When Mexicana Airlines ceased operations in 2010, some frequent flyers wondered who would pick up the slack in the skies over Mexico. But after less than three years, the nation now finds itself with a very different, newly competitive airline scene. Long-standing Aeromexico has been bulking up with investment from Delta Air Lines, and fast-growing, "low-cost" carriers - especially Interjet and Volaris - are expanding domestically and abroad. Business travelers have more choices than ever.
It's been a big year for Grupo Aeromexico. In June, Delta Air Lines invested US$65 million in the company, as the carriers strengthened their marketing ties. "The benefits of connectivity and strength are of great value to our customers worldwide," said Richard Anderson, Delta's CEO. "This agreement also represents a new stage in a key relationship, which we have been developing for years." Aeromexico and Delta collectively offer some 93 codeshare destinations, with 733 daily flights in eight countries.
Since then, Aeromexico has publicized a series of additional strategic decisions. In July, the company announced what it calls the largest investment plan in the history of aviation in Mexico, by signing a letter of intent with Boeing to purchase as many as 100 aircraft, including 90 narrow-body 737-8 Max aircraft; in addition, nine 787-8 Dreamliners are scheduled for delivery during the next three years. In August, Delta and Aeromexico announced plans to build a jointly operated aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul center at the Intercontinental airport in Querétaro, in the north-central part of the country.
As is common with the Mexican airline industry overall, international growth at Aeromexico is focused heavily on increasing and fine-tuning service to the United States. Among the company's latest additions is twice-daily service, launched in October, linking Mexico City with Dallas/Fort Worth, bringing the carrier's total number of U.S. destinations to 17.
Interjet and Volaris, in Growth Mode
In terms of domestic passenger boardings, Interjet is Mexico's second-largest carrier - or first, the airline likes to point out, if the figures for Aeromexico are separated from its affiliate, Aeromexico Connect. Either way, it's an impressive trajectory for an airline that began operations in 2005 and today has a fleet of 35 Airbus A320 aircraft, flying 41 routes to 31 airports, including seven international destinations.
October saw several new international route launches for Interjet, including flights linking its Mexico City hub with Havana, Cuba and Orange County, California's John Wayne Airport (U.S.). The airline also ramped up new service between Guadalajara and Los Angeles, and will debut flights to Las Vegas on November 15.
Interjet launched its longest international flight earlier this year, between Mexico City and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The company's approach to inflight service is a bit different on this particular route, with free meals and premium beverages served in its all-economy configuration (snacks and beverages are served on other international and domestic flights). Regardless of destination, Interjet is likely the only carrier in the Americas to offer women-only bathrooms on all of its planes.
Like Aeromexico, both Interjet and Volaris are gearing up for growth. In March 2013, Interjet will receive its first 93-seat Superjet 100, also known as the SSJ100, a regional jet developed by Russian aerospace company Sukhoi in partnership with Boeing. After that delivery, one new airplane will be added to the fleet every month through the end of 2014, according to Interjet. The carrier plans to use the new aircraft largely on routes formerly served by Mexicana Click. Volaris, meanwhile, acquired its 38th aircraft (an Airbus A320) in October - and launched new service between Tijuana and Tepic, Nayarit as well as a new international route between Chicago's Midway airport and Leon, Guanajuato.
Among Mexico's low-cost carriers, Interjet works the frequent flyer angle more than most. Its loyalty program, Club Interjet, provides cash discounts for flights rather than points or miles; with each trip, Club Interjet members earn 10% of their airfare, which is placed in an "electronic wallet" that can be used to purchase future tickets.