In case anyone is thinking of flying Mexico to LAX during the coronavirus crisis, this is how it panned out for us on 10 April 2020.
After much deliberation, Lisa and I decided to cut short our Mexico/Central America adventure and return back to Australia. Probably the most difficult part of the decision was knowing we would be putting ourselves in vulnerable places to catch COVID-19 (airports, planes).
In conjunction with Qantas and Virgin, the Australian government had organised repatriation flights, operating between Los Angeles and Brisbane.
In order to catch this flight we had to leave the (relative) safety of our Airbnb in Playa del Carmen, and fly from Cancun to Mexico City and then on to Los Angeles.
As we were about to board our flight in Cancun on 10 April 2020, we received a confusing text message from Qantas saying our LAX-BNE flight had been cancelled and we had been “rebooked on a flight 10 April 2020”. A check of our online booking indicated we had actually been rebooked on a flight 17 April 2020 (i.e. a week later).
This set in train a frantic series of communications trying to work out what was happening. Virginia, our amazing travel agent in Australia, got on the trail despite it being 10.30pm on Good Friday. Qantas in Australia advised her the flight was definitely cancelled, due to some unspecified ‘paperwork problems’. (Probably staff issues). Despite this, online searches of flight schedules out of LAX continued to show our flight as ‘scheduled’ for another 5 hours.
Twitter messages to Qantas and Qantas USA were sent and continue to remain unanswered…
I messaged Remo Moretta, the Australian Ambassador to Mexico, to see if he had any further information, seeing as our flight had been organised by the Australian government. Remo responded promptly but was not aware the flight had been cancelled.
As it was obviously too late to abandon our Cancun – Mexico City flight, I sought further advise from Remo as to whether we should continue to proceed to LA or if we should stop our trip in Mexico City and wait there. Our main concern was not being allowed access to the USA if we needed to wait 7 days in LA for our rescheduled flight. We definitely didn’t want to be sleeping on the floor in the intransit lounge at LAX for a week. Remo advised there were no entry restrictions for Australians travelling to the USA and recommended we continue to head to LA. This advise (thankfully) turned out to be correct.
Cancun to Mexico City
Cancun Airport was a virtual ghost town. There were only 3 flights scheduled for the entire morning. Plenty of signage about safe distancing and personal hygiene. A few convenience stores were open. Take away service only from the couple of restaurants that were open.
Thermal imaging was in place checking our body temperatures as we passed through baggage scanning. We needed to complete and submit a contact form detailing our seat numbers plus contact details, presumably in case other passengers tested positive later on and we needed to be contacted.
Our Interjet flight was about two-thirds full. About 80% of the passengers were wearing face masks. Crew did not wear masks. There was no food and beverage service.
We took off early and arrived into Mexico City about 30 minutes early. Our baggage was waiting for us at the carousel.
Mexico City – Los Angeles
We had a 6 hour layover in Mexico City. Fortunately we were able to check our bags in immediately. The airport was extremely quiet. No queues at the American Airlines check in counter.
Similar to Cancun, there was a lot of coronavirus signage and there were good hygiene processes throughout the airport. Some restaurants were operating with sit down dining. Some of these had roped off tables to ensure maximum space between patrons. Staff generally observed good personal hygeine processes.
We were individually temperature scanned on entering the baggage scanning area. We also had to provide contact tracing information, including seat number, via an iphone app which we accessed via a QR code.
The flight itself was about 10% full. Patrons were well spread out around the plane. Cabin crew wore masks as did most passengers. There was no meal service on the 4.5 hour flight but they did take the snack and beverage cart out for a run.
The flight arrived into LAX about 50 minutes early (!)
LAX was another virtual ghost town. There were no other passengers in immigration screening when we arrived. We weren’t temperature screened on arrival. We didn’t fill in any contact cards for US officials. The immigration officer asked if the purpose of our visit was tourism (!) then waved us through.
Bags were waiting on the carousel. Entire arrivals hall empty with few services open. Courtesy bus pick up zone was completely deserted.
We booked at the Marriott Residences hotel near LAX. Check in staff were wearing masks and furniture had been placed in front of the check-in desk to ensure physical distancing. Hotel services (gym, pool, restaurant, bar) all closed. Take away service for breakfast. Towels changed every 3 days. Housekeeping deliveries to room via robot (!)
So what happened to QF16?
- No response from Qantas or Qantas USA
- Australian Embassy USA just responded to my message – ‘we’re working with Qantas and will get back to you as soon as we can with a response’.
- Twitter posts from stranded Australians in Heathrow suggest a similar repatriation flight to Australia from LHR this week was cancelled without explanation
- Next week’s flight (17 April) is still being promoted on Australian Embassy Facebook page and our booking is still showing on our Qantas accounts
- The Guardian is reporting Qantas staff are ‘incredibly fearful’ about manning these repatriation flights and that their staff are considering class action against Qantas.