To think it was a beach that kicked off my trip to Baja. A beach.
Yes, even though I don’t exist to while away the hours – let alone minutes – on any beach, I will gladly make concessions for naturally beautiful landscapes. Thus, my trip to La Paz, capital of Baja California Sur state in Mexico, started with a Mexican friend sending me photos from her trip to Playa Balandra, aka the beach in the above photo. (OK, OK, she also sent me a photo of a burrito stuffed with octopus, shrimp, oysters, chorizo, and grilled cheese…which she ate in La Paz)
After a few days of becoming a human chicharrón under the desert sun, I had to return to the US. This time, I opted for Baja’s regional carrier Calafia Airlines, since they had a convenient flight into Tijuana (airport code TIJ), allowing easy access to San Diego, California via the CBX (Cross-Border Express) footbridge. CBX comes with a price, but if you’ve ever waited at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa borders during the day, you will be glad to pay for the much faster access.
Following a 25-minute Uber ride from downtown La Paz, I made it to the airport (LAP). It’s a small terminal without jet bridges, but it can be nice to be able to make it in a few mere minutes from the curb to the gate, assuming check-in and security work in your favor.
Normally, I’d check-in online, but seeing as I had to check a bag (given the small aircraft plying the route), I made it so at the airport. Quite seamless…though the Volaris flight next to us, yeesh. That line went out the door. Check-in on line when you can, folks!
One thing to mention when flying to/within/from Mexico is that you have to fill out a COVID-19 form, called Vuela Seguro. If you’re an enemy of efficiency you will form part of the clusterf*ck at security where they ask for your QR code; do yourselves another favor, and fill this out before getting to the airport.
One pro I’d have to say about Mexican airports is that security is usually stress-free…no pack wolves yelling at you like in the US or Europe. La Paz was no different.
It’s not a particularly busy airport with regards to the number of flights; that said, because it’s a small terminal, you may be out of luck for a seat (some seats can’t be occupied due to COVID-19). I was able to go into the “VIP Lounge,” but that was really to take advantage of wi-fi that didn’t expire after 30 minutes. Due to COVID-19, the buffet part was shut, but snacks and drinks were available. For those without access to the lounge, there are a couple of stores, and a café.
Boarding was nearly on-time, and rather orderly. As it was a short-hop, and the route was a new one for me, at check-in I had elected for a window seat.
As you might notice from the following photos, the rugged and austere gulches, plateaus, and crags were quite the spectacle:
Following the short 1 hour, 55 minute flight to Tijuana, I followed signs for CBX/baggage claim.
Note: Buy your CBX ticket online to save a few bucks (TIJ offers 30 minutes of free wi-fi), but make sure you choose the right direction (either Tijuana to San Diego, or San Diego to Tijuana).
Note.2: apparently, you are only able to use CBX within two hours of your flight landing in Tijuana.
Note.3: Mexico does not have formal outbound immigration checks, similar to the US.
Once at baggage claim, you will be lining up with other passengers for CBX, which is tucked away in a corner:
Stupidly, much of the scrum is for people who haven’t yet bought CBX tickets, as it’s only at the last-minute when employees distinguish between passengers who already have the tickets, and those who don’t. Nevertheless, I scanned my QR code, and walked up, down, and around to get to the 20-minute line for US immigration.
Once you make it through the asinine questioning and baggage scan, you can buy a ticket for a shuttle for downtown San Diego/SAN (airport), or ride-share (back to Tijuana, where the fish tacos are boss).
During a stint in Chicago a few years ago, I found that Frontier Airlines offered some really good deals to/from Harlingen, Texas (airport code HRL), close to the Mexican border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros. Then, from one of those cities, it’s a cheap flight to where ever else in Mexico.
Now, some might say those Mexican border cities don’t have the greatest reputation for safety. The same could be said about many US cities. Those two sentences don’t cancel each other out, but I also don’t wander around sporting ostentatious jewelry, Mamiya cameras, or Señor Frog’s apparel.
Having already become familiar with crossing from Reynosa to Hidalgo/McAllen multiple times, and then once from Matamoros to Brownsville, I felt comfortable testing the Texas border again last month, after having been in Mexico for a few weeks.
Even more amusing? My destination*: Mexico, Missouri.
Now, to address the elephant in the room, as of January 26th, 2021, all international flights landing in the US require passengers to show negative COVID-19 test results, with few exceptions. However, land borders are exempt from this. I booked my ticket to Mexico before this was announced, and only ever book one-ways.
After a pleasant and delicious part-business/part-leisure trip to Mexico, it came time to say “hasta la próxima,” or until next time. First stop, Reynosa, via Mexico City.
The new Reynosa terminal had just opened a few days prior, and it was certainly a world of difference from the older claustrophobic structure. I guess it comes down to business people visiting maquiladoras, or mostly tariff- and duty-free factories, often near the US border. From leaving the plane to hopping in a 280 peso taxi (pre-paid; I asked for a receipt, but they didn’t “have” any) to the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge. it took all of 30 minutes. Not bad.
Once you’re deposited at the pedestrian bridge, you will find a number of dentists and pharmacies, extant primarily for Texans scouting cheaper prices. It’s a bit grimy, though, and food options weren’t plentiful. Though, I did manage to score some tasty parting steak tacos:
I grant you that hygiene practices were a little suspect, but I will be damned if I wasn’t going to get one more Mexican meal before leaving to fast-foodsville.
Once you’re ready to cross to Texas, you can amble up the white gently-inclining wheelchair/luggage-accessible pedestrian bridge in the plaza. Note: you will need to have a 5 peso coin (or I think 25 cents) to exit Mexico, although they do not have any exit formalities other than a turnstile.
Having done this trip a few times, I can’t estimate how long it would take to cross. The average wait time for me was ~45 minutes, but you may want to take into consideration customs officers taking lunch breaks, weekends, holidays, etc.
Once on the Texas side – called Hidalgo – there’s…not much. Duty free shops, comida corrida (fast food), shady taxis, and vans. Luckily, Lyft operates in the area, and can whisk you away to the nearest large city, McAllen, and its convenient airport (airport code MFE):
Earlier, I said that my destination was Mexico, Missouri. That’s partially true. I was visiting family in the St. Louis-area, and wanted to drive around a bit, looking for really local bbq. Noticing Mexico on the map, I made it so.
Going from this…
You might ask, why would you ever want to leave the southerly Mexico for this one?
Well, I have prepared a rejoinder, just for you: “I don’t know.”
You see, there was talk of a giant tater tot stuffed with barbecue at one restaurant, and the fallback across the street sounded just as good. Alas, due to a combination of the pandemic, and restaurants not updating their search engine details, no bbq for me. And to throw salt in the wound, the best edible I could find in the area (i.e. that was open) was a sweet peanut corn flake snack from a chain store:
The moral of the story? Crossing the Mexico-US land border = piece of cake, visiting Mexico, Missouri = better to go when it doesn’t look like the rapture just took place.
Yes, these carriers once served a purpose, be it skidding off of runways, or skidding back onto runways. Occasionally, they took to the air. Now, their memories for me last only in the form of years-old digital photos taken back when I was a more jittery flier…which, in the case of at least one of these airlines, was a reasonable reaction.
Let’s start in chronological order of when I flew these defunct jetliners.
Jet Airways: BOM Mumbai, India – DEL New Delhi, India, June 2006
First Flight: May 5, 1993
Ceased Flights: April 17, 2019
I’d like to note that at the time, I got harassed for taking photos at Indian airports/on planes (naturally, locals weren’t getting bothered); this partially explains the blurry nature of some photos. Perhaps things are different now.
At their peak, Jet Airways had hubs in Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Amsterdam, covering a mix of domestic Indian routes, and key flights throughout Asia, Europe, and to New York City and Toronto. Due to its better-than-average reputation – particularly among Indian carriers – some investors look to be reviving the brand and its valuable slots by the summer of 2021.
Air Sahara: New Delhi (DEL) – (Patna PAT) – Varanasi (VNS), June 2006
First Flight: 1993
Last Flight: Purchased by Jet Airways in 2007
Air Sahara started off as Sahara Airlines, commencing flights on December 3, 1993. They most flew domestic Indian routes, though added some regional flights, as well as one to London by the mid-2000s. After Jet Airways took them over in April 2007, Air Sahara became JetLite, and then JetKonnect in 2012.
The word sahaara in Hindi (सहारा) means “help;” perhaps its owners should have thought of the repercussions of that name, since at the time of their purchase by Jet Airways, they had a mere 12% market share in India, as compared to Jet’s 43%.
Indian Airlines: New Delhi (DEL) – Jaipur (JAI), June 2006
First Flight: 1953
Ceased Flights: February 26, 2011 (Merged with Air India)
In 1953, just six years after gaining independence, the Indian government decided to nationalize its airlines. To simplify the process, Air India was strictly for international flights, and Indian Airlines – formed out of a number of domestic carriers – handled flights entirely within India.
Since they were the main event for decades for flying domestically in India, Indian Airlines also saw the introduction of the first Airbus A300, the Airbus A320, and shuttle flights (between New Delhi and Mumbai). With the liberalization of the domestic airline industry in the 1980s, Indian Airlines dominance over local traffic was conspicuously diminished.
In spite of a series of crashes and hijackings in the 1980s and 1990s, they were generally profitable; it didn’t hurt that they were owned 51% by the Indian government. Air India absorbed them in early 2011.
Adam Air: Bali DPS – Jakarta CGK, February 2008
First Flight: December 2003
Ceased Flights: June 18, 2008
Named for the son of one of the airline’s founders, and notable for its…unique livery (color scheme), Adam Air had a brief and rocky existence, reduced to dregs consequent to inexperience and cutting corners.
Adam Air’s stand-out orange and green colors, low-fares and in-flight meals regardless of the stage length of a flight were a huge hit with Indonesians looking for cheaper alternatives to the standard two carriers, Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air. However, its explosive growth in popularity was masking a fatal issue.
On a personal note, the only one of these airline trips that I vividly remember is Adam Air. I had a crazy Friday trying to get to Bali from Jakarta; at one point, I was walking waist-high in flooded fertilizer and cobwebs along the Jakarta (CGK) airport highway. It was pitch black, and I was alone.
After making to Bali (with the intent to fly to Timor Leste), my papers were rejected, but because of the severe flooding in Jakarta, I had a hell of a time getting back. Luckily, I befriended some folks at the Merpati Nusantara airline office of Bali Airport, giving them free English lessons. After eight hours of hanging out with them, one of them finally found a ticket back to Jakarta, only it was with Adam Air. To speak candidly, I was a bit nervous, but it was my only practical option. My seat had some horribly bright colors, and parts of the cabin were held together with duct tape, including by the window and oxygen masks. It was the only flight I’ve ever taken where I held my breath. Upon returning to Jakarta, traffic took about four hours to get back (usually, it was 45 minutes). UGH.
Merpati Nusantara Airlines: Dili (DIL) – Bali (DPS), March 2008
First Flight: Late 1962
Ceased Flights: February 2014
Merpati Nusantara, which means “dove archipelago” in Indonesian, took over for the Dutch De Kroonduif carrier of Netherlands New Guinea (present-day Irian Jaya province) in 1963. The merpati, or dove, aspect of the nomenclature might be related to the kroonduif, which means “crown dove” in Dutch, named after the once common bird found in Irian Jaya. Also, with Indonesia consisting of thousands of islands stretching thousands of miles, the nusantara, or archipelago, was intended to evoke the airline’s breadth.
After being bought and divested from Garuda in 1978 and 1997, respectively, Merpati Nusantara also had its fair share of incidents. With rising debt and oil prices at the time, the airline went bus in early 2014, though it seems some investors are hoping to form a Merpati Version 2.0.
Air Bagan: Bagan NYU – Yangon RGN, Spring 2009
First Flight: Late 2004
Ceased Flights: In 2015 (as Air Bagan), then lost their license in 2018
Air Bagan holds a number of “firsts” for Burma aka Myanmar: the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen, the first to use jets, the first to have female pilots, the first to introduce a frequent flyer program, and among others, the first private airline 100% owned by a Burmese citizen to go bankrupt. It is named for one of the country’s most famous attractions, the stupa and temples of Bagan (Nyaung U).
Their first flights were in 2004, primarily to serve tourists. Then, after the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Air Bagan was recruited to provide humanitarian services to the hard-hit southern portion of the Burma. In spite of these efforts, the US government authorized sanctions on the airline, which contributed to their eventual downfall. They first stopped flying in 2015, though ultimately lost their operating license in 2018. Fortunately, if they ever want to reappear, they’ve still got the domain name.
Sun Air Express: Lancaster, Pennsylvania (LNS) – Washington Dulles (IAD) – Hagerstown, Maryland (HGR), 2015
First Flight: 2012
Ceased Flights: Bought by Southern Airways Express in 2016
Formed years earlier as Sun Air International, Sun Air Express first flew in in 2008 between Florida and the Bahamas. In 2012, with assistance from the Essential Air Service program – i.e. federal subsidies for rural/remote communities – they began flights out of Houston, and Washington Dulles to regional airports…because when you think of sunny days, suburban D.C. comes to mind. Then, in 2014, they received more EAS support for flights out of Pittsburgh.
Note: With two notable exceptions below, I always ask one of the flight crew if I can take an airline safety card.
Do I really want to take an airline safety card as a souvenir? They’re typically cooped up in one of those seat-back pockets, probably the nastiest place on a plane – save for the loo/next to anyone eating Macca’s – to place your electronics/reading material/children/etc. Not to mention, they have those please do not remove from the aircraft labels…well, that’s why you ask first.
But I enjoy the various languages written on them, the amusing graphics, and from time to time, review them to see the bizarre and unique airlines and aircraft types I’ve tried out.
As a shoutout to COVID-19, let’s travel vicariously through some airline safety cards:
As stated above, this is one of those that I didn’t ask to take…likely because I was a little snot way back then.
But, why does this one deserve recognition? One, it’s the oldest airline safety card in my pile (that’s where “5/94” comes in). Two, Continental doesn’t exist anymore. Three, DC-10s no longer offer scheduled passenger flights. Four, how nice of them to include Italian in the olden days.
I took one flight with the bygone Adam Air, between Bali DPS and Jakarta CGK. The Merpati (another defunct Indonesian carrier) staff at DPS helped me buy this ticket, due to some overeager flooding causing capacity issues at Jakarta airport that weekend.
It’s also one of the few flights from 2008 and earlier that I vividly remember. Inside the plane, there was duct tape liberally used to hold various parts/doors together. Pieces of my seat were missing, and the plane rattled from take-off to touchdown. Might as well thrown in a couple more photos of Adam Air, because it seemed that they were doomed from day one.
In fact, just a month after my trip, due to a variety of sordid affairs, they ceased operations.
Taken from two American Airlines “Super 80s,” or DC-9-80s’. The logo may have changed, but the stale and unwelcoming interior remains constant.
Would be even weirder if these two cards are from the same plane, just years apart.
Way to go, Air Asia. Your retrofitting of this safety card really instills confidence in me…
Oh. That’ll do.
This CRJ1000 card from Garuda Indonesia is the newest (in terms of aircraft age) in my collection.
Though, hah, I have some pretty bad luck flying from Bali, as this particular flight had to return to Bali airport to refuel. In other words, the routing was Bali-Bali.
The pièce de résistance- an airline safety card from a Tupolev 134 of North Korea’s Air Koryo. Definitely didn’t ask permission to take this one. Furthermore, it’s the only Soviet-made plane with a presence in my archives, and it’s one of two Soviet jets that I’ve flown (the other – also with Air Koryo – was an Ilyushin 62).
Sure, some of these airline safety cards have amusing graphics, too, but that wasn’t the focus of today’s post. Though, if you have any photos of unforgettable cards that you’d like to submit, let me know!
Before starting to read books (this is ongoing), I chose maps. That’s right, I can point out where all of the worlds Guineas are (what a novelty). In fact, I participated in a couple of state geography bees (harsh reality?), but am still lamenting over not applying for a spot on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Contestants who were sent to place buzzers on the then-newly independent CIS states were perpetually bingung, rather, confused (sorry, haven’t written something in Indonesian for a while).
A predilection for cartographic creations has helped make flights seem less long, especially when the only movie offerings are Drop Dead Fred or The Room. Having a pen makes it even more pleasant, as I get to gerrymander US states or Cypriot regions to the toot of my own horn (note: haven’t done this yet). Remember when Iran was upset about National Geographic magazine calling it the Arabian Gulf instead of the Persian Gulf? I don’t have a problem with the complaint, but just as thought-provoking, if less well-known, is that (Western) airlines generally used to added a suffix to their names in order to be able to fly to both China and Taiwan. The Dutch airline KLM for example stayed that way on flights to the mainland, but was called KLM Asia to the latter.
This will probably be a thread I’ll continually update, once I’m able to find the Delta inflight magazine that showed Kampuchea instead of Cambodia, or the one where Xian, China is listed as the more archaic Chang’an. Until those encounters happen, take a peek at the oddities, sometimes controversial, sometimes just …odd. -ities:
The red lines stand for code-share flights, in other words not those actually operated by China Southern (airline code CZ), but a lot happens when you’ve been abroad for about a year. Minneapolis relocates to Canada, south Florida travels back to 1995 and Maori Island becomes a misnomer.
Juicy stuff here. The Senkaku Islands(or as China calls them, the D/Tiaoyu Islands) AND the South China archipelago, (not to mention Taiwan- but that’s a been there, done that), are clearly in attendance on this page of the China Southern route map. Might as well add “Africa” and the Solomon Islands to that map too…
El Al (LY), an Israeli/whatever airline, understandably can’t just overfly certain countries. Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran (would you ever guess???) Thus, their long-haul routes become that much more long-haul. Say, when flying from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg, they have stay right over the Red Sea, and on their Bangkok route, well, ouch. But this recent news of potential Dubai-Tel Aviv flights might be the black swan moment in their route map’s history…
Etihad (EY) of the United Arab Emirates went a bit overboard. I was flying from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta, but they generously wanted to impress me with their knowledge of world geography. Because what’s going on in Brasilia is directly going to affect my flight over the Bay of Bengal. Good thing they don’t have any domestic routes.
If you squint well enough, you can see…the ocean. Taipei-Honolulu, another route I’m not sure why I took.
This one’s got two-in-the-hand! The West Sea is what the Korean Peninsula terms the Yellow Sea, nothing too offensive. But the East Sea. Well, in another never-ending spat with Japan, the Koreas can’t possibly agree with the Sea of Japan, so they just used their/an imagination. By the way, the Sea of Japan has some delicious Echizen crab…
Maybe all airlines should just take a page from Oman Air’s book, and only label the origin and destination points:
Have you noticed anything “nuanced” on airline route/in-flight maps?
There doesn’t seem to be any good seat in economy class. Window seats force you to play Twister in case you need to get up for anything; aisle seats mean bags may fall on you whenever the overhead is opened, someone is going to impel you to stand in the aisle once everyone can disembark, your elbow becomes a bullseye for drink carts, and sometimes a giant metal box is under the seat in front of you, c/o in-flight entertainment (IFE); a middle seat has barely any of those issues, phew, except good luck trying to free a limb to do anything. Not to mention, don’t you get such a kick out of when the check-in agent says the flight is “very, VERY full,” “completely full” or the ingeniously crafted “full,” only to realize that there are seats still unoccupied? Heck, on some US flights, they will charge you to switch to certain “Economy Plus” seats…are those for extra legroom, or less COVID exposure?
Hey now, then why do I always choose an aisle seat, given the non-exhaustive list of negatives above? I like wandering about, hitting up the galley where frozen apples and bananas are available to all, sometimes chatting with flight attendants (who are also often frozen) and joining in the elderly Japanese folks who always manage to establish a pop-up gymnasium in the back. Also, bowing to slight irony, using my knowledge of geography (…and with some assistance from the in-flight map, if available), I’d trek to one of the emergency exit doors to peer out the window. Why not just choose a window seat then? I’d make enemies for life with my restless legs and prevailing Middle Eastern countenance.
Just like non-smoking rooms at a Chinese hotel couldn’t be further from the truth, you don’t always have a choice in where you sit on a plane. Nevertheless, for flights less 3.5 hours, I will attempt a window seat, in order to get views like these:
Oh, let’s not forget, if you’re seated at the window, you get to use your whole noggin to peer out, so that no one else has a chance of seeing anything. Never mind that merely sitting still will get you nearly the same view…
As a former frequent leisure traveler, this COVID-19 pandemic is a real cliché dust-creator for passports. Nevertheless, I wanted to reflect on a few airline meals, that stood out not for being good, but just because even unpleasant in-flight service meant that you were traveling somewhere.
Baked beans and mushrooms? Thanks for your contribution, Her Majesty
The US airlines for the most part make it simple these days when flying between and in the fifty states- no free meals in economy class, save for a few cross-country flights. On the flip side, I guess we can’t blame them for the inevitably inferior quality if they were still serving meals. Still, if I could get one of those rock-solid pieces of bread with butter, it could tide us over for a spell. Better to have never received free food in-flight in the first place, because passengers wouldn’t be able to make that their excuse du jour. Shoot, if I’m going to be stuck on an airplane for any amount of time, I’d rather be eating something I know is good, say a five dollar bottle of Hudson News-water, two Advil or take-out from a Salvadorean restaurant.
Ahh, Salvadorean food. Sure, airport security in many places wouldn’t permit you to take the condiments– pickled cabbage being the número uno cause of airborne anarchy– through the checkpoints, but I wonder how many people have been introduced to a country’s cuisine based on the airline they were flying. We’ve already taken a peek at a British breakfast above, but that was with Emirates, which might as well be the 3rd British carrier, but let’s see what kind of hometown pride other airlines have:
We’ll begin with the most painful volunteer, American Airlines, from Miami to La Paz, Bolivia. Did you know that there’s as much fat in that salad dressing as there is in the person in the seat next to you? Oh, hello rock-solid piece of bread. La Paz Airport is the second highest in the world, so I couldn’t tell if I was sick because of the altitude or the…wait, is that Vaseline? I’m getting out of here.
Dragonair (now known as Cathay Dragon, based in Hong Kong), Hong Kong to Dhaka. Never thought you’d see feta cheese and soy-glazed pea pods together? The most representative Hong Kong food in this picture is the TimeOut chocolate bar. Why? It’s produced by Cadbury, a British company. HK was a British territory from the early 1840s until 1997. Folks, that’s the best I got…
Sichuan Airlines (based in Chengdu, China), Chengdu to Shenzhen. Aviation food! No need for the reminder, alas it’s not so much different from Chinese terra firma food. That’s a standard Chinese breakfast food on the right, 粥 zhōu, or rice porridge. In that oh-so-common air-tight packet to its lower left, pickled MSG. No, it’s pickled daikon, a root vegetable. If they gave a packet of sunflower seeds instead of pickles, the aisle would become louder than the engines at take-off.
Bangkok Airways, Luang Prabang, Laos to Bangkok, Thailand. Khao niao, whereas khao=rice and niao=sticky in the Lao language, is present. That’s the best we can do here. Are those carrots wrapped in egg? I have to start prioritizing my memory.