of luck with this dispute, and hopefully a speedy resolution.