Tag Archives: mexico city

Exit Row War

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul takes on Continental Airline over a matter of fairness.

An issue of fairness raised itself on our recent trip to Mexico.  It had nothing to do with gay marriage—Mexico City allows it, most of the US does not.  And it didn’t come courtesy of Mexican Customs’ seemingly inefficient requirement that everyone entering the country push a stop-light button before proceeding: Green means go, Red means a thorough luggage search.  It’s laughable the number of times I’ve been held up with a small wheelie bag while others fly by with carts suspiciously piled high with luggage, TVs, microwaves, and other assorted taxable imports.

This new situation came courtesy of Continental Airline’s “Guaranteed Extra Legroom Policy” a.k.a. airlines’ efforts to squeeze more pennies out of travelers.  On the way down, I happily paid the $85 offer to upgrade to business class—I considered that an amazing bargain, especially since the extra bag I was going to check would be free instead of the $50 for a coach passenger.  Hoping to score the same deal on the return, I logged on 24 hours in advance to check-in but was presented with a different offer—$75 to get “Guaranteed Extra Legroom” a.ka. sit in the Exit Row.  In comparison to a comfy seat and warm cookies in the front of the plane, that seemed like less of a deal.

But I get it.  Many airlines are charging these fees.  Since I don’t hold elite status on Continental—always flying a few thousand yearly miles under the radar point screen—I figured paying for the Exit Row would give me a little more comfort on the 4 ½ hour journey.  Especially on one of my least favorite aircrafts: a cramped 737.

Turns out, I was the only sucker who took Continental up on its “offer.”  When the boarding doors closed, only one seat out of 12 in the two exit rows was taken—by me.  Lucky me—I paid for the privilege and now had even more room.

But as soon as the cabin doors were “cross checked,” a steady stream of passengers filled every seat.  Now wait a minute.  Why should I have to pay when everyone else gets the privilege for being bold and aggressive?  If Continental is going to sell those seats, then shouldn’t it be incumbent on them to monitor their usage as well?  They don’t just let folks take any open First Class seat because it would undervalue them.  To me, the same holds true for the Exit Row fees.  I seethed all the way to Newark unable to enjoy the in-flight “entertainment” Valentine’s Day.  Well, I’m not sure I can blame that on the airline.

On the ground, I did some research and discovered that other airlines have figured out this issue.  JetBlue told me

“Customers can move into unsold Even More Legroom seats onboard the aircraft, and our inflight crewmembers collect payment using our “cashless cabin” device.”

Don’t you love all the specially created marketing jargon that allows everyone to talk around an issue?  But JetBlue’s policy seemed right on target to me.  And I wanted my money back from Continental.

As I hit send on the online customer “feedback” form, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hear back anytime soon.  So I made some outreach to the media relations team at Continental playing up my credentials as a “respected” blogger and freelance travel journalist just to see what their policy was on this issue.  Frankly, I wanted to know if they had even thought through this problem.  It took a few days of back and forth with the PR team, but I did get a response,

“Customers have embraced our new premium seat program and clearly value the ability to reserve premium seats up to 24 hours prior to departure. Based on your comments, though, we may need to reevaluate certain aspects of the program to ensure we are meeting our customers’ expectations and providing optimal service.”

A day or so later, I got a call from someone on the Customer Service team.

“They told me to call you and tell you that we are refunding your $75 but that this is not our policy and a one time only event.”

I particularly loved the genuine customer service attitude of “they told me to call.” But alas, Continental did respond.  Although it sounds like if you didn’t flash around some blogger credentials, you’d be out of luck.

And I’ve now figured out that I’ve expended way more time and energy and valuable blog space on this issue than the original investment of $75.  So here’s my tip: unless Continental changes the policy soon, book yourself a seat in the row immediately in front or behind the exit row.  And as soon as you hear the cabin door close, make a run for the border.

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40, Love: I Can Hear the Bells

Today on Alphabet City: After a recent trip to Mexico City, Jon Paul’s ears are ringing—with wedding bells!

Swingers in Mexico

My trip down the wedding aisle has been a long time coming.  But after a recent trip to Mexico City, and a groundbreaking decision by a Massachusetts federal judge, I suddenly hear the bells drawing nigh.

Nearly nine years ago, I spontaneously popped the question to Chef on the balcony of our Mykonos hotel room balcony as the sun set over the white washed island landscape.  I knew that I needed to spend the rest of my life with a man who could survive my insistence that we move hotels in the middle of the night because my Condé Nasty snobbery couldn’t handle a gay ghetto dump.  We still reminisce about some of the best times of our lives lounging poolside at the comfortably hip Belvedere Hotel (not associated with the Fire Island “legend.”)

But our sitcom life took some funny detours and hit a few mandatory speed bumps that delayed any nuptials.  Before we knew it, ten years had passed as a couple, and I was left wondering why exactly we should go to the trouble (and expense) of getting “officially” married.  To our friends, we are firmly ensconced as a couple—after all, they refer to us as “The JPs.”

“If I do it, I want some kind of rights.  I want it to actually mean something,” I explained last month to my friend Kathryn.

She knows a thing or two about the complicated feelings around gay marriage as the head of GayWeddings.com, the leading online boutique dedicated to providing resources and information to same-sex couples who seek to affirm their life-long partnerships.

“Understandable.  But keep in mind that gay weddings can also be transformative.  And not just for the couple, but for guests at the event.  Sometimes it’s the first time straight people witness up close the love and commitment of a gay couple.  Often they end up becoming advocates for gay marriage rights,” Kathryn explained.

Indeed, the rights associated with gay marriage seem to be on a fast track for approval.  While I’m not sure Judge Tauro’s recent ruling in Boston that DOMA is unconstitutional will stand (it reminds me of my own father’s historic stance striking down Texas’ sodomy statute), it’s an important step for the United States in the right direction.  And I say U.S. for a reason—guess who’s doing it better?  Our South of the Border neighbor, that’s who.

During our recent trip to Mexico’s capital city, I asked an attorney friend what rights I might acquire should I marry Chef in his hometown.

“You can become a Mexican citizen!” he announced with a flourish.

Despite the fact that this is an incredibly progressive stance from a very Catholic country, I wondered what exactly would be gained from becoming a naturalized Chilango (slang for citizen of MX City).  Chef chimed in immediately.

“Skipping the lines at immigration, and buying property on the beach,” he offered.

“I’m not finding those so persuasive,” I replied.  Chef took a deep breath.

“Well, in case there’s a nuclear catastrophe in the States, it’ll be easier for us to come live in Mexico,” he said ominously.

“Sold!” I laughed.

How could I not marry someone with an overactive imagination fed by watching too many Hollywood apocalyptic movies?

It’s not happening any time soon, but a wedding in Mexico sounds like the makings of a very special episode—possibly a transformative one—for two lovable sitcom characters.  Stay tuned.

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Oh Susannah

Today on Alphabet City: After a rocky start, Jon Paul’s relationship with his Mexican mother-in-law improves.

Chef with his parents

Barely two minutes after my arrival at Chef’s home in Mexico City and already I had lost a bet thanks to his mother.  In the taxi on the way from the airport, Chef and I laid down our wagers.

“I’m thinking she might wait to ask until lunch,” I said.

“Nope, sooner,” Chef replied confidently.

A half hour later, on a sweet street just steps away from Chapultepec Park, my Mexican mother-in-law Susannah embraced me warmly, then eyed me seriously.

“Ay, mi hijo, how come you aren’t staying longer?  5 days isn’t enough for a proper visit!  Now come inside and eat.”

Chef laughed as I handed him 200 pesos.

We’ve come a long way, Susannah and I.  Our first meeting nearly eight years ago filled me with terror.  Chef came out to his Catholic parents when we fell in love and decided to live together.  At first, his mother refused to meet me, but over time as I got to know other members of the family, her defensive barriers wore down.  Chef’s parents make an annual visit to New York City and stay with their son.  Now that we were living together, that meant me, too.

My nerves were fried during the weeks leading up to the encounter.  And my Condé Nast Traveler boss Publisher wasn’t making it any easier.  We were on week-long cross-country trip, traveling back from Los Angeles, when she asked about my apparent agitation.  I gave her the background, and told her that by the time we arrived in New York City, my in-laws would be asleep in my apartment and the first time I would meet them would be in the morning.

“Oh that’s a big deal.  Big, big deal.  What’s your plan?” Publisher asked.

“What do you mean plan?” I replied sheepishly.

“It’s the first time you’re meeting them.  You have to have your game face on.  You don’t want to meet them in your robe and bed head!  Gotta beat them to the punch.  Get up, get ready, get the upper hand.”  She advised ominously.

There was a reason this woman was one of the most successful executives in magazines.  So far, she hadn’t steered me wrong.  Seemed like this was shaping up to be a showdown at the Alphabet City corral.

All was quiet on the East Village front when I arrived home at 1am.  Chef roused from his sleep to say his parents liked the apartment and were looking forward to meeting me.

“What kind of under handed attack is that?  Thanks for making me even more nervous,” I complained.

He rolled over and started to snore.  I laid down and stared at the ceiling, plotting my counter attack.

By 5am, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Publisher was right—get my game face on.  I showered, got dressed, made coffee, and settled into a seat at the dining room table with a clear view of the guest room door.  I couldn’t hear anything.  6am.  7am.  8am.  I was in full panic.

Chef appeared dressed and ready for work.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  You’re leaving me here with the enemy?” I whispered loudly.

“Look, there’s no way my mother is getting up before 9.  Just go to work.  You’ll meet her later,” he laughed.

He gave me a peck on the cheek.  But there was no way I was leaving now—I was prepped for battle.

I piddled around the apartment, but by 9:30am, I realized that I couldn’t be late for a morning meeting.  I rushed back downstairs to change my shirt—having nervously sweated through the previous one—and when I re-emerged, there she was.  My mother in law nemesis was barely 5 feet tall, in a house dress, with mussed up hair, sitting at the dining room table—in my spot.

“Buenos dias,” she offered, not moving from the table.  “Is there coffee?  And maybe some cereal with fruit?”

“Absolutely!  Of course!”

I sprung into action bringing to her all the breakfast fixings.  She smiled as I placed the coffee cups, bowls, cut up fruit—the works.  Wait a minute.  What was I doing?  I didn’t do this for my family or Chef for that matter, let alone an enemy combatant.  She touched my hand and smiled.

“You’re going to fit in just fine,” she said.

All together at Chef's citizenship ceremony

In that moment, I knew she had the upper hand and held all the cards.  If my own mother was the unassuming Miss Ellie/Barbara Bel Geddes of TV’s Dallas, my mother-in-law was more Angela Channing/Jane Wyman of Falcon Crest—the undeniable matriarch of her clan.  She wasn’t going to be just an occasional guest star in my sitcom life, I was auditioning to be a regular in her telenovella—and I had just gotten the part.

Over time, we’ve developed an easy rhythm.  While at first I felt like the quirky Gringo character, now I’m just like my fellow sisters-in-law married into this tight knit clan.  I bring her hotel shampoos and soaps from all my travels for her guest bathroom.  She brings me elaborate mirrors, pewter trays and a dramatic Arbol de la Vida on display in my Mexican-themed living room.

This year, we even conspired to throw a 40th birthday fiesta for Chef at the family vacation home outside Mexico City.  Unlike me, Chef prefers to ignore his birthday.  But Susannah and I weren’t having any of that.  And when the two of team up for battle, there’s nothing we can’t do.

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