Sunday, 8 March 2015

Magical Mexico and the madness of in-transit travel ...

HQ has been to Mexico a number of times now and can say categorically that the only acceptable way to travel there again is via a direct flight. (That is of course, unless the plan is to stop over for a few days.) The UK based airlines all go via the USA. There are direct flights available, but not every day ... at the moment. 
Rumour has it that Virgin Atlantic will be flying to it's own airport terminal every day .. watch this space!

We'd booked to go back to the Riviera Maya on a Friday to Friday availability and our best option was to fly from Heathrow with British Airways to Miami, lay over for a couple of hours and transfer with American Airlines to Cancun. (Virgin my airline of choice had no flights on a Friday unfortunately.) This all appeared doable .. the expected arrival at the resort (about 25 mins from the airport) would have been early evening giving enough time to check in, have dinner and hit the sack at a reasonable time after a long day of travel. However, as is often the case, things don't necessarily go to plan and HQ's holiday started off on the wrong foot from the very beginning.

On the day of departure, the alarm was accidentally set an hour later than planned but as luck would have it the body clock was working and we were out the door only a few minutes late. HQ's rule is to have a contingency of at least half an hour for just such eventualities so it wasn't a problem thankfully. Driving to the airport, a wayward driver almost wiped us off the motorway! Quick thinking and reflexes on my part meant that a nasty accident was avoided. Then, whilst sitting on the aircraft waiting for departure we were informed that 3 passengers had decided not to travel, having already checked their bags in, so we had to wait while said bags were removed. Eventually we left about 90 minutes late having lost our slot for takeoff. We arrived in Miami with about 2.5 hours to spare till our next flight.

The USA require that even if you are in transit, you must clear immigration, have a valid ESTA or visa otherwise your journey ends there. Luckily we possess these things but of course the waiting lines can be long and stressful. Again, we were fortunate to have had our luggage checked through (and boarding cards for the next flight on American Airlines - thanks BA!) to Cancun so after clearing customs we could make our way to our next departure gate. Our connecting flight was subsequently delayed by 3 hours .. We missed our hotel transfer so had to wait while they arranged for another meaning our arrival at the resort was around 10.30 pm. Speaking with other travellers who had arrived on earlier flights - they told us that it had taken them 3 hours to clear as there were so many arrivals at the same time. I think the saving grace was that because we arrived late at Cancun airport, the immigration process was relatively quick. Something to bear in mind if you're planning a visit.

The return journey a week later was no less fraught with similar issues. One thing to remember about Mexico .. they deal in 'Mexican minutes' .. we booked a cab to the airport for 1pm and it arrived at 1.20pm leaving us stressing about getting there on time. When we arrived to check in the machines couldn't read our passports so we had to get someone to help. My partner had also lost the exit part of the immigration form and had to pay US$30 for a new one. Remember to keep it safe if you go - and have your ESTA to hand .. it's very important!

The bags were thankfully checked all the way through to London and we went to the departures lounge to await our gate. It never showed up on the board and we wasted about half an hour trying to find out (no one knew) and finally heard an announcement 10 minutes before departure, so we ran to the gate to find other passengers looking bewildered. We were put on a bus and taken to the aircraft .. and although it left late, we made up the time to Miami with a fast flight time of 1 hour 15 minutes. Miami again was the same as before .. immigration, customs and exit this time to arrivals as we had to check in with British Airways. American Airlines do not have the facility to issue onward boarding passes. A pizza and a beer was the order of the day .. stresses over and looking forward to getting home.

After all of the drama, it was plane sailing (no pun intended) and the flight left on time, arriving early to a beautiful sunny day in London. The final straw was that one of our bags didn't arrive with us! The downside of travel. Thankfully, with the system they have in place it could be tracked and the courier company delivered the bag the next day. 

I'm thankful to say that the week spent at Vidanta Riviera Maya was fantastic and very relaxing -
they are now in partnership with the Cirque de Soleil although we didn't see the show on this trip. As this was a complete 'shut down' holiday it was all about the pool, beach and food. The weather was perfect, the food amazing and the accommodation second to none - what more can you ask for? As I've said before, the people are friendly and hospitable and can't do enough for you. I look forward and am planning a longer stay on next year's visit! I know I said the same thing last year! I still haven't visited Tulum, Chichen Itsa and the cenotes. So much to see and do.

lobster tail and stuffed tomato
fish and chips

As I have visited and written about this region before, you can refer to my blog post of December 2013 for more info.

My next trip is less than 2 weeks away .. a city break in Italy with my New York sister from another mister! Happy days!