Flying into Mexico City


Aeromexico aircraft at Guadalajara airport with Mayan Eagle motif on tail

The reality that we are finally, really bound for Mexico only dawned on us when we eventually made our way to the AeroMexico counter in Phoenix airport on Saturday evening at 9pm (back in West Coast time since Arizona does not do daylight savings) after a 3 hour wait in Salt Lake City for a connecting plane. The AeroMexico counter was straight out of Sahar airport in Mumbai. Huge towers of baggage waiting in an irregular line with no one at the counter. Our flight to Mexico City (actually 2 separate flights sharing the same flight number AE451 bound for Guadalajara and after immigrating into Mexico there, take a totally different plane to the capital) was scheduled for a 1 am departure and we had to wait another 30 minutes before the queue started moving.

Miraculously, the AeroMexico ground crew honoured our claim that our flight was being paid for through Delta miles and gave us our boarding passes. We had to take a circuitous path to our gate via a totally different security gate which confused us totally but we eventually made our way to the security gate. Yet another indication that we were crossing a cultural boundary occurred when the security guard shooed us away and asked us to wait in the lobby along with the other AE451 folks until called. We started hearing more Spanish and less English from this point onward.

Another hour later, we were eventually squeezed through the security gate (some anxiety about our toothpaste tube being larger than 3 oz., but it fizzled out quickly). The MD87 plane (never heard of this model before, will Australians ever fly this?) has two engines right at the tail and our row 25 seats were adjacent to the engines. The roar and shake of the plane was more like that of a rickety bus than a plane. We could barely manage an hour of sleep before we descended into a brilliantly bejewelled Guadalajara (memories of the 86 World Cup). The announcements were bilingual but we could barely make out what was being said in the thickly accented English. We mistakenly set our clocks 2 hours forward instead of just the 1 hour.

Then followed the most casual immigration procedure we´ve ever been subjected to. Having got a head start by exiting the plane from its rear end (right below the tail!), we promptly lost our lead as those passengers transiting to Mexico City were given a special boarding pass by a waiting official. But we were not prepared to be told to go upstairs to a separate immigration queue. We walked up the stairs only to find an empty desk in a dark landing. Not knowing what to do, we simply walked past the corner towards what seemed to be departure gates.

An official yelled at us from below to stop. He rapidly came up the stairs, took his position behind the dark desk and indicated that we were to go through him. We handed our passports, green cards and arrival forms to him. Without even looking at passports or green cards, he simply stamped the arrival forms and signed it and sent us on our way. We walked a few steps and then checked the form and could not make out how many days we were allowed to stay in Mexico. We walked back to him and he gruffly said Trenta dias! Thirty days! and scribbled again over what he already had written earlier. We had no choice but to accept this and move on.

Still operating an hour ahead of ourselves we parked near our gate. The shops at the airport slowly started opening for business at pre-dawn. The hip looking CD shop owner played some sitar vadan and Sanskrit bhajan CD for the entire duration of the CD. We could not make any sense of the departure announcements as they seemed to speak in future tense of estimated departure times which had already passed. We were convinced that the Aviacsa plane that was bound for Mexico City (simply called Mexico inside the country) was holding up our gate because of its delayed departure. It eventually pulled out of the gate, but to our dismay, pulled back in. Anxious not to miss our flight, we went over to an AeroMexico gate that was boarding a Mexico City flight with a different number and asked the person about ours. He assured us that as soon as this flight departs, he will personally board everyone on our flight! It felt like he was doing this as a personal favour just for us. He told us our gate was moved to a free spot down the hallway. "But don't worry, we'll depart at 7:30 am". We said "But it is already 8 o'clock!". Then we realized that we had made an error in correcting our watches on the flight to Guadalajara and went too far ahead.

Just before landing in Mexico City covered in smog with the twin volcanoes Izta (left) and the smoking Popo (right) about 60km away
The kindness of the AeroMexico staff was matched by the tone of the announcements made over the public address system. "Last call for flight XXX boarding for Cuernavaca. Please board now at Gate YY immediately. We don't want to leave without you!" How nice! Contrast with the announcements at some other airports. The memory of Schiphol, Amsterdam reassuring jetlagged and confused foreigners with this "...If you don't show up at the gate right now, we WILL offload your luggage!" leaps to mind in vicious contrast.

Also bewildering was the sheer number of airlines in Mexico. Aviacsa! Volaris! Interjet! Aero California! It was a busy morning and we were intrigued by the boarding calls by the numerous airlines to a multitude of destinations. Toluca! Cuernevaca! Mexico! Tijuana! Queretaro! Torreon! Villahermosa! Veracruz! They all sounded very inviting but we held on fast to our boarding passes to the capital.

We eventually took off in the morning light. An hour later, we descended into a colourful smog bowl splendidly framed against the twin mountains of Popocateptl and Iztaccihuatl (Popo and Izta to locals), as seen in the accompanying photo taken from the aircraft.

Just before landing in Mexico City - The Anthropology Museum in the Bosque de Chapultepec
We could even make out the Museum of Anthropology from the air with its distinctive shape (as shown in the guidebooks) and location in the forest of Bosque de Chapultepec with the Lago de Chapultepec (body of green water)  across the Paseo de la Reforma. The circular road near the top left is Calzada Mahatma Gandhi with a Monumento a Gandhi hidden among the trees...amazing how much sightseeing we did even before landing!

The Anthropology Museum is where we would spend this Sunday afternoon for a quick crash course on pre-Columbian history of Mexico that would set the stage for the entire trip that would take us from Mexico City to Cancun via Puebla, Oaxaca, Tuxtla Guitierrez, San Cristobal de los casas, Palenque and Merida.

Google Earth image of Mexico City, Teotihuacan and the volcanoes Popo and Izta

The distance from the city centre (Alameda Central) to the volcanoes Popo and Itza is approximately 60 km. Teotihuacan (NE) is approximately 40 km from the city centre.

Smiley- faced Aviacsa Airlines with Mayan head on tail