Sofia Porter-Castro contacted our advocates with an awful travel story. We’d love to be able to help her out. But unfortunately for Porter-Castro, we can’t – because her situation is the result of a weather-related delay.
It’s a painful fact of travel that every airline’s conditions of carriage allows it to disclaim any and all responsibility for any expenses passengers incur as a result of weather-related flight delays and cancellations. Aeroméxico, on which Porter-Castro experienced an 11-hour delay, is no exception. For the rest of us, it’s an important reminder that airlines are not responsible for the weather.
Porter-Castro was flying from Cancún, Mexico, to Chicago with a connection in Guadalajara, Mexico. When her flight arrived in Chicago, the pilot announced that because of a pea soup fog, visibility was so poor that the flight would have to be diverted to Nashville, Tenn.
But when the flight landed in Nashville, the airport’s customs and immigration facility was closed, and the passengers were not permitted to deplane because their flight was an international one. The passengers were stuck on board their airplane, which sat on the tarmac for over three hours. No food or beverages were provided to the passengers during this delay.
At 4 am, the flight took off – but not for Chicago. Because the crew had worked the maximum legal time allowed, it left the airplane. The flight, with a new crew, returned to Guadalajara.
Once the plane arrived in Guadalajara, the passengers were forced to stand in a long rebooking line. They were told that all flights to Chicago were booked or canceled for the next several days. Aeroméxico did not provide any assistance to the passengers with meals or hotel accommodations.
Since Porter-Castro could not afford to miss work, she asked Aeroméxico’s agent to place her on a flight to any city in the Midwest, from which she would make her own way home. The following day, Aeroméxico booked her on a flight to Detroit, and she took a bus from Detroit to Chicago.
As Porter-Castro puts it,
While weather is not in the power of the airlines, the actions taken by the airlines to deal with the complication [are] entirely within their control. We, as the passengers, were held hostage by Aeroméxico, [which] was solely focused on returning their staff to Guadalajara. This whole experience resulted in an incredible amount of stress, loss of money, and loss of valuable time.
Porter-Castro wrote to Aeroméxico’s customer service to ask for reimbursement of the cost of her flight to Chicago which she never took and the bus trip from Detroit to Chicago. Unfortunately, she received the following reply:
After an extensive investigation our department regrets to inform not being able to process your application. Flight [Number] did in fact experience weather related setbacks circumstance which are beyond the airline’s control and therefore, reimbursement of any expense incurred by this event are [considered] inapplicable for reimbursement.
The customer service agent added that Aeroméxico had “provided flight protection” and Porter-Castro had agreed to it. (Porter-Castro’s paper trail doesn’t clarify what “flight protection” is or whether she agreed to it.) She might have written to executives of Aeroméxico using the contact information available on our website, but she asked our advocates for help in getting her expenses reimbursed.
Aeroméxico’s terms and conditions disclaim liability for damages caused by force majeure, including inclement weather:
Passengers recognize and accept that the Carrier shall not be liable for the payment of damages caused by a default in the rendering of the services contracted through www.aeromexico.com in the event of an Act of God or Force Majeure, which include but are not limited to: … bad meteorological conditions (fog, rain, frost, snow, etc.) or similar causes beyond control or will of the contracting parties; … or similar circumstances to the above, among others, that make compliance with the rendering of the contracted services impossible.
But its Customer Service Plan, which applies to lengthy tarmac delays, indicates that
We will provide full and timely information regarding the status of a flight if there is an extreme delay after you have boarded or after the plane has landed. If safety and security conditions allow, we will provide for your essential needs such as food, drinking water, operating lavatory facilities, and access to medical treatment.
It isn’t clear why Aeroméxico’s crew and agents failed to act in accordance with this provision of the Customer Service Plan for Porter-Castro and her fellow passengers during the three hours at Nashville. But as the customer agent who responded to her letter makes clear, while the airline provided Porter-Castro with an alternate flight at her request, Aeroméxico has no obligation to reimburse her expenses.
And Porter-Castro didn’t help her case by writing a long letter to its customer service department accusing the airline of treating her and her fellow passengers as “hostages.” She also implied that she would be filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which she probably should do.
Our advocates advised Porter-Castro to write a short, polite letter to Aeroméxico explaining her circumstances and suggested that she post in our forums about her case. But beyond that, unfortunately, we are saying ¡Adiós! to her case.