Sunday, July 29, 2012

Travel: Making Connections in Mexico City

Mexico City -- After many years traveling primarily through Cancún on trips between Mérida and the U. S., I've begun to pass more often through Mexico City. Although it can be a nail-biter, I've discovered that it has advantages.

First, when I tote up the long hours spent shuttling between Mérida and the Cancún airport, going north by first heading west through Mexico can be quite a bit quicker. Another time advantage is that you can arrive at the Mérida airport sixty to ninety minutes before flight time rather than the two to three hours officially required at Cancún.

While you will spend more time on planes when going through Mexico City, without having to take the Cancún bus, you get to your destination quicker. Even when traveling to Florida -- just across the pond from Yucatán -- the flight west to Mexico City and then back east again, waving "saludos" to the Yucatán as you fly overhead, takes perhaps five hours less than a Cancún departure if you factor in the Mérida to Cancún bus ride and longer airport waiting time.

Second, prices can be competitive. Over the winter months I found cheaper tickets going through Mexico than through Cancún, when bus fares and transfers to the Cancún airport are factored in. Summer prices are up, but I am hoping that they will slide again this fall.

The downside is that sometimes itineraries through Mexico City (on AeroMexico, for instance) leave one hour between arrival time there and the scheduled take-off of my connecting flight. Mexico City airport is large and has two terminals, so making tight connections can be hectic. I guess it is possible to ask for longer connection times, but this would negate part of the time saved by going through Mexico City.

I definitely recommend that Mérida friends heading north try Mexico City as an alternative to Cancún. However there are a couple of things to keep in mind when making a connection in Terminal 2.

The first bottleneck is security. Sometimes the lines are long.

Then there is Immigration. If you live in Mexico and have an FM2 or FM3 residency visa, you have to stop in at the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM) module in the airport of final departure from Mexico to get your exit document stamped. The INM desk is usually efficient, but sometimes you have to wait. If you hit a long security line and then have to wait at INM, you can miss your connection. If you have a tourist visa, you've already got your paperwork (you turn it in to the airline at the departing gate or check in) and don't have to worry about this part.

On my last trip there was another wrinkle. When I arrived in Mexico City with an hour to connect, security was pretty quick. However when I got to the INM desk about 8:30AM, no one was there, the computer screens were dark, and there was nothing, no papers, no sign, and no indication that the post was even in use. An information monitor indicated that my flight was boarding. It's a long story, but after a frantic fifteen minutes I finally found someone to stamp my paperwork so I could board my plane.

The other critical factor is the timeliness of your first flight. If you arrive late into Mexico City, it may be difficult to make a tight connection. On this one all you can do is hope.

Considering all this, I still prefer the Mexico City route to Cancún and the bus. Here is what I recommend, if you decide travel from and to Mérida through Mexico:

First, if you prefer to avoid stress, are not fast, or travel with children or the elderly, find an itinerary that gives you plenty of time to make your connection in Mexico City. Two hours should be sufficient to run the gauntlet, hit the restroom and get to the gate before your flight starts boarding. You're still way ahead of the game, time wise.

If you do find yourself on an itinerary with a tight connection, minutes count. Request aisle seats in the front of the plane on your first segment and travel light so you can get out of the plane quickly.

Once out of the jet way in Mexico City, walk fast. You can gain a few minutes' advantage by quick-walking in the long hallways between your arrival gate and the security area. If it's crowded smile and say, "con permiso," and people will make way.

After passing security you have more walking to do. Do not yield to the temptation yet to go to the restroom or stop at Starbucks. First make a beeline for the Immigration desk (walk on the moving walkways) with your completed immigration form in your hand.

If you have done all this, you've done your part. When I once missed my connection, AeroMexico was nice about re booking me on the next available flight. And actually, although I spent two extra hours sitting in the airport, the trip was still shorter and more restful than the Cancún alternative.

For Mérida residents, traveling abroad through Mexico City instead of Cancún is not always the best choice, but given these considerations it definitely is worth checking into.


  1. It's funny you mention this .. I've been comparing notes with some friends from the States and they concluded the same thing. It was more a matter of money than of time. Next trip, I'm pricing some AeroMexico flights! Thanks for this information.

    1. Lee, for people like you headed to the East Coast, there also is an AeroMexico direct Mérida to Miami flight, at least on some days. Although it often comes up as more expensive, sometimes it's no more costly than going through Mexico City. And fast!

  2. Oh, Marc, put Disqus on here. It's not hard to do, and that commenting system is sooooo much better. Think on it.

    1. I thought about it last year and then dropped the subject. I'll check into it again.

  3. And moreover, MEX has great American Express lounges. At Terminal 1, the one for Gold card is outside of security; the one inside security doesn't allow riffraff with less than platinum. At terminal 2, the one inside security is allows access with gold or better.

    1. Thanks for the information, Jennifer. I hadn't checked into it. Next time I definitely will.

    2. Well Jennifer, I had the chance to try out the AmEx lounge yesterday on my way home to Mérida, and thank your for the tip. The T2 lounge is very comfortable, service attentive, WIFI good, and snacks and drinks complimentary. As you mentioned, it's accessible with Gold-level membership. One more good reason to consider Mexico City airport in the future.

  4. Hi Marc,
    We've booked our late October flight already, thru Cancun, as the Houston>Merida hop has become grossly overpriced, even for those booking nearly four months early. (Two seats, round trip from Buffalo saved about $800 total.) Yeah, flying directly from/to Merida is nice, but not that nice. Thanks for the hint on the city connection. I'll include it in my research next time. ~eric.

    1. Eric, the occasional trip through Cancún really isn't that bad. It's when you have to do it a lot (which I have over the past two years for family reasons) that it gets old. I still will go through Cancún when I can save a reasonable bit of money, but if it's only to save a few dollars, I don't think it's worth it. I actually don't worry about time all that much, it's arriving exhausted that I don't like. I find that I arrive feeling a lot better on the itineraries I've found through Mexico, when compared with Cancún. It's the four hour bus trip, plus waiting time and airport transfers related to that more than anything else, that wear me down.


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