“We knew something was wrong when there was no place to check in for our flight”

Flight schedules change. It’s a simple fact of life in the air.

But timing is important. If the flight is rescheduled before your departure, you normally have an opportunity to take another flight of your airline’s choosing or to get a full refund. If it’s canceled at the time of your departure, you’re entitled to more compensation.

For example, let’s say one of Katie Hammel’s flights from Bogota to Chicago on Mexicana Airlines didn’t operate. Under Mexicana’s Transportation Agreement — the contract between her and the airline — it owed her the following:

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The Carrier has the right to cancel, without previous notice, a flight or a reservation and the only obligation of the carrier will be to the fare of the portion not used. In the case of round trip tickets, if the outgoing portion has been utilized, the passenger shall be reimbursed 50% of the value there of thus giving the passenger the benefit of the discount corresponding to the portion used.

As she reads it, Mexicana owes her half the value of the ticket. Right?

Before we get to the answer, let’s hear Hammel’s story.

I just got back from Colombia last night, nearly 20 hours after I was scheduled to arrive home. When my husband and I showed up at the airport, we knew something was wrong when there was no place to check in for our flight and a rep from a partner airline had to lead us behind the gate agent desks (over the luggage conveyor belt) to the Mexicana Airlines office. There we were told that our flight had been canceled and the next flight was not until 8:30 the following morning.

When we asked when the flight was canceled and why we were not notified (we assumed we were the only ones who didn’t get the message, given that staff looked very startled to see us) we were told to ask a supervisor the next day. We were given a hotel for the night, transport to and from the airport, and vouchers for dinner. We were also given a sheet of paper that listed all of our flights on it.

It listed our departing flights to Bogota, then the original March 9, 2:25 p.m. flight from Bogota to Mexico City. But then, underneath that, it listed a flight at 8:30 a.m. on March 9. Next to that flight, it said “no show”. Under that was listed the new flight plan for March 10.

This leads me to believe that the 2:25 p.m. flight was canceled at least the day before and we were put on the 8:30 a.m. flight for earlier in the day on March 9. But, since the airline didn’t contact us, we didn’t show up and therefore got stuck in Bogota until the 10th.

The next morning at check-in, I asked again when the flight was canceled and why we were not notified. The gate agent said she didn’t know, so I asked to speak to a supervisor (Maureen Melendez). I asked her the same question. After turning and speaking to her colleague in Spanish, they both walked away without saying a single word to us. The colleague came back alone and handed us a complaint form to fill out.

When we got to the gate, we asked again, when was yesterday’s flight canceled and why were we not notified? This time, the agent said that there was a technical problem with the plane for the 2:25 p.m. flight. When I pointed out that it appeared that the problem was known about at least 6 hours in advance and had we been informed (like it seemed all the other passengers had been) then we would have arrived in the morning for that flight, the agent just said he “didn’t know” and asked if I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I explained I already had done so and showed him my filled out complaint form, which he took from me.

Mexicana should have told Hammel and her husband about the cancellation as soon as possible, which didn’t happen here. But is she entitled to 50 percent of the ticket?

Normally, when a flight is canceled, the airline will find the next flight and take care of lodging and meals for the passenger. The refund mentioned in Mexicana’s contract, as I read it, refers to occasions in which the the airline is unable to transport customers to their final destination. In such cases, the airline would refund half the ticket.

But I wasn’t entirely sure about my interpretation, so I contacted Mexicana on her behalf.

Yesterday, I heard back from her:

I just wanted to let you know that I finally heard back from Mexican this morning. They said that staff followed procedures and it was an internal glitch that resulted in us not being informed of the flight change. They offered a $100 credit (total) for the two of us. Guess I should take what I can get.

Unfortunately, I think that’s the best Mexicana would be able to do. It appears the airline followed its own rules, although it almost certainly didn’t follow its own procedures when it failed to tell her about the delayed flight.

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