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Mexico City-Salt Lake Flight Prevented by U.S. Customs

Mexico City-Salt Lake Flight Prevented by U.S. Customs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new direct flight from Mexico City to Salt Lake City has been canceled by Aeromexico because U.S. Custom officials refuse to provide late-night staffing.

The inaugural flight was supposed to arrive at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday, but it never left Mexico.

Under a policy started in May, customs officials have refused to service new commercial and private international flights into Salt Lake City that don't arrive between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Aeromexico will continue to offer direct flights from Mexico City to Salt Lake City on Friday and Saturday nights since customs agents already service them, but the airline canceled the intended expanded service on Tuesdays

In a July 9 letter, Nat Aycox, director of field operations for the U.S. Customs office in San Francisco, said the agency's employees in Utah are overworked, understaffed and unable to staff an additional late-night flight.

"If we were to grant your request, we would be asking our officers to work until (1 or 2) in the morning during the middle of the week and still have to be back for the normal cargo operations at (8 a.m.)," he said.

Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said the new flight is important to the city's economy.

"It's a poor way of doing business and they desperately need to rethink this," he said.

Federal officials could easily bring in additional staff, said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann. "It's not just money to the airport, it's money to the community.

Keith Christensen of the Utah Air Travel Commission said the agency's decision was "a major slap in the face to the Salt Lake community and the state of Utah."

But staffing the Tuesday night flights would cost the agency up to $600,000, said John Leyden, director of the U.S. Customs office in San Francisco.

"It's a misutilization of staffing to bring them in for one flight," he said.

Mayor Rocky Anderson has asked Utah's U.S. senators for support in overturning the agency's decision.

For Aeromexico, the midnight flight works because the carrier has a jet available, said Juan Garcia, Aeromexico marketing manager for the United States.

Garcia said if customs changes its policy, the company might reconsider the Tuesday flight to Salt Lake City. But for now "we were not allowed to arrive at the time we planned, so the flight is not operating," he said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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