Because of my accounting error at the Crowne Plaza in Hamburg, I needed to spend about $3 in food and beverage during an IHG hotel stay by December 31 to get a 24,000 point bonus. I considered doing an IHG stay in New York while visiting family for Thanksgiving, but rates were very high. So when a $215 roundtrip fare from DC to Mexico City came along, I figured it was a good little weekend excursion – particularly since I could fly nonstop from Dulles on Aeromexico early Friday morning (1:15 am departure, 5:15am arrival) and back on Sunday evening. It’s been nine years since I went to Mexico City and I really enjoyed it then, so worth a visit. There are a number of IHG properties in the city, and I strongly considered the Intercontinental, but cheaped out and went with the Holiday Inn in Zona Rosa for the first night at a rate of about $80, and ended up getting a great rate at the Sheraton Maria Isabel for the second night on a best rate guarantee, under $80 with a 2,000 point bonus.
As referenced in my last post, the flights would also qualify for a Delta status challenge I was starting. As part of that status challenge, I had been matched to Delta Gold Medallion status for ninety days. Delta and Aeromexico have a strong reciprocal elite relationship, but it’s not easily apparent how it works. From my research, it seemed that I would be entitled to seats in Aeromexico’s “AM Plus” (their version of economy comfort) for free as a matter of course, and then a space-available upgrade to business class. On the upgrade front, people reported getting agents to upgrade them two days before the flight, at check-in, and/or at the gate. I figured I’d try all three. I ended up figuring out that Aeromexico’s online chat function is the best way to communicate, which I did multiple times because I kept forgetting things – first to add my Skymiles number, second to assign me to AM Plus, and third to add my Known Traveler Number. The agent assigned me to a window seat in AM Plus on both legs of my trip and told me to ask about the upgrade at check-in or the gate. (Of note, Aeromexico offers the opportunity to bid on upgrades- which started at $150 for my flight. As my departure date grew closer, I was offered the opportunity to flat out buy the upgrade for $135.)
When I booked my flight, I recognized that a 1am flight out of Dulles comes with pros and cons. The pros are that it was a nonstop flight from DC and would allow me to have a full Friday in Mexico City. The cons were that it was a (1) 1:15 flight (2) out of Dulles, both of which are independently bad things, but combined are worse than the sum of their parts. (The return trip, landing in Dulles at 11:45pm had some of the same pros and cons.)
The last public bus (the 5A) from downtown DC to Dulles is at 10:30pm, and was scheduled to get me to the airport at 11:17pm. I was a little concerned that it might not be early enough as I had no idea what Dulles would be like at that hour, but it was more than early enough. I took a Lyft from my house to the bus (about a 15-minute ride), and was one of a total of four passengers on the bus, which arrived at Dulles about ten minutes late.
The ticketing area at Dulles was a ghost town. Indeed, the only ticketing counter open was Aeromexico. I later discovered this was because Aeromexico has the only scheduled departure between 11:00pm (United to Sao Paulo) and 5:00am (Southwest to Denver). So you can definitively say the Aeromexico Mexico City flight is the last flight of the night.
There was a bit of a line at the Aeromexico counter, and the crowd seemed to be all Mexican and Spanish-speaking. There was no wait at the Sky Priority line (which was incidentally open to American Express Platinum cardholders, as well as holders of several Mexican credit cards), and I was quickly called to the podium. I had a mobile boarding pass, but the procedure for Delta elites to get upgraded remained mystical, so I figured I’d mention at check-in. The agent said he’d put me on the list. (Expertflyer was showing 6 empty seats in business in the 12 seat cabin at that point.) It was a quick transaction, and I was off to security. (I was expecting Delta ground staff to be handling it, but Aeromexico did have its own staff working the flight.)
My online chat with an Aeromexico agent to get my Known Traveler Number added to the reservation was a waste of time, since Precheck closes at 9pm at Dulles. Indeed, the two regular security checkpoints close at 9:45pm, so they use a smaller checkpoint for the “overnight” hours. I had to do the full security protocol and was through to the train to the B-gates, where I arrived at around 11:40pm – more than an hour before scheduled boarding time.
As you may expect, there are no lounges open at Dulles at that hour. I had thought there might be a bar open, but nope. I was surprised that there was a newsstand/shop open, though, right across from the gate, so grabbed a sparkling water and grabbed a seat and wrote this blog post.
About 10 minutes before scheduled boarding time, my name and that of one other passenger was called, and we were both given boarding passes for business class (next to each other). Boarding began fairly suddenly, with announcement of Sky Priority and passengers needing assistance at the same time. (In Spanish only, as most announcements were). There was a bit of a hubbub with some of the passengers needing assistance on the jetbridge, but I was settled into my seat by 12:50am.
Business class (“Clase Premier”) seats on Aeromexico’s 737 were pretty similar to first class seats on a narrow body U.S. carrier, albeit with some more recliner functions. They felt a little narrow, for some reason, perhaps because the center console between the seats was fairly wide. No in-seat power or anything. Boarding moved very quickly, so I didn’t get great photos. Each seat had a thin blanket and small pillow – I was glad I’d brought my own.
Business class filled up a bit, with four seats remaining empty. The passenger mix was predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American and all Spanish-speaking, with some passengers connecting onward across Latin America. After boarding was complete, but predeparture, the male flight attendant who had been greeting passengers as they boarded came to offer water and juice, and offered to hang my sweatshirt (which took me a moment to process in Spanish). Given how thin the pillow was, I was glad to have my sweatshirt.
At 1:12am, the forward boarding door was closed. Just as the jetbridge pushed back, a woman ran to the front to say she had left her phone in the waiting area and wanting to go back for it. The purser said no. There were tears. Soon after, the pilots announced a flight time of 4 hours and 15 minutes, and the crew wished us all a good morning (which was weird at that hour). The cabin was darkened for take-off and we were in the air.
I had hoped to go right to sleep so tried to do so, to no avail. The coach meal service began right after take-off, and was pretty noisy. In business class, most of the passengers had their lights on and it seemed like everyone was eating, so I decided I would too.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was playing on drop-down screens in the cabin; there was also streaming entertainment via Gogo, but no actual wifi on Aeromexico’s 737s. Although it was about 2am in DC and 1am in Mexico City, the meal was breakfast. For a main dish, the choice was a bagel with salmon or a ham and cheese croissant. I’m one of few Jews who doesn’t like smoked salmon so there ya go. Unfortunately my photos didn’t come out, but it was served along with a small salad of feta and mixed greens – odd for breakfast. The croissant was definitely not gourmet, but the mustard on the side helped make it like a little Cuban sandwich. A not very good greasy microwaved one. The tray also had two individually-wrapped chocolate squares I saved for later. There was no drink menu, so I asked for red wine. It was terrible. Service was good and friendly, though, and I was proactively offered a refill of wine and coffee after dinner.
I managed to get about 90 minutes of not very good sleep after the tray was cleared. I woke up as we should have been making our approach into Mexico City…to an announcement from the Captain that Mexico City Airport was closed. I didn’t catch why at first (in Spanish or English) but did gather that we would be diverting to Queretaro and that Mexico City Airport would be opening around 8am – three hours later. As a point of reference, Queretaro is about a 3-hour drive northwest of Mexico City, closer to San Miguel de Allende. As the crow flies, it’s about 100 miles.
As we were completing our final descent into what I assumed was Queretaro, we aborted our approach and went back up, which was weird. We kept flying for awhile without any announcements, and then 10 minutes later made the approach again, landing on the ground at Queretaro at 5:05am. We parked, and then there proceeded to be no information at all, and no service from the crew for the next hour or so. There was a steady stream of coach passengers through the cabin, lining up for the forward bathroom, which was unpleasant. I went myself and it looked like a warzone in there, though I did get the purser who was just chilling in his jumpseat to give me some water.
After we were on the ground an hour or so, Mexican Twitter started reporting the airport was closed due to clouds/fog. Apparently planes had been diverted all over Mexico So I figured I’d try to sleep, and got an additional hour or so. At 7:10am, the captain announced that the airport had reopened, but we needed “paperwork.” Then, he announced that we needed refueling, which seemed like it could have been done in the past two hours. Finally at 7:48, the captain spoke again and said Mexico City was “too crowded” so our new take-off time was not for another 75 minutes. That’s not so surprising, since MEX actually has a ton of flights scheduled to arrive between 4am and 7am, including flights from about a dozen US and Canadian cities; European flights from London, Madrid, Paris, and Amsterdam; and flights from all over South America.
Oddly, five minutes later, there was a change of plans apparently, as, without notice, we were moving and airborne at 8am, making the total diversion *only* 3 hours. The flight over to Mexico City was only about 30 minutes, and was quite pretty as we went over the mountains and into the valley, landing at 8:39am.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go well from there. First they said it would be a 5 to 10 minute wait for a gate. Then at 9:07 we parked at a remote stand. It took another 20 minutes before the door was opened though; first the agent couldn’t get the stairs to line up with the door, then there was no bus. Of course for that whole 20 minutes, a woman from coach had pushed herself into the aisle and was leaning on my seat, because she clearly needed to be on the bus before me.
At 9:35, I was in the immigration hall….behind about 300 other people. The line for Mexican nationals was short, but it took about 45 minutes for me to clear immigration, at which point I was exhausted and hungry (having not had any food in 9 hours). At 10:20, I was curbside waiting for my Uber, which was worth the ~$8 over the metro, as I’d have to change trains with luggage and stand. It was a new clean car, with a friendly driver, and came very quickly. Forty minutes later, I arrived at the Holiday Inn. Annoyingly, they didn’t seem to care about the airport closure and still charged me the $40 for the 6am early check-in I had arranged and didn’t use. I couldn’t even get my travel insurance to cover it, because all the flight status websites showed an arrival time at Mexico City at 5am, when we actually landed in Queretaro.
I understand weather happens, but the way Aeromexico handled the diversion was awful. There was a complete lack of communication, and the lack of onboard service during it was really bad. When a diversion is doubles the length of a light, the airline should at least make sure customers are attended too. Given how uncomfortable the experience was all around, I don’t think I’d take the 1am Aeromexico flight from Dulles ever again.