Tale of two Mexican airlines: MX vs. AM January 2009
One of the first for me in 2009s is the chance to fly two airlines to a new destination. Mexico City Airport is definitely an interesting airline and I got to sample the business class cabins on two of the major Mexican airlines – Mexicana and Aeromexico. It was definitely an interesting experience, as my experience with Latin and South American airlines are limited to one Lan Chile flight from Sydney to Auckland. My initial impression was that the Mexican F/As are mostly friendly and efficient, but hospitality was a bit lacking and the work motto is to “finish the meal service ASAP” and “hide in the galley.” Not sure if my impression is consistent with others and also because of my limited sample, I don’t want to over-generalize. However, the F/As are willing to provide you with drinks and snacks if asked, and using the call button in business class will not result in dirty looks from the F/As. Meal services are un-impressive, as both airlines don’t bother with a separate pre-meal drink and the hot meal was served in one tray, regardless of flying time. The key question is “which one is better?” especially these two airlines really compete against each other neck to neck, and are the two major airlines in Mexico. Aeromexico is definitely the more “experienced” international airline with fancier décor, seats, and various amenities, but Mexicana does not pack its business cabin with non-rev and the F/As seem to be less hurried and more personal. Both are honestly fairly good and both have things that I like and I don’t like!
Picture link for those who don’t like to read a long report:
MX 845 pictures – http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqM1w
AM Lounge at MEX – http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqM34
AM 402 pictures – http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8QbNHDNy5bqM5A
January 21, 2009
MX 845/AA 8295 DFW-MEX Lv1625 Arr1905 Airbus A318-100 XA-UBR
Boarding started on time at 3:55pm, and there were two agents working at the gate, along with a supervisor. Due to the light load in both J and Y, door was closed early at 4:10pm, and we pushed back three minutes later. We took off from R/W18L at 4:23pm, two minutes prior to our departure time. I was impressed. Flying time was two hours and three minutes with a cruising attitude of 38,000feet. Descent began at 6:05pm, and we landed on R/W5R at 6:26pm, and parked at gate 21 at 6:39pm.
January 22, 2009
AM 402/DL 8018 MEX-JFK Lv1010 Arr1555 Boeing 737-800 Winglet EI-DRB in new livery
Boarding started a bit later at 9:47am and there was a secondary check. Door was closed at 10:11am, and a half empty J cabin was filled with non-rev or last minute upgrade passengers. Push back occurred four minutes later and we taxied towards R/W5R. We took off at 10:25am. Flying time was four hours and four minutes with a cruising attitude of 39,000feet. Descent began at 3:03pm New York time and landed on R/W31L at 3:29pm. We were parked at gate 10 at 3:43pm.
For my Mexicana flight, I checked in earlier in the day at La Guardia with American Airlines, and got all my boarding passes. So I can’t describe much about the MX experience, but at the gate, when I requested a seat change, the agent was friendly enough and had no issue getting me the new seat. I assume the empty business and economy class cabins meant less stress for the agents, and the presence of the supervisor may have something to do with it too. I guess it is not a fair comparison but when I will fly the return flight from MEX in late March, I will add something and see how MX check-in experience will be at its home base. I hope it is better than AM.
Signage at MEX was pretty confusing and there are many staffs (AM) around, but not enough to direct you to the correct place. Somehow I ventured into the automatic kiosk area, and an agent was kind enough to check me in. Since I bought this ticket as a DL code-share flight, the agent had problem checking me in. He insisted that my ticket was paper ticket and I needed a printout, despite my printout said that it was an electronic ticket. So I headed to the Delta area in the near area, and the agent immediately helped me. He asked if I have changed the reservation, I said “no,” and he said that he did not see any problem. Nevertheless, he issued the receipt in typical airline ticket stock, and also pointed out the premium check-in area was right behind me. I headed to the premium area, which had a separate entrance. However lines were quite busy, despite AM divided the check-in area into “with bags” and “without bags.” The agent was much courteous and nicer, and the “ticket receipt” seemed to be the magic code. He even stapled the receipt to my immigration exit card and boarding pass for the agent to collect. So for future travelers flying AM on a DL code-share flight, you better print out the receipt (in paper ticket stock) with DL in one of their airport offices, Crown Club, or ticketing offices. The check-in process was not that bad, and he told me where to enter the restricted area, but did not tell me where the lounge was.
Mexicana uses the “Club at DFW Airport,” which is also used by Priority Club members, and you can pay per entry too. Since I was bought as an AA codeshare flight, I could also use the Admiral Club. I visited both because despite the Admiral Club has a nicer business center (at least free internet-connected computers and printer use), they lack an open bar and only refreshment is snack mix and apples. “The Club at DFW Airport” is much smaller than the Admiral Club, but much less crowded with only a few patrons. The bar is quite open with sparkling wine, red wine, white wine, and hard liquors, as well as bottled waters, soft drinks and juices. Snacks include cheese and crackers, packaged snacks, cookies, and pretzels. There is a separate TV lounge, as well as a conference room and a children lounge. There is a small business center, but Internet is not free with their computers or your own laptop. That is definitely not acceptable.
Aeromexico has two “Salon Premiere” in MEX terminal two – one for domestic and one for international, but there is no signage indicating it. Of course, I walked to the wrong one, only to be told to walk back to the other lounge. Of course the flagship lounge is very new with a relaxing and stylish décor. However, the lounge was filled to the bream, and I hardly found a spot at the desk. But around 8:45am, the lounge suddenly emptied out. The international salon has a wine room (which will cost you money), a children lounge, a spa (also paying), a bar, a couple business stations with internet-connected computers/laptops, and a number of benches. There is a buffet area with wines, liquors, soft drinks and water. Snacks include packaged pretzels, cookies, sliced cakes, donuts, breakfast pastries, fruit salad, yogurt, and cheese & tomato brochettes. There are quite a number of staffs, but seem to enjoy mingling among themselves. My only comment is that if AM continues to expand its business class section and to increase flights, they need a larger lounge.
Boarding with both airlines was fairly straightforward. Priority boarding was reinforced and business class passengers had a separate line. The whole process was orderly and both airlines offer pre-takeoff beverages. Mexicana had an open bar, which was possibly because of the empty J cabin. Aeromexico offered a choice of orange and apple juice. Pretty good, especially some US airlines can’t seem to deal with pre-takeoff beverages, and European airlines (with a few exception) do not offer any pre-takeoff beverages on their regional flights.
Cabin & Seats:
Both Mexicana and Aeromexica use narrow-bodies on the USA routes, and Mexicana has a fleet of Airbus narrow-bodies and Aeromexico offers a fleet of Boeing 737 next generation with winglet. Airbus fleet has a slight benefit of a quieter cabin, as well as a wider cabin allowing wider seats and slightly better aisle access. They have four abreast seating with the typical 38 inches seat pitch. Aeromexico seats have a bit more gadget like adjustable lumbar support and much slimmer design. Those are really typical US domestic first class seats. However, they both offer some thing that most US airlines don’t – electrical outlets. Aeromexico uses a more dated EmPort outlet, but MX uses an electrical outlet that does not need an adapter. But legroom wise – MX has a cutout for its bulkhead seats, so it is a bit better. Aeromexico has a really tight seat pitch (and compared to the same 737-800 winglet operated by Alaska Airlines, AS F seats definitely have a bit more legroom and more comfortable). My seat on AM, 1F, also was broken, as the seat will recline on its own, as soon as I lean my back on the seat. I will rate Mexicana a bit better in terms of seat designs and gadgets.
Reading reports from various websites, I sort of have lower my expectation. One tray meal is sort of unacceptable once the flight time is over two hours. For MX, it is a two hours flight, so I am not surprised at the one tray dinner. But for Aeromexico, it is a four-hours flight and this should be a two-course service, or there should be a more substantial pre-arrival snack – a fruit and cheese plate. The most disappointing aspect is the lack of a proper pre-meal beverage service. For business class and with only two passengers, there should be more than enough time with a cocktail and packaged snack service. Both airlines provide menus (and Mexicana lists all the meals for its US/Canada/Mexico network). Only Mexicana has a wine list. Mexicana serves a dinner on my flight, and the entrée was pretty bad – tasteless and dry chicken breast with a nasty tomato sauce, but the grilled vegetable appetizer, soft wheat roll and the turtle cheesecake are nice. Aeromexico offers a very nice breakfast, and the omelet is very nice. The fruit bowl is really good. I find the quality to be a bit better on Aeromexico. However, I still don’t know why a lunch is not offered on my 10:10am flight to JFK. I wonder if it is a cultural thing. However, a lunch should really be offered, especially most of us have breakfast.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Brut
Bodega Veuve Clicquot
Bodega Casa Madero
Again Mexican presents a unique wine as an exclusive in Mexico. This white wine was created and seleced by Casa Madero and Tierra de Vinos to pair with the new menu on board. Its blend, a 50% Chardonnay – 50% Chenin Blanc, makes it an enjoyable and easy to drink wine, full of flowers, white peach, golden apples and fresh herbs. The balance between native and cultivated lees, gives 2V crispiness and vitality.
Bodega Casa Madero
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo are the 3Vs, the three grapes varieties that reflect the modern and bold character of this wine; selected by Tierra de Vinos, for our Elite Class Passengers. Cabernet Sauvignon gives the tannic structure; Merlot offers aromas of berries and violets; and Tempranillo gives the ripe red fruit and herbal character. It is a young but intense wine, easy to drink, fun and very food friendly.
Los Cardos Malbec
Bodega Dona Paula
When we talk about wines in Argentina, we have to talk about Malbec, its flagship grape. The first sensation on the palate when drinking Los Cardos Malbec is the nice spiciness that comes from the barrel ageing, after that the fruitiness of fresh ripe plums, black berries, mint and spearmint. This is a concentrated wine, with balanced sweet tannins, good medium acidity and medium plus alcohol that gives a formal structure with lots of intensity.
Bodega Gomez Cruzado
Predilecto is a red Rioja wine classified as “joven,” the Spanish word to refre wines without wood ageing. The vinification of this Tempranillo is made entirely in stainless steel tanks, therefore, the wine projects the most pure expression of the soil and the grapes of its origin. The characteristic aromas of Predilecto are red cherries, raspberries and pomegranate as well as subtle licorice and black pepper notes.
Grilled vegetables with goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette
Seared salmon, orzo, lemon and chive beurre blanc
Stuffed chicken breast, couscous, cherry tomatoes, roasted bell pepper sauce
Fresh Seasonal Fruit
Prosciutto and asparagus omelette
Enfrijolades, corn tortillas filled with chicken in tomato sauce, served with chistorra sausage and fresh cheese
Assorted sweet breads served with butter and preserves
Plain or fruit yogurt
Regular coffee, decaffeinated coffee and tea will be offered to complement your meal.
Well no handheld units were offered and only mainscreen television and movie is shown. On my shorter MX flight, “Smallville” is shown, and for my Aeromexico flight, an Aeromexico commercial/short subject medley was first shown, followed by movie, “Bottleshock,” but it is the December, not January movie listed in the entertainment magazine. Aeromexico has magazines offered.
I don’t think either airline have standout F/As. They both are friendly, but speak limited English. Aeromexico have two F/As dealing with a full 26 passengers cabin, and Mexicana has one F/A serving the whole 12 passengers cabin. They both are efficient and friendly, and will answer your call button. The MX F/A asked me a number of times if I need another drink. However, their motto seems to be serving the meal as quick as possible, and then serving tea or coffee, followed by “hiding in the galley.” They are not loud or whatever, but they just disappear after dinner. Aeromexico F/As however are less attentive and seem to be walking frequently between J and Y cabin, as well as keep on opening the crew locker above 1AC. It was like nonstop after the movie was finished. One F/A would get her handbag and then returned it, following by another F/A repeating the same action… I will definitely stray away from the bulkhead rows. I assume it is more to do with the cabin design and the placement of the crew lockers.
I definitely am glad for the opportunity to try out two new airlines in 2009, and Mexico City airport is an interesting one to visit. Apart from the rather strange airport experience dealing with code-share flights and the one-tray meal service (like a glorified economy class meal), the overall experience is positive. I wish the F/As can be more active in doing after meal beverage service, and offering a proper cocktail service. Entertainment options can be better but it is okay. I will fly Mexicana from MEX to JFK again in late March, and will try to see write a follow-up report, if time permitted, and since I am on the 6am flight, I may not get to visit the new Elite Class lounge. However, I will try my best. For now, I think I like Mexicana slightly more, but this sample size is too small to give you a conclusive answer.
Enjoy and my next report should be on my last bmi transatlantic flight from Las Vegas to Manchester in February.