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The Independent UK

Mexican ways: the perils of disconnected tickets

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A change of planes always injects an element of risk and uncertainty into a journey, and Mary M’s son has set himself an ambitious target.

“He is travelling to Cancun and then has an internal flight to Veracruz, but on separate tickets,” she explains.

“There is only two hours between the flights. How can I help him to make sure he makes his second flight? Any help would be much appreciated.”

I am on his side: given that flights from Cancun on the Caribbean coast of Mexico to the fine Gulf city of Veracruz are infrequent, it is certainly a chance I would take – rather than pay for a hotel overnight to wait for the next day’s departure.

Ideally, of course, he would have a ticket containing both sectors. When two (or more) flights are linked, it obliges the airlines involved to take care of any missed connections, finding space on the first available departure and providing a hotel while waiting.

But we are where we are.

As it is an international to domestic connection, he cannot simply opt to stay “airside” and connect from one flight to the next. He will need to clear Mexican formalities with all his baggage and then check in again.

The main concern I would have in his position: a delay in departing from the UK and long queues to go through Mexican immigration.

There is little that anyone can do about the first. Unfortunately because there is almost no onward connecting traffic between the UK and Cancun, timekeeping is regarded as less essential than for bigger hubs. If an airline with flights from London Heathrow to Cancun, Chicago and New York is forced to delay one of them because of crewing or technical issues, a holiday flight to the Mexican resort will probably be the loser: fewer important business meetings will be in peril.

To minimise the risk of getting stuck with a long wait to get through passport control on arrival in Cancun, he needs a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible – either by explaining the situation to check-in or departure gate staff, or hanging back at the departure gate until everyone else has boarded and then picking a suitable empty seat further forward than his assigned place (but of course in the class in which he is booked). That maximises the chance of being near the front of the passport queue. He could also tell the crew on board the flight about his predicament – they might move him up to a business-class seat for the landing and a fast getaway.

Next, if possible he should travel only with cabin baggage. I don’t imagine luggage delays will constitute a significant factor, but it could make the difference. On British Airways, the hand luggage limit is two bags with a total weight of 46kg, but on Virgin Atlantic it is much less.

Once through immigration and customs, his next challenge is finding the right check-in location in Cancun airport. The domestic area is fairly compact so hopefully he will find it and be able to check in for the 619-mile hop to Veracruz easily.

I have some previous experience of a high-pressure connection of sorts at Cancun, when I was a passenger on a Mexico City-Cancun-Havana flight. Due to a mix-up over issuing a Cuban tourist card in the Mexican capital, I found myself in the challenging position of having to leave a plane from at the midway point in order to pick up a Cuban tourist card at the airport (landside) and reboard the aircraft. I found all the ground staff and officials friendly and helpful, and it proved comfortably achievable within the 30 minutes on the ground.

I realise that was domestic to international, which tends to be a little easier than the reverse, but I am still optimistic for the lad’s progress. Another favourable experience: on the last pre-pandemic trip I took to the US, flying from London Heathrow to Long Beach via Salt Lake City, the connecting time was just an hour, which was shortened to just 45 minutes due to a delayed flight – but it was a breeze getting through US Customs & Border Protection and I reached the domestic gate with time to spare.

In the regrettable situation that he doesn’t make the second flight: if the reason is a delay in arrival at Cancun of three hours or more, and it is the transatlantic airline’s fault, he will be due £275 for a delay of three to four hours or £550 for a longer hold-up – which should cover the costs arising from a missed connection, and possibly leave enough for a tequila or two.