When slot changes and maintenance throw a kink in Christmas travel

Source: Volaris

Source: Volaris

Volaris flight 813 was scheduled to depart Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International airport bound for Tijuana International at 08:55 on 22 December, the last Sunday before Christmas.

All that changed about nine hours before departure.

Passengers were notified of an “itinerary modification” via email, text message and phone, according to the Mexican low-cost carrier (LCC).

This reporter and his companion, ultimately bound for San Diego, received an email notifying them of a new departure time of about 21:15 – more than 12 hours behind the original schedule – with a recommendation to call Volaris’ call centre for further details.

A subsequent call to the centre, well after midnight now, entered a holding queue.

As a passenger booked on flight 813, this reporter saw an opportunity – to explore what happens when an airline makes a significant schedule change less than a day before departure.

Much has been written about the trials and travails passengers face when flying on LCCs. In exchange for a cheap ticket, they pay fees for almost every possible extra service beyond a confirmed seat and have few rights when something goes wrong.

In a well-documented example, Irish LCC Ryanair denied passengers full compensation when their flights were cancelled as a result of the ash cloud that shut down much of Europe’s air space in April 2010. An EU court later ruled that the LCC had to compensate passengers for all costs incurred.

For this reporter, accepting the modified schedule from Volaris would mean missing the carrier’s last shuttle of the day to downtown San Diego from the Tijuana airport for an unrefunded cost of $23 per person, a taxi to the San Ysidro Port of Entry from the airport at between Ps150 and Ps180 (about $11.50 to $13.75) plus tip according to TripAdvisor message forums and an about $70 taxi ride to our destination in the San Diego suburbs according to the website World Taximeter.

That totals more than $130 in additional transportation costs, not including food during the extra 12 hours in Mexico City and missed time with our newborn niece.

José Luis Suárez, director of customer service at the carrier, says that a reduction in the maximum number of slots at the Mexico City airport and aircraft maintenance impacted flight 813.

Mexico’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) implemented a cap of 58 aircraft movements per hour to reduce congestion at Mexico City airport on 30 October. These caps will be in place through 5 April 2014, according to local reports.

All airlines serving the airport, Volaris included, had to adjust their operations accordingly to meet the new guidelines, says Suárez.

Volaris operated 8% of the flight operations from Mexico City airport in December, Innovata FlightMaps Analytics shows. This is behind Aeromexico with more than 47%, Interjet at nearly 20% and Aeromar with about 8%, or 48 more flight operations than Volaris.

Maintenance – likely unexpected – to one of Volaris’ Airbus A319 aircraft, registration XA-VOR, also contributed to the schedule change, says Suárez.

Still on hold, a quick review of Volaris’ passenger air transportation services agreement provided little hope for a more convenient schedule. The airline is only responsible for providing passengers with “air transportation services from a point of origin to a point of destination, subject to the terms, conditions and policies published in the website”.

The website provided little additional information applicable to the situation.

Finally the author reached Horatio Romero, a call centre agent who deals with special situations at Volaris, near 01:00. Allaying concerns that the new schedule was fixed, he was able to accommodate two passengers on Volaris’ one daily flight from Mexico City to San Diego International airport, bypassing Tijuana altogether.

Suárez affirms that the carrier’s policy is to re-accommodate passengers to the best of its abilities. He says that all of the passengers on flight 813 were notified and their travel moved to the nearest possible flight.

Volaris has a 99.95% flight completion factor year-to-date for 2013, he adds.

With a new schedule, and an unexpected – but welcome – opportunity to sleep in, this reporter’s remaining journey to California was completed uneventfully and with a higher regard for one of Mexico’s budding LCCs.

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