In the spirit of better late than never, I’d like to comment on the ordeal suffered by passengers aboard AeroMexico Flight 670 from Mexico City to Seattle on Jan. 20.
The flight was diverted to Portland because it was too foggy to land in Seattle. After the six-hour flight, the passengers and crew had to sit on the ground for four hours and then fly back to Mexico City because there were no customs agents available to process them in Portland.
The passengers said they felt like hostages, and that police officers came on board to break up fistfights in the cabin.
“They gave us two choices: We could stay on the plane or be arrested,” passenger Karin Kuntz later told the Portland Oregonian.
All this, AeroMexico says, was beyond its control. And maybe it was.
But it wasn’t beyond the control of the United States government, which failed completely to serve its own citizens and, presumably some visitors, on that aircraft. There is no conceivable excuse for sending U.S. citizens back beyond their own borders in those circumstances.
The explanation that U.S. Customs and Border Protection gave the Portland Oregonian was utterly inadequate:
“Ed Colford, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Portland, said there was one officer on duty when the flight landed, and that person had another assignment.”
Understandably, 17 other custom officers had gone home because no more international flights were scheduled to arrive in Portland that day. But the Oregonian reports that there were only 38 passengers on that plane. How difficult would it have been to process them? How long would it have taken to call back one or two officers to help?
AeroMexico is not taking any responsibility, but is at least promising to look into how it might have handled the case better.
I hope Customs and Border Protection is doing the same. And if we’re going to have an airline passenger bill of rights — as we should — the government will have to be required to do its part.