San Antonio International Airport’s hope of being a gateway for travel to Mexico is diminishing. This month the city-managed airport reported a 21 percent drop in passengers flying between the Alamo City and Mexico, and that is frustrating some travelers.
On a recent Monday night at the Interjet Airlines ticketing desk in Terminal B, passengers were booking ahead for some of the few remaining non-stops to Mexico City.
In March, Southwest stopped flying from San Antonio to the Mexican capital. Aeromexico cut back on its flights.
Nusha Bladinieres of New Braunfels was hustling to catch her two-hour, non-stop to Mexico City. Missing
it would mean having to make connections through Houston or Dallas and spending 5 to 10 hours traveling.
“Actually, I was supposed to fly yesterday, but I couldn’t get a flight last minute so I had to fly today," said a frustrated Bladinieres.
She flies several times a month to Mexico City to see family members and for her yogurt store business. She says the loss of the Southwest flights makes quick trips more difficult.
“I think for business it is bad,” she said, saying the loss of convenient flights may also hurt retail sales in the San Antonio area.
“There are a lot of Mexicans who come here, shopping and spending money and going to restaurants. My brother, (who lives in Mexico City), goes to Houston to go shopping because it’s less expensive to fly there even though we have San Marcos and all the wonderful places here,” she says.
Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, says he knows the loss of direct flights to Mexico City from San Antonio has caused some “angst” among business travelers.
He believes Mexican carriers overestimated the market when they began competing for San Antonio passengers several years ago.
“I think our market is still very robust. I think there was just an overcapacity that was being provided. So now with market forces I think they are having to dial those back,” Perez said.
In addition to losing Mexico City flights, VivaAerobus has ended service from San Antonio to Monterrey and Southwest quit flying its route to Cancun. Airport managers say that during the year that ended in July 2016, 10,000 fewer passengers flew between San Antonio and Mexico. It’s a drop of 21 percent on Mexico routes, at a time when domestic flights are getting busier.
Still Tom Jones, the airport’s aviation director, believes San Antonio’s connection to our southern neighbor is strong.
“Our desire to be that gateway to South American and South Central Texas is one we will continue to aspire to,” Jones said during a recent interview.
But Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant for major airlines and industry businesses who is based in Denver, doesn’t think that aspiration will lead to reality.
“There’s no way San Antonio International Airport is going to be a national U.S. gateway to the South. There is no airline doing it,” said Boyd.
Boyd adds that Southwest Airlines opening of its international hub at Houston Hobby last year siphoned off some of San Antonio’s Mexico flights, and he says Houston Hobby is likely to be the preferred airport for other destinations south of the border.
“Southwest is going to want to put as many people as it can through their operation at Houston Hobby, so a nonstop from San Antonio takes away from that and doesn’t deliver the same amount of return they can do by putting it into Houston to connect to communities all across America. That (Houston Hobby) will be a gateway to Latin America. That’s just the name of the game, and it’s not going to change.”
Still Boyd says San Antonio may see an expansion of Mexico flights in the future.
Juan Manuel Garcia says that can’t come soon enough. He travels at least once a month to Mexico City to see his girlfriend and doesn’t have as many non-stop options as he’d like.
“I don’t want to take a day off from work to fly, so the only choice I have now is Interjet,” said Garcia as he arrived in San Antonio late on Monday night.
“Before I used to have three other airlines I could choose from and compare prices. So, it’s definitely limited me to one airline and only one time to fly out of San Antonio
Airport officials say they continue to talk to airlines about offering more options in San Antonio. The reduction in Mexico flights is a disappointment, but they point to an increase in domestic passengers in 2015 and 2016 as evidence the airport’s overall business growing.
Tomorrow: Texas Public Radio talks with San Antonio’s aviation managers about possible expansion for domestic travel for the airport.