Bankrupt airline causes nightmare for vacationers

November 3, 2010 7:21:59 PM PDT
A San Mateo couple's Thanksgiving week vacation plans hit some turbulence when Mexicana Airlines declared bankruptcy. But the problem escalated when they tried to rebook their flight with a partner airline and were charged exorbitant fees.

Karen Chao and Paul Willard looked forward to going to their friend's wedding in Mexico. The couple used Orbitz to book a flight from San Francisco to Mexico on Aeromexico and then a return flight on Mexicana Airlines.

"We're all set. We had the air fare booked and then all of a sudden, I get the e-mail from Orbitz saying 'Mexicana has suspended all of its flights and my flight is cancelled.' So that is a little shocking," Chao said.

Aeromexico had a code sharing agreement with Mexicana, so the money the couple paid was billed through Aeromexico. But the airline refused to book a new flight for the couple without charging $300 in change fees and a higher fare.

"It's just frustrating, I feel our ticket is being held hostage. We can either go and not have a return trip or we can go and pay them an extra $400 to get home after the fact, after we bought the ticket," Willard said.

Travel attorney Al Anolik says the change fee is unjustified for two reasons.

"The reason Aeromexico can't charge them, is it hasn't warned the customers about the charges," he said.

Anolik says such charges need to be outlined in the airline's contract of carriage--which it is not. secondly, he says Aeromexico must stand behind its agreement with Mexicana.

"So they have an arrangement between the two, you're partner on that went broke. You can't charge me because your partner isn't going to fly me," he said.

7 On Your Side suggested to the couple that it file a dispute on the charges with their credit card company, American Express, and we also called Orbitz asking for assistance.

Aeromexico subsequently agreed to give the couple a full refund. Orbitz extended a $200 dollar credit to the couple for their troubles. The couple has now used the credit and refund to book a new flight at roughly the same cost.

"We're really excited about going," Chao said.

Anyone booking travel arrangement should consider purchasing travel insurance and specifically ask for protection against bankruptcy and natural disasters. Some travel protection packages do not include those protections, so make sure you ask.


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