Trip Report: Playa Balandra, Calafia Airlines, La Paz, Mexico (LAP) to Tijuana, Mexico (TIJ) & CBX Border Crossing to San Diego

To think it was a beach that kicked off my trip to Baja.  A beach.

Playa Balandra (Balandra Beach), Baja California Sur, Mexico

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.

That guy thinks he’s on a roller coaster

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.

Calafia Airlines’ Embraer ERJ-145EP

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:

Between Punta Coyote and La Cueva, Looking Towards Isla San Francisco and Isla San José, BCS
Tripuí, BCS

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:

CBX is in the background, in the left-hand 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).


Have you ever been to La Paz, and/or used CBX?

Never Flying Again

That’s right!  These airlines are never flying again.

Or, are they?  I don’t know.

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.

As all Indonesian airlines were prohibited from flying to the EU between 2007 and 2018, due to grave concerns about safety and working standards, it may not have been as shocking to learn that maintenance staff were rushing repairs to Adam Air’s Boeing 737 fleet.  With back-to-back crashes happening in January and February 2007, the writing was on the wall; Adam Air, along with other LCCs (low-cost carriers) were told by the Indonesian government to shape up.  They greatly reduced their  number of daily flights, but public confidence in Indonesian aviation was obviously quite shaken.  With losses piling up and aircraft being seized, the carpet was pulled out from under them in June 2008.

Adam Air Water (Taken at Jakarta CGK)

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, Bagan NYU – Yangon RGN Inflight Meal, Spring 2009

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.

Sun Air Express was purchased in 2016 by Southern Airways Express, which is partners with the Hawai’i-based Mokulele Express carrier.  Sun Air Express’s routes were mostly continued, though their Piper Chieftain fleet was forsaken in favor of Cessna Caravans.


Though this list isn’t exhaustive, these are the defunct airlines for which I have photos.  How about you?  Do you have any photos, or unusual memories of former airlines?