Long layovers are one of the worst aspects of travel. But sometimes you have no choice, and other times the airfare savings are too good to resist.
Aeromexico has just opened a number of new routes, for example connecting my home city of Vancouver to many South American destinations. The prices are great, and the service better than I expected (a little packet with toothbrush, paste and an eye shade (a comfortable one even!) for coach class?! How lovely!). One leg of our trip to São Paulo and Buenos Aires was even on the Dreamliner.
But flying Aeromexico means you likely need a long layover in Mexico City, and Benito Juárez International Airport is not exactly conducive to that. Flights are often overnight as well, meaning you’ll arrive bleary eyed in the early hours of the morning.
Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México is Latin America’s second busiest airport (after São Paulo) by passenger traffic — more than 100,000 pax go through daily. It’s the busiest by aircraft movements, and it’s operating at capacity. As a passenger, you certainly feel it.
A new airport is being constructed, however this will take some years. In the mean time, here’s how to survive a long layover at MEX.
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How to survive MEX
1. Bring earphones
Announcements are frequent and throughout the terminal (not just the gates you happen to be near), and often shouted into the microphone. You’ll need to drown them out with your own music or podcast to remain sane, let alone sleep.
2. Bring warm clothes
MEX is freezing. I don’t think they heat the terminal, so during my two layovers in January and February, I shivered curled up under my pashmina until early afternoon when it warmed up a bit (on the return trip I remembered to pack my rain shell in my carry-on, which helped). The freezing winter temperatures make me wonder if MEX is stifling hot in the summer …. Have you been in the summer? What’s the temp like then?
Look for the very few seats that have had their armrests flattened out so you can lie down
3. Search for the no-armrest seats
The grand majority of seats in the airport have arm rests, which means you can’t lie down. But if you hunt through the airport, you’ll find a few that have had the armrests flattened so that you can stretch out across three or even four seats. Near gate 72 there is a stretch of eight seats with just one arm rest dividing them in two, so you and your travel companion can stretch out with your heads together.
4. How to get free wifi
I really don’t understand airports that don’t give passengers free and easy access to wifi. Sure, restrict my data so I don’t download a movie if you must, but let me check my email at a minimum! And airports that text you a code are ridiculous — I need wifi because I’m not turning on cellular roaming!
Mexico City’s airport isn’t THAT bad, but the free wifi requires a password. You get the password on a Starbucks receipt. The morning Starbucks line is ridiculously long (hint – there is a second, less busy Starbucks … When facing the Starbucks close to security, continue to your right and you’ll find it).
But if you’ve arrived at 6 am and will be here for another seven hours, you likely don’t want a coffee first thing. You just want to check your email and find a place to try to sleep. So, how do you get the wifi password if you neither want a coffee nor want to stand in the long queue?
I eavesdrop on conversations at the tables near Starbucks (looking for English or French) and just ask someone if they’ll share the password with me. (I bought coffee later, so I don’t feel guilty).
MEX airport wifi password
Now, the login information is a bit complex, so here’s how you can quickly focus on the info you need from the receipt, and not bother your generous fellow passenger too much (or, just take a photo of the receipt so you have it all!)
- You will always use the “infinitum movil” network, there’s no need to get this from the receipt.
- The user name is “Starbucks@infinitummovil”. Again, it’s written on the receipt, but you can ignore it if you’re trying to be speedy.
- You only need the password from the Starbucks receipt. I don’t know how often they change the password, but the same one lasted throughout both layovers. It was changed during my two visits separated by one month.
The login page is in Spanish, but if you just know the basics you can figure it out.
- After you select the “infinitum movil” network, it will ask you which system you want to navigate with (navegar con): use the default “Infinitum“.
- You then need to fill in a user name (usuario), “Starbucks@infinitummovil”, and password (contraseña), which you have from the Starbucks receipt.
- When you’re at the login screen, sometimes pushing the left button “Navegar” works, and other times only pushing the right “Prueba el Servicio” button works. If you get a wrong password message, just try the other button.
MEX wifi login page – what you need to know
Sometimes the wifi kicked me off after a time, other times I had to forget the network and log back in for it to work. It seems to work throughout the airport, regardless of how far away from the Starbucks you are.
5. Buy water at the pharmacy
There are no water fountains at MEX, and even in countries where I trust the water won’t upset my Canadian stomach, I don’t like filling a water bottle at a bathroom sink.
I tried to bring a bottle with water from my first flight, however MEX is one of those airports that thinks that water is a dangerous good and Security makes you drink it before you can get to your gate (which isn’t the case in several South American airports). You’ll need to buy water.
Cheapest place to buy water in MEX airport
Tip: go to the pharmacy (farmacia) where you can get a one litre bottle of water for the same price (or less!) as a 500 mL bottle at an airport food kiosk or at the Hudson News outlet. The February 2016 price was 18 pesos ($1 US).
6. How to get through immigration and customs smoothly
While the system is fairly simple, the signs aren’t always accurate depending on which stations are open that day. You can figure it out on your own, but since I’m giving you tips anyway, it might make your trip a touch easier to know this in advance. Most officials speak at least a little bit of English.
- You need to fill out two paper forms — an immigration form for each passenger and a customs form for each family / traveling party. Not everyone on both our flights seemed to get them both.
- There are two lines for Immigration – one for Mexicans and one for foreigners. Once the line for Mexicans is empty, officials will shift some foreigners over and the queue will start to move more quickly.
- You’ll need the small piece of paper Immigration will return to you in order to board your connecting flight – don’t lose it!
- After Immigration you need to pick up your checked bag. While signs say you go to the left for flights from South America and to the right for flights from North America, that system may or may not be in use during your visit. Follow the crowd.
- Once you have your bags, get in the lineup to go through the X-ray machines. They may or may not be on the side of the building where you picked up your bags. Put your carry-on and checked bags through the machine and at the other end, hand your Customs form to the official. She/he will likely ask your next destination.
- Then s/he’ll ask you to push a red button on a small stand. They can not push the button for you. The line is slow because every person who has never been to MEX processes this piece of information and, if they don’t speak Spanish, asks for it to be repeated before they push the button. A sign explaining this in the lineup would be very beneficial. I assume the button is a randomizer; it lights up a green “pass” or a red sign indicating you need to go to secondary to get your bag searched. As a connecting passenger, you’ll probably get the green light.
- You’ll then need to take your checked bag to the connecting flight bags drop-off. There is one on each side of the building, but if the conveyor belt near you isn’t running, that means you’ll have to walk it over to the other side (through the hallway under the Connecting Flights sign). Though the small crowd of people may make it look like they are putting their bags on the belt near you, it may actually be Customs opening bags to search them.
Once you’ve gotten rid of your bag, walk back toward the escalator which will take you up to security and the gates. You need to show your boarding pass and passport at the bottom of the escalator.
7. How to get through Security smoothly (and a safety issue to watch for)
At the top of the escalator, you’ll go through the Security checkpoint. There is often a large crowd here, congregating at the top of the escalator. This is a safety problem.
My first time up, people weren’t moving away from the top of the escalator because of the crowd. The escalator, of course, just keeps moving people forward. I was worried we were going to have a people pile-up at the top or that people would fall backwards down the escalator (luckily Paul shouted for people to move, and, after they clued in, the disaster was prevented). When you’re there, have a look to make sure there’s space for you (and all the people behind you) to get off the escalator safely.
I’m not sure why, but airport officials never seem to understand that the rules in their airport ARE different from the rules in other airports, and it would be so much easier for everyone if they just explained this. Seldom are there signs, and even if there are, they are rarely 100% accurate (YVR, you may be the best airport in North America, but you have an improvement to make here!).
At MEX, these are the security rules:
- Officials like ALL your electronics and allowable liquids (the regular 100 mL in a 1 L bag rules) to be out of your luggage and in a separate tray.
- Not just your laptop, but your tablet, camera, even your phone need to be out of your luggage. Don’t argue.
- Filled water bottles aren’t allowed (as they are in many South American airports), so drink up before you get there.
- You can’t wear jackets, shawls etc; put them in the tray too.
- Thankfully you can keep your shoes on.
Once you’re through, get the wifi password and find a spot to sleep (gate 72!). You’ll need to move later because gate assignments are only posted on the screens three or four hours prior to takeoff.
8. A note on washrooms
Though a cleaner is on hand at almost all times in each washroom, the quality of cleanliness and repair in the bathrooms vary. Some are much bigger than others. Some toilets don’t have seats. If your chosen bathroom isn’t great, just move on to another — it will likely be better.
9. Going into town isn’t too hard
Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México is one of the closest airports to downtown in the world. If you have a layover of at least seven hours, you’ll have time to do a little sightseeing.
There are lockers for your bags near Lounge A.
You can take the metro downtown. I’ve not done it, but I’m told it is quick and easy. Go out of the terminal to the left and look for line 5. Go one stop (Pantitlan) and change to line 1 and travel to Insurgentes for central Mexico City. Keep a close eye and firm hand on your valuables.
HOWEVER, note that the train cars are sex-segregated (and very crowded), so if you’re traveling with a member of the opposite sex, make sure you both know which stop you’re getting off at before you board the train, or you may spend the rest of your layover trying to find each other.
Any other tips to share about the Mexico City airport? What’s your favourite airport and why? (Mine is Singapore, with its quiet hallways, orchid gardens and great layover entertainment).
There’s more tips on the Travel Practicalities
page, including how to avoid scams and easy tips for travelling respectfully in Buddhist countries.