KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Our Aeromexico flight to Mexico City departed as scheduled just after midnight. I wasn’t surprised to see that the plane was only about one third full, but I was surprised to see that some of the flight attendants were wearing surgical masks, while others were not. It clearly seemed to be a personal choice for the attendants and obviously some believed the medical reports that aired on television stating that masks were of little use in preventing the spread of the swine flu. We had purchased some masks in Buenos Aires before learning this news, but I carried them in my pack in case I sat near someone who was coughing a great deal. No sense in getting a common cold if there was a way to avoid one.
Our flight was uneventful and we even managed to get some sleep as we had more space than usual in which to spread ourselves. It was early morning when we arrived in Mexico City and the sun was shining brightly over the beleaguered capital. After collecting our luggage, we took a modern light rail train from the gleaming new terminal to the original terminal off in the distance. Now we began to understand why so much time was required to change from one airline to another. We had hoped to be able to catch a Mexicana flight leaving one and a half hours after our scheduled arrival and had been told it was not enough time to make the connection.
When we arrived at the Mexicana ticketing office, there were only a couple of other travellers ahead of us so we didn’t have to wait long to speak to an agent. There was an upside to the downturn in air traffic after all. When it was our turn, I politely explained to the agent that we had just arrived on a flight from Santiago on Aeromexico and had learned that our flight three days later to Denver had been cancelled. I didn’t mention my discussion with the call center two weeks earlier. She smiled pleasantly and said kindly, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you”.
It took her almost half an hour to change our bookings to a late morning flight to Los Angeles and then to an American Airlines flight in the early evening to Denver. She apologized for the five hour wait we would face in Los Angeles but at no time did she mention any additional charges. I kept very quiet and also kept my fingers crossed. When she finally presented us with our new boarding passes, I knew we were home free. And I mean FREE!
Our gamble had paid off, we didn’t have to spent three days in a shuttered city, we didn’t have to pay the equivalent of almost $800 Canadian dollars for a flight we had already paid for, and the only down side was that we would have to take two flights instead of one and arrive in Denver in the evening instead of the afternoon. I was so happy that my hunch had paid off. I do believe that the main difference was that we were real people, speaking with another real person, face to face, under difficult circumstances. Perhaps Mexicana had revisited their earlier position and decided to treat valued customers with respect instead of indifference.
I choose to believe that leaving the decision to pay extra fees till we arrived at the airport counter made sense. To be sure, we were in a position to take the chance; we had no deadlines to meet, no job or young children to get back to and we could afford to gamble. I was confident that given the situation, there would be a seat on an airline, whether it flew through Houston, Los Angeles or Phoenix. Air travel was in a crisis with the threat of a pandemic and we were lucky, lucky, lucky.
On a final note, the Mexico City airport was spotless. When I used the washroom, I noticed the attendant disinfect the sinks after each person was finished washing up and there were people with cleaning carts all over the hallways. We had to pass through a set of health professionals who were screening people and sign a document asking about flu symptoms, just to get to the check-in desk. After a short wait, our flight departed in the late morning. As we lifted off high above the city, I felt a sense of regret that we weren’t able to visit again as planned.
I felt sorry for the 20 million citizens whose lives had been put on hold to try and contain the spread of the virus. Time would show us that perhaps the fear of a pandemic had been overblown. Still, it was the right thing to do, to carry on to Denver and then on to Canada and our children, families and friends. Mexico is a hop, skip and a jump away. We will be back another day.