Last updated on February 14, 2016
Last time I wrote here, Steve and I were in the midst of a little crisis. Our dreams of San Pancho had been thwarted by Zika and we were stuck in Mexico City with an £800 price tag on our only way out.
Our original plan had been to spend two and a half months in San Pancho. While we were safe from Zika in Mexico City (the weather was too cold for Zika-carrying mosquitoes), there were reasons we didn’t want to stay: we’d planned this time as a retreat in nature rather than one of the world’s biggest cities; the cost of living is a lot higher in Mexico City than San Pancho; we didn’t want to spend money on being somewhere we didn’t really want to be; and the info was confusing around whether or not the mosquitoes might arrive once the weather warmed up. Essentially, we needed out!
Hooray for Volaris!
Luckily, one aspect of this was easy. We had booked a flight from Mexico City to Puerto Vallarta with Volaris, and as soon as we explained our situation they refunded the ticket without question. Similarly, our accommodation in San Pancho was happy to accept a small cancellation fee so we were only slightly out of pocket. The problem was getting back to England.
Boo for Aeromexico!
Our return flight to London with AeroMexico was booked for April when we’d planned to leave San Pancho. Unlike Volaris, AeroMexico were nowhere near as kind. In fact, they made the whole thing into a nightmare. Our ask was very simple: we wanted to change our flight home to return to the UK as soon as possible. We had read in the news that other airlines were allowing changes, free of charge, for couples who were either pregnant/trying to conceive, so we imagined it would be easy.
Our first call was Travel Trolley, the travel agent we booked our flight through. They said there was nothing they could do and that we should speak to the airline in person. So off we went to the Aeromexico ticket office in the city centre. The man there was sympathetic and said he imagined there wouldn’t be a problem, but that we had to go to the airport to make the change. At the airport, there were queues everywhere and after finally reaching the front of the ticket office, a man with the compassion of Voldemort, told us we had to call a number. We called that number and the woman there said we had to send an email. By this time, I was somewhat beside myself. We were in the airport, surrounded by Aeromexico employees and all they could say was “you have to send an email!”. It turns out the only way to communicate with Aeromexico’s customer services department is via email, which is somewhat telling of the way they treat their clients.
No face-to-face or phone customer services
So we sent the email and waited an excruciating three days for a reply. And the response wasn’t good. Apparently, if we were still in the UK, they would consider refunding the ticket, but because we were already in Mexico, there was nothing they could do and we’d have to pay £800 to change the tickets. This was despite the Zika warnings being issued after we’d got to Mexico. Steve sent a few emails back and forth with customer services explaining our situation and pleading for compassion, but they wouldn’t budge at all.
We resorted back to the travel agent who was initially as bad as AeroMexico. The women I talked to insisted that no airline was offering changes free of charge and I was simply mistaken – this was despite the day’s headline news being all about airlines such as United and TAM doing exactly that. Finally, via social media, I was able to speak to the manger who said the cheapest they could get it down to was £550, but that really it was the airline who had the power to help.
The final straw
Finally, as a last move of desperation, we told a journalist friend about our situation. She called the press office and asked for a comment. They said to call back in an hour. She called, and guess what? The press officer said, “We’ve changed their tickets. They’re booked on tomorrow’s flight!”.
After a week of chasing, they’d finally done it, but not without the fear of the media to make them do it.
Airlines need to be compassionate
Since then, I’ve read lots of accounts of people who are pregnant/trying to get pregnant who have booked flights to places affected by Zika and are now struggling to get refunds or make changes. For the most part, it seems that women who can prove they are pregnant are able to change their flights, but men and women who are trying to conceive don’t get help. This is a horrible situation for those people because if you (man or woman) get Zika, you have to wait six months before trying to conceive (and seeing as 80 per cent of people show no symptoms, you kind of have to wait six months just to be on the safe side).
I know this is a difficult situation for the airlines, but after going through this fiasco with Aeroméxico, I plead that they show some compassion. After all, changing a flight costs them nothing.
For us, the final kick on the teeth was this: our flight home – the one we’d pleaded to be changed to – was less than 30 per cent full. There was no excuse not to change us – them saying no was just plain mean.