Scared of Mexican budget airlines? There’s no reason to be
Review: VivaAerobus A320 Economy: Guadalajara – Mérida (By Stewart Mandy for TYT)
VivaAerobus is Mexico’s major ‘low-cost’ airline, part-owned by the founders of Europe’s biggest low-cost airline Ryanair, and IAMSA, Mexico’s largest bus company.
Now in their tenth year, the airline operated a fleet of elderly Boeing 737-300 aircraft since they launched. However, in 2014 they started replacing them with new Airbus A320s; only two of the 737s remain in the fleet, and they will be gone by the end of 2016.
The company operates an extensive domestic network in Mexico, and flies to Houston in the USA from Monterrey. From Mérida, flights are offered to Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.
I traveled from Guadalajara to Mérida on VB 2304, onboard aircraft XA-VAN, an Airbus A320, which was delivered brand new in November 2015. As on all VivaAerobus flights, only economy class seating is offered.
Booking / Pre-departure
I booked my flight online, six months in advance. VivaAerobus website is available in Spanish and English, with prices being displayed in Mexican pesos or US dollars as desired. Four different fare groups are offered at increasing prices, from “VivaLight” which includes a carry-on bag to “VivaSmart” which includes a package of extras. Fare sales are often available, and if your travel dates are flexible, extremely good bargains can be found. The lower fares do not include seat selection; however for a small additional fee a seat can be booked in advance. During the booking process a number of extras will be offered, from baggage upgrades to travel insurance, sometimes being annoyingly pre-selected as chosen, which need to be de-selected to avoid being purchased. As with all low-cost airlines, it’s worth paying close attention during the booking process to be aware exactly what you are (and are not) getting, to avoid unpleasant surprises later.
If you choose not to book and pay for a seat in advance, one will be assigned at check-in. Since October 2015, the ‘free seating’ concept has been discontinued.
I paid $1700 pesos (US$90 currently) for my flight, including seat assignment, not bad for a two hour flight in my opinion. My primary reason for choosing this flight however was the fact that it was the only non-stop option between the two cities on the day I wished to travel.
Check-in and security / Lounge access
Checked baggage allowance depends on the fare class purchased, and varies from nothing to 25 kg.
Carry-on baggage allowance: 1 standard carry-on, maximum 10 kg.
Check-in at Guadalajara Airport normally takes place in Terminal Two, however since it is closed for remodeling, all airlines are currently operating from Terminal One. This is a benefit, since Terminal Two previously was tiny and with virtually no facilities; it remains to be seen what facilities it will offer when it re-opens.
Annoyingly, online check-in is available for all fare classes except “VivaLight” (the cheapest), and since this was the fare I had purchased, I joined the line at the check-in desk; it moved fast however, and within 10 minutes I had my boarding pass in hand.
Security was quick, as normal at airports in Mexico, taking less than 2 minutes.
Being a low-cost airline, VivaAerobus does not offer any lounge access; since I was departing from Terminal One, I used Priority Pass to access the VIP Lounge (West), which turned out to be one of the worst lounges I have used recently.
Boarding and departure
Boarding is by group – VIP, 1, 2, 3, and 4. Since I had selected a seat near the front of the aircraft, I was in group 4. Often, VivaAerobus aircraft are parked at walking gates, where one walks from the terminal to the aircraft and up the steps. On this occasion, a jet bridge was used.
The aircraft was virtually full, however there were no issues finding space for carry-on luggage. Boarding had begun only ten minutes before scheduled departure time, and we left the gate around 30 minutes late.
A manual safety demonstration was performed, in Spanish and English. All onboard announcements were made in both languages. The pilot’s welcome announcement was muffled and incomprehensible in either language.
Seat / Cabin design
VivaAerobus has 180 seats at 30” seat pitch on their A320 aircraft. The seats are slim line, not particularly comfortable, and do not recline. I found my seat adequate for a 2 hour flight, but would not have wanted to sit in it for a long journey.
Overall the cabin was bright and new; advertising posters are on many overhead bins and tray-tables.
Food and beverage service
VivaAerobus offers a buy onboard food and beverage service from the “Mi Café” menu. I purchased a sandwich and a beer for lunch, and, while expensive compared with prices on the ground in Mexico, the sandwich was fresh and enjoyable. Unlike European low-cost airlines, which heavily push onboard sales, there was no noticeable sales pitch on this flight; apart from one pass with the service cart, there were no further sales attempts by the crew.
Entertainment and service
There is no onboard entertainment, apart from the VivaAerobus magazine.
Crew were smiling, and provided the limited service as expected.
Arrival and baggage delivery
Approaching Mérida during a thunderstorm, the aircraft made a last minute ‘go around’ which added a further 10 minutes of flight time, and we landed around 45 minutes late.
Since I had no checked baggage, I was out of the airport within 5 minutes of the arrival at the gate.
VivaAerobus provides an acceptable product on largely new aircraft, often on routes or days of the week where no other non-stop option is available. While Interjet remains my preferred airline in Mexico, VivaAerobus is a good option if they are the only non-stop service on a particular route, or if their price is considerably lower on routes where they compete. Having flown VivaAerobus in past years on their older aircraft without assigned seating, I was keen to see how the new aircraft and assigned seating had changed the airline. It was a much nicer experience, and I will have no hesitation in flying with them again when they are the best option for a journey.
Book online at www.vivaaerobus.com/en
Route: Guadalajara – Mérida
Cabin Class: Economy
Flight #: VB 2304
Aircraft Type: Airbus A320
SERVICE * * *
MEALS * * *
SEATING * * *
VALUE * * * * *
OVERALL * * * 1/2
Rock bottom prices if your travel dates are flexible (as an example, I have recently booked a one way flight from Mexico City to Merida in November for $867 pesos (US$46) including seat assignment.)
Non-stop flights on secondary routes.
Booking process can be annoying with frequent up-sell attempts.
by Stewart Mandy for TYT
Born in Europe, raised in the Middle East, and a long-time resident in the Americas, Stewart has been based in Mérida, Yucatan since 2010, and has lived and worked worldwide in the media, travel, tourism and transportation industries for well over 20 years. His local contacts and global knowledge provide him with unmatched access to the stories ‘behind the stories’ and he likes to take you to the places that others don’t or won’t go. From the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego, from Moscow to Melbourne, from Bergen to Buenos Aires, Stewart has been there. Chances are, wherever you are heading, he knows the score.
In addition to The Yucatan Times, Stewart contributes (or has contributed) to “The Examiner”, “Business Briefings”, “Cruise & Ferry Magazine” and “The Apollo Magazine”. He is a former editor of “rolling pin CRUISE” magazine. He currently publishes various news and travel related articles on his website at www.stewartmandy.com.
He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can join him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/meridawriter, and follow him on Twitter @stewartmandy