There are lots of rumors about the new Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) – it’s a chaotic mess, a waste of money, the best thing since sliced bread, so last week I took a quick trip to Cancún from Mexico City and back to find out.
I live in the capital’s Roma neighborhood, which is very central and in the part of the city closest to where most tourists would likely start their trek to the airport if they choose to fly out of AIFA.
I had read that Uber service from the airport was impossible because the company hasn’t come to any agreement yet with the government, so I decided to take an Uber to the airport from my house in Roma and the bus back a few days later.
I also read that there were bus lines connecting AIFA with the Benito Juárez airport, The World Trade Center and other locations throughout the city, but in hindsight, I wonder if those routes are only to the airport and not from the airport because I was never able to find them. An extension of the Tren Suburbano (the Suburban Train) is also in the works, but more about that later.
When my Uber driver, Francisco, picked me up, he was just as excited as I was. He hadn’t been to the new airport to drop off passengers yet, just the airport’s customs for a second job he holds, and he wanted to see the place as much as I did.
On the way through the middle of the city (which was the most congested and longest part of the ride), he told me how the airport was so close to his children’s apartment that they were all flying to Nuevo León next weekend to try it out. He was relieved that they would no longer have to go all the way to Benito Juárez.
“The travel times, the wait times, it’s all been dramatically reduced,” Francisco said, “In Benito Juárez, we have to wait eight or 10 hours in customs. Now it doesn’t take any more than an hour to get our merchandise.”
Once we were outside the city, the traveling was faster but as we neared the airport, several signs pointed us in one direction, yet GPS took us in another. Francisco said this was because the main overpass that would take you directly to the airport road wasn’t finished yet.
Not until we were riding along an 11-kilometer cement wall with nothing but dust and construction crews did I start to worry. The signage was nil, and it was starting to get dangerously close to the time I needed to be there for my flight. The Uber app said it would be another 30 minutes, which I did not have.
A woman from whom we ended up asking for directions assured us that straight ahead would be a roundabout and tunnel and that on the other side was the passenger drop-off. She was right, but at this point, the ride had been around an hour and 45 minutes, and I was starting to sweat.
However, once we arrived, my driver didn’t need to jockey for a space to drop me off; there were no other cars. My trip through security took a blissful five minutes.
But have you ever been to a new restaurant where there are too many waiters with not enough for them to do? Felipe Ángeles Airport was a little like that. The security guy stopped me to tell me that he was letting through my sunscreen at 120 milliliters but that next time, everything had to be 100 milliliters max (I think he even wagged his finger). Four attendants at the gate “helped” us form a line to show our tickets. The guy at the Hudson News snack and newspaper shop gave me a free chocolate bar with my purchase!
So the place was a bit of a ghost town, but everything was shiny and new with massive windows that looked out over the tarmac and lots of expansive space that felt modern and well-proportioned. Most shops, however, while plastered with signage, were empty. As far as food, there were a few places to buy snacks and a pastes stand, which is about my least favorite Mexican on-the-go snack, so I passed.
The bathrooms were clean and spacious but with no paper in my stall and no soap in the dispensers.
The flight went off without a hitch, although there was turbulence both leaving and coming back to the airport and I wonder if that’s a result of the geography of the new airport or if I just had bad luck. My flights going and coming to Cancún were both full to the brim with everyone snapping selfies in the new airport before boarding.
The flight back was easy. At baggage claim, there were only three conveyer belts — fine when you only have about eight flights a day but it won’t be so great once the airport is fully operational.
As people exited the terminal, there was general confusion about where to go and how to get home. There is a pick-up area just outside of baggage claim with official taxis, and then to the right near the pick-up area the Suburban Train station and a sign for the bus station on the floor below (but the staircase was surrounded by scaffolding and looked closed).
The Suburban Train (which is not up and running) and the Buenavista train station will eventually connect to get you from the airport to the city in 45 minutes for less than US $2. I was cheered to see construction crews actually working on the train rails and not just an empty platform and station. The Suburban Train would have been my No. 1 option for getting home, had it been finished.
Rechecking that I was going the right way, I headed down to the bus station which is set up nicely with a waiting area and seven different bus lines all with a small counter selling tickets. But some of the tickets sellers were missing. And even though the official-looking woman supervising the construction next to us said that they were sure to return, they didn’t in the 30 minutes I was there.
I tried to find those buses that I thought would take me to the Benito Juárez airport or the World Trade Center like I’d read about, but all the bus lines only had service to the north and south bus terminals as well as a few other longer distances (Puebla, Toluca, Querétaro, Cuernavaca). I ended up taking a bus to Central Norte bus terminal (at a very reasonable 75 pesos), but once there, I had to take the Metro to my house (I could have taken a cab or a bus as well), which with a suitcase is a pain.
The airport also offers Mexibus, which is the mass-transit option with various stops in México state. It’s like a small Metrobus with nine stops ending at Ojo de Agua, which connects with the Metro Line B.
On the Metro map, it looked like I would need at least four line changes for me to get to the stop closest to my house, and definitely take the same amount if not more time as the bus, so I skipped it.
I made it home in a little under two hours after leaving the airport, so the bus/Metro combo was slightly longer but less than a fourth the price of a cab (the Uber to the airport cost 476 pesos).
In the end, the facilities were new and smart looking, the staff (a lot in military fatigues) were extremely helpful and friendly and the flight was a breeze. But the travel times and the inconvenience of the distance wouldn’t make it worth it for me if I were a traveler visiting Mexico City.
That said, I think for local folks that live near the airport, it is going to change their lives! They already have to travel an hour and a half to fly anywhere, and this airport is going to make it so much simpler for them to move around. The ease of some things – the customs office speed my Uber driver mentioned, breezing through airport security – might not be the same once AIFA is as busy as Benito Juárez, but then again maybe the two airports will balance each other out.
I also think that when the suburban train is finished it will be a much easier, faster, and more convenient way to get into the city – its inauguration is planned for June 2022. I had to wait 20 minutes for an inbound bus. But maybe once there is lots of traffic, they will run every five to 10 minutes.
So don’t believe the naysayers, or the hype. It’s just an airport, not a work of art or a worthless money pit. AIFA will be great for travelers who live in the northern region of the metropolitan area. The distance from the city means that international travelers and people who live in the heart of Mexico City will still want to come through Benito Juárez International Airport for the time being.
But maybe that’s not who this new airport is for, and maybe that’s OK.
Mexico News Daily