Buenos dias everyone! It finally happened – Alaska Airlines returned to Mexico City (MEX), with near-simultaneous inaugural flights from San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). I wrote about these new routes and this was my first-ever inaugural flight on any airline, so I’m pretty happy that it was on my favorite airline on a route that means a lot to me (since I moved from the Bay Area to Mexico City just under a year ago).
I made the risky choice of taking an UberPOOL to SFO, and arrived just minutes before the 1-hour cutoff for checking bags internationally. We hustled over to one of the check-in kiosks, and after an unnerving number of loading screens, were able to print our bag tags and boarding passes in the nick of time. We then stood in line for another 10-15 minutes to hand our bags to an agent – the longest I can remember spending in an elite line, and this was with only 3 people ahead of us. There were several flights leaving around the same time with four agents working, and a lot of people were confused about where they were supposed to be.
Alaska Airlines currently has split operations at SFO, with flights to Seattle, Portland, and Palm Springs operating out of Terminal 2 and all other flights operating out of the International Terminal. Although it’s described in a couple of places on their website, there’s no signage outside the airport or even at the ticket counters to indicate this. To make matters worse, on Tuesday, they had also moved the flight to Orange County (SNA) to T2 (it’s unclear whether this was temporary or permanent). The passenger in front of me in line was on that flight, but they were able to take her checked bag and just send her to the AirTrain with her carryon. Another passenger on my flight, had been bounced from the International Terminal to T2 and then back again – and this was an elite member flying in First Class! A flight attendant mentioned that by the end of this month, all domestic Alaska Airlines flights should be moving to T2, which should alleviate the confusion.
Once we got our bags dropped off, the TSA PreCheck line got us through security in about 2 minutes. At this point, it was only about 40 minutes before departure, so we went straight to the gate area, which was decked out with some traditional Mexican-inspired paper crafts, a couple of advertising banners, and a SFO Airport podium with a backdrop for photo ops. We missed whatever speeches happened there (and the mariachi band), but were able to enjoy churros, fruit platters, horchata, agua fresca, and coffee and tea before boarding. There were also a variety of complimentary souvenirs – commemorative metal luggage tags, Alaska Airlines branded water bottles, postcards, and miniature margarita kits (just add tequila). Most passengers seemed unaware that it was an inaugural flight until they asked what all the fuss was about.
Once they called all rows, we finally got in line to board and made our way quickly to our first class bulkhead seats which had little Mexican flags propped up in the headrests.
Alaska Airlines Flight 240: Departing San Francisco at 9:55am, Arriving in Mexico City at 4:20pm
San Francisco (SFO): International Terminal, Gate A2, Departed 15m Late
Mexico City (MEX): Terminal 1, Gate 22, Arrived On Schedule
N537AS, Boeing 737-800, old Alaska livery with lei on tail
Seat 1C, First
Flight Time 3h 52m
The overhead bins above rows 2 are marked “Reserved for Bulkhead Row Passengers Only,” but were mostly full even though only one bulkhead passenger had boarded before us; we were able to find spots for our bags in the forward cabin, but ended up spread out across three different bins. The flight attendant offered us a choice of water or orange juice before takeoff, and then came around for drink orders before we pushed back from the gate. That happened about 15 minutes late, so it was 10:27am by the time we took off.
Once in the air, we received our first round of drinks, and the flight attendant let us know about the food situation. I overheard the crew discussing this beforehand, so I knew what was coming. For this inaugural flight, they had a special turkey and cheese sandwich that was complimentary to all passengers; first class had a warm turkey and cheese sandwich with chips and coleslaw. There was no buy on board available, so as a vegetarian I got to enjoy a double helping of coleslaw – which was pretty good, but even with some of my own snacks, I was quite hungry three hours into the flight. On future flights, they will have burritos and tamales for purchase, at least one of which will be vegetarian; I assume they will also have their standard buy on board snack / meal options.
This is one of my longest-standing gripes about Alaska Airlines – they almost never have vegetarian options (if any options) in First Class, and you’re typically asked to pay if you want a vegetarian choice from the Main Cabin. While complimentary food in the Main Cabin is a nice gesture, the fact that the “premier West Coast airline” would operate inaugural flights with no vegetarian meals on board seems like a misstep, especially given the length of this flight. The First Class flight attendant was very kind and apologetic, and did his best to help with limited resources.
As expected, the Gogo WiFi was spotty at best, and stopped working as soon as we crossed the border. There were no digEplayer tablets on board, but streaming inflight entertainment was available throughout the flight. What they did have on board was customs forms – even though Mexico City stopped using them back in April – on top of that, they only had English forms, so a crew member translated the relevant sections into Spanish over the PA system.
Otherwise, the flight was fairly uneventful. I got to hear a bit from a flight attendant about their schedules for these new routes (a 10.5 hour day, SFO-MEX-LAX or LAX-MEX-SFO; nobody spends the night in Mexico City) and their excitement about returning to Mexico City after two years away. He spotted my Alaska Airlines phone case and asked if I work for the airline – when I said I’m just a fan and a travel writer, he mentioned that the flight had a lot of airline people on board, including one of Alaska Airlines’ in-house bloggers.
Arrival in Mexico City
We landed in Mexico City right about on time and pulled up to a gate in the center of Terminal 1 – I was crossing my fingers for a water cannon salute, but we had no such luck. My partner and I were the first passengers off the plane, so I’m fairly certain we ended up on at least one ground agent’s Snapchat. It was a bit of a hike from the gate to immigration, where we had to explain that yes, we were on Alaska Airlines flight 240 – unsurprisingly, the flight hadn’t been entered into their systems yet.
Once we got to baggage claim, I was stunned to see that the belt started moving at exactly 20 minutes from when we parked at the gate – although Alaska Airlines has a 20-minute baggage service guarantee, I wasn’t expecting it to work on their first flight into Mexico City (where bags tend to be notoriously slow in my experience). It was another 10-15 minutes before we actually got our bags though – I looked for an Alaska Airlines agent to ask for vouchers from the bag service guarantee, but I wasn’t able to find anyone and there wasn’t an Alaska Airlines baggage service counter yet. I reached out to the Twitter team on our way home and they deposited 2,500 miles into each of our Mileage Plan accounts, but said in the future, to please see a baggage service agent for assistance. Once we cleared customs (which as expected was not collecting forms from anyone), I made a beeline for the food court and scarfed down some noodles before hailing an Uber home.
While I’m pleased that Alaska Airlines is flying to Mexico City again, being on the inaugural wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped. Part of this is probably my own fault for not arriving early enough for the speeches and the mariachi band… though the lack of food didn’t help either. Alaska Airlines clearly has some kinks to iron out with their ground operations in San Francisco, and I hope that’s one area where the Virgin America team can lend their expertise. That being said, my bags will proudly wear their commemorative luggage tags, and I’m glad I got to be a part of Alaska Airlines history on a route that’s important to me.
I picked up a few extra “No Olé-overs” postcards at the airport, and I’d love to send one your way – if you’d like one, leave a comment on this post letting me know what inaugural flight you’d love to be on. I’ll randomly select 2-3 readers to receive a postcard from me – make sure you use the correct email address when you leave a comment so I can reach out to you for mailing details!