Aeroméxico calls the shots, then yields to our advocacy team

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By | February 16th, 2016

Is it fair to deny boarding to passengers, cancel their return tickets, and then keep the fares they paid?

Molly Bukovec doesn’t think so. Neither do we.

Bukovec and her fiancé booked a flight from San Francisco to Buenos Aires on Aeroméxico with a layover in Mexico City. When they checked in at San Francisco International Airport, the agent checked their bags and checked them in for their flight to Mexico City with no problem.

The Argentina page of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website advises that “prior to arrival in Argentina, U.S. citizen tourist and business travelers must pay a $160 reciprocity fee.”

But somehow this information escaped Bukovec and her fiancé, because they had two very unpleasant surprises awaiting them.

When Bukovec and her fiancé arrived in Mexico City, they arrived at the gate for their connecting flight to Buenos Aires, but were denied boarding.

According to Bukovec, the gate agent in Mexico City told them that they “did not have proof of payment of a reciprocity fee required to enter Argentina.”

Bukovec and her fiancé were forced to purchase entirely new tickets to continue their flight to Argentina. To add insult to injury, Aeroméxico also canceled their return tickets because they had missed a leg of their journey. In total, they had to spend an additional $4,000 in order to continue to Argentina and return home.


Bukovec asked our advocacy team to help them get that $4,000 refunded: “We would like to know if we have grounds for a complaint because the airline failed to ensure we had sufficient documentation to get to our final destination when we checked in at SFO.”

Related story:   Can I get a refund for my stay at the No-Tell Motel?

It wasn’t fair of Aeroméxico to cancel their return flights after denying Bukovec and her fiancé boarding — and then keep their ticket fees for the original flights. That reeks of corporate greed.

Yes, Bukovec and her fiancé should have known about the reciprocity fee, paid it, and had sufficient proof of that payment in order to enter Argentina. Without it, Aeroméxico had no choice but to deny them boarding. But its agent in San Francisco should have made that clear to Bukovec and her fiancé when they checked in.

Bukovec’s case poses a powerful lesson about the need to check — and double-check — that you’re in compliance with all documentation requirements when you travel.

Takeaway? When traveling abroad, always ensure that you have all documentation necessary to enter and leave your country of destination. This information can be found on the U.S. Department of State website; if you are using a travel agent to book your trip, your agent should also provide you with this information. Otherwise, like Bukovec, you can find yourself paying out-of-pocket to the tune of thousands of dollars in additional fees, not to mention encountering delays along the way.

Luckily for Bukovec, her story has a happy ending. Our advocacy team responded to Bukovec’s request for help. And Bukovec notified us that in response to our inquiry, Aeroméxico has agreed to refund the cost of the replacement tickets Bukovec and her fiancé had to purchase.



  • sirwired

    Well, this is a new twist on the docs problem.

    I agree that the docs problem should have been caught on initial check-in. That would at least have resulted in an airfare credit (minus change fee.) Fixing the problem still would have been expensive, but not as expensive as flushing 3/4 of their flight legs down the proverbial toilet.

  • AJPeabody

    And Aeromexico would have had more money than they ended up with in the end, due to a change fee.

  • JewelEyed

    Hmmm, I think these kinds of fees have been the subject of a few cases. I wonder if it wouldn’t be wise of airlines and OTAs to add little messages when you go to purchase tickets for trips that require one of these government fees to avoid drama. Should they have to? Not really. But think of all the inconvenience it would avoid.

  • Jeff W.

    In a perfect world, I agree.

    But the rules are very complex and can change at any time, subject to whims of the political landscape. And are different depending on the nationality, legal status, age, and other factors. And probably the real reason is that it is not cost effective for them. Very expensive to put those checks into the system and maintain those rules. Because if the system fails to properly notify you, it becomes the airline’s fault. But if they put 100% of the onus on you, the traveler, then they have no legal responsibilities when you fail to follow the rules.

  • Barthel

    When and where should they have paid the reciprocity fee? When they purchased their tickets, they should have been informed. This type of treatment of customers is just one more reason never to travel outside the US.

  • johnr44

    I have personal experience with this issue. I’ve traveled back and forth to Argentina with my wife to visit her family numerous times. We knew about this requirement but on arrival at the gate in Houston, we have seen other passengers denied boarding by United. However, United was able to point them to a computer with a printer and they were able to pay the reciprocity fee online and get the proof printed out. All Aeromexico had to do was either help them do it or show them where they could use a computer and it would have been a non issue in about 10 mins.

  • JewelEyed

    Even just a message that says “Additional foreign government fees may apply to travel to Argentina. Please check http://www.state.gov/travel/ for further before purchasing” would be a good idea.

  • JewelEyed

    This might have something to do with it. Copied from the Timatic wikipedia page. “This is critical for airlines due to fines levied by immigration
    authorities every time a passenger is carried who does not have the
    correct travel documentation.”

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    While the airlines may not have the legal onus, as Jeff W. put it, they should be able to keep up with the rules of the places they fly. Many businesses have to deal with multiple jurisdictions. For example, every state has different rules for auto insurance, that change frequently, but the companies somehow manage. If the airlines employed one person to track this and update the website, they would save lots of problems for many of their customers.

  • Regina Litman

    I voted yes because this what I almost always vote in cases like this, but it was only a leans yes. They probably should have known about the fee. However, the important question here is why Argentina has this fee to begin with.

  • sirwired

    The airlines have never wanted to get in the middle on figuring out the correct docs needed for a traveler to travel. Navigating all the subtleties and complexities is hard enough; even with software it often requires human evaluation.

    If you want the airline to do all this for you, you’d see online bookings for international flights (and the cost savings that provides) disappear.

  • sirwired

    I suspect it has to do with what we require their citizens to go through prior to traveling to the US. Several countries have introduced a “reciprocity fee” for US citizens.

  • Alan Gore

    I told you so, didn’t I? For the second time in as many days, a passenger is being “upsold” by being forced to buy an entire new set of tickets because of a technical problem at the gate.

    What was the specific reason for their needing new tickets? Since this passenger did in fact get to Argentina, I’m guessing that he had to spend an extra day in Mexico City, which fortunately is a capital, paying his tax at the Argentine Embassy. The airline should have handled this with a change fee at most, but saw another opportunity for what I will henceforth call a Stick-It Ticket ™.

    There is a larger question here. The gold standard for being informed about entry paperwork seems to be Timatic, but I don’t see this as being available to consumers directly. Perhaps every international trip to a new destination should be handled through a travel agency, so Timatic can be consulted as part of the booking process.

  • Éamon deValera

    It was nice of AeroMexico to refund their tickets. However there was no obligation to do so. The onus is upon the traveler to comply with immigration regulations.

    The airlines use a database from IATA and there is a public access site as well at http://www.iatatravelcentre.com/

    The reciprocity fee is listed there, and a link to pay the fee to Argentina is also there.

    They could have used a computer at the airport in Mexico to pay the fee, but it is a bit late to mention that now.

  • Éamon deValera

    You’re spot on about Timatic, a consumer version (with ads now from some travel site) is http://www.iatatravelcentre.com/

  • Éamon deValera

    Auto insurance is different. If you have a policy from Nebraska and drive to New York your Nebraska policy bumps up to the minimum required insurance in the jurisdictions through which and to which you travel. Of course if you already have adequate insurance there is no bumping up.

  • Éamon deValera

    If the airline gets you there and you are denied entry the airline has to bring you back on their dime.

  • Éamon deValera

    You realize the reason these fees are charged is because we charge exorbitant fees for US Visas. The term reciprocity has meaning in this case.

  • Rebecca

    What if the rules change between the time the ticket is purchased and the time the flight leaves. Some people book pretty far in advance. The airlines are just creating a liability that can’t realistically be theirs.

  • JewelEyed

    Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.

  • KanExplore

    I don’t get your point. What in the world does this case have to do with never traveling outside the US? It seems to me that a fundamental thing one does when traveling to any country is to check what the entry requirements are and be sure one is in compliance. The only thing Aeromexico did wrong was letting them board in San Francisco.

  • KanExplore

    Because we charge the same amount for people from Argentina who want to visit the U.S. And put them through a lot more paperwork hassle too.

  • Alan Gore

    If there actually was a payment station this passenger could have used at the Mexico City airport, as a previous post points out is available at some US airports, then it was even more weird for AeroMexico to go through the exercise of canceling the passenger’s tickets and requiring new ones, since in this case there would have been no schedule change at all.

  • Éamon deValera

    You don’t need a special payment station., you can pay it from a mobile phone with a web browser. You may have to print out the barcode for Argentinian customs, but I bet somewhere at MEX there is a printer they could use, or in the neighborhood three dozen Internet shops.

  • Travelnut

    Yes! As I was reading this I was thinking “don’t you pay that fee when you get there?” That was in 2012, not so long ago.

  • sirwired

    This is a non-starter for several reasons:
    – The rules are constantly changing. What was true when you purchased your ticket may no longer be true when it’s time to travel.
    – The rules are complicated enough that case-by-case human intervention is often required to evaluate the suitability of documentation.
    – One person? Seriously? The documentation requirements list is unique for every citizenship/destination country. (As in, a US Citizen is going to have one list of requirements, while a Canadian Citizen will have a completely different list. Which will be unique vs. say, citizens from some tiny Pacific island.) Keeping track of it all is NOT a trivial process.
    – We already have a means for travelers to determine all these things: the websites for the embassy of the country you wish to travel to.

  • judyserienagy

    I’ve said this for years. Airlines can post a nice little banner that says “Be sure to check on the documentation required for your trip”. Airlines don’t have to give passengers information and risk being wrong, they just have to NOTIFY people to go check the documentation requirements. It’s a service to passengers and it costs the airline nothing. People are clueless, they’re spending thousands of dollars booking travel online … some don’t realize that Canada and Mexico are not part of the USA. Airlines could make major positive PR if they just bothered to post this little hint. It’s up to the traveller to verify what’s needed. This is not rocket science, it’s common sense.