By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 2/21/2008 1:47:47 PM ET 2008-02-21T18:47:47
THE TRAVEL TROUBLESHOOTER

Q: I had a major problem with a recent flight on Mexicana Airlines, and I’m not sure what to do. When I arrived at the airport in Chicago for my flight to Acapulco via Mexico City, I was told that my entire itinerary had been canceled.

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During the next few weeks, I would get three different explanations from the airline. First, that the fare was “too low” and that Mexicana canceled it after calling me to confirm. Second, that someone named “Victoria” canceled my reservation and requested a refund. And third, that I called to cancel the reservation myself.

I can assure you that none of those things happened.

I was told that I had to buy a new ticket at a whole different price in order to travel that day. Since I already had hotel arrangements and people waiting for me in Mexico City and Acapulco, I felt I had no choice but to pay $500 for a new ticket. Mexicana has since reimbursed me $331 for my original ticket, but I feel it should honor my original fare. What do you think?
Vicky Fligel, Chicago

A: Mexicana might start by telling you the real reason your first ticket was canceled — not offer theories. I mean, anyone can speculate about the reasons your tickets were no good. Maybe the carrier’s reservations system acted up. Maybe space aliens abducted your ticket agent.

My point is if you have a confirmed reservation on a flight, you should expect the ticket to be honored. And if, for some reason, it isn’t, then you would expect Mexicana to do whatever it should to make things right.

Well, that’s what you would expect.

But Mexicana’s Transportation Agreement — the legal agreement between you and the airline — says otherwise. The airline, “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, or the fare not used,” it says. (You can find the full document on Mexicana’s Web site.)

In other words, according to Mexicana’s contract, it doesn’t even have to tell you why your ticket was canceled. It just owes you a refund.

That kind of contract language irritates me. What good is a ticket if an airline can cancel it for any reason, including, presumably, that the fare you paid was “too low”? Most passengers assume that a ticket represents an agreement to fly them from point “A” to point “B” and that they’re the only ones that can make a significant change, like a cancellation.

How could you have prevented this from happening? Calling the airline to confirm your flight the day before leaving is always a good idea. You might have been able to sort things out if you had known about this problem sooner. But once you’re at the airport, the ticket agents have limited options, and will probably offer an expensive walk-up fare like the one you ended up buying.

You could have also used a travel agent to make your reservation. Yes, an agent would have charged a booking fee, but in the event of a cancellation, you would have had someone to call for help.

I contacted Mexicana on your behalf, and it issued a $200 voucher. That more than makes up for the cost of the new ticket, assuming you want to take another Mexicana flight.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler
magazine and the host of “What You Get For The Money: Vacations” on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at
celliott@ngs.org.

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