A Southern California family is sounding alarms about their treatment at Mexico’s Cancun Airport.
Bob and Lisa Lewis were supposed to be on a family vacation with their daughters- and sons-in-law, and grandchildren. The trip was supposed to last more than a week, but it was over before they’d made it through the lines at customs.
"It ended up being the nightmare of a lifetime," Bob Lewis said.
According to the Lewis’, they were instructed by someone in uniform at Cancun’s airport to get into a shorter line to be processed through customs, a line designated for Mexican Nationals.
"All of a sudden the girl behind the counter (says), 'Why did you cut in line?,'" said Lisa Lewis, who says the family explained their relationship and that they’d been instructed to enter the separate line.
The conversation led to half of the Lewis’ party of eight being processed through customs immediately and the other half being forced back in line.
"My heart is breaking because they took us away from our grandchildren," Lisa Lewis said.
The Lewis’ say after waiting in line a second time, immigration officials summoned them to an office and took their passports.
"There was no complaining, no yelling or shouting or nothing like that," said Bob Lewis, who contends the family had no idea what was happening, were struggling with a language barrier and before they knew it, issued an ultimatum.
"Get on the plane or we’re going to put you in Mexican jail, all of you," Bob Lewis said they were told.
He said four members of his family got back on the plane and a few hours later were back in Los Angeles where they started, while the rest were still in Mexico unaware of what happened.
Federal immigration officials for Mexico issued a letter in response to the Lewis’ request for an answer to why they were refused entrance to the country.
According to the letter written in Spanish, the Lewis’ conduct with immigration officials was considered to be combative and aggressive, they were told they could return to Mexico at a later date.
“Like we were basically acting like ugly Americans,” Bob Lewis said.
The Lewis’ also purchased trip insurance from the company Trip Mate, but their claims for interruption after departure were denied. In an email to NBC4’s I-Team requesting answers about the claim, an executive with Trip Mate wrote:
"We certainly understand the family’s distress when their trip was interrupted. We are, however responsible for adjudicating claims according to the plan provisions … their situation was not a peril covered by the plan."
The Lewis’ say they’ve been vacationing in Mexico without any incidents for years.
"It still hurts to this day," Bob Lewis said.
"It hurts just the thought," Lisa Lewis said. Now, the Lewis family questions if they’ll ever return.
"It’s a precautionary tale to other people traveling especially to Mexico that you’re at the whim of someone else’s discretion," Bob Lewis said.
Two important things to remember when traveling abroad: First, stay in the designated custom lines for international travelers, regardless if whether someone asks you to move. That way there’s no question as to who you are or why you’re there. Lastly, read the contract provisions in any trip insurance. Many of their provisions for reimbursement may not apply to you and thus you’re paying for insurance you don’t need.
For more information to help you decide on whether to get trip insurance, check out some tips here.