Serving one of the most populated cities in the world, the Mexico City airport (MEX) is a sprawling, haphazard, annoying place that can throw even the most experienced travelers for a loop. As an expat that lives a few hours away in Guanajuato, I’ve probably passed through it 30 times now. It’s the hub for Aeromexico and has direct flights to most major cities in the Americas, as well as quite a few direct flights to Europe and a smattering to Asia. Here’s what you need to know if you have it on your ticket.
Bring a Phrase Book or App
You’d think the airport of a major world capital city would have some people around who speak English, but you’d be wrong. Occasionally you’ll luck out at the information kiosk and with the immigration people, but otherwise you’ll have better luck asking a well-dressed fellow passenger with the means to travel abroad to find an English speaker. Or a kid wearing a heavy metal T-shirt. Assume you’ll need to communicate in Spanish or rope in a helper.
T1 and T2 in the Mexico City Airport
There are two terminals at MEX and they are on opposite sides of the runways. So be sure if you have a layover that you’re not coming into one and out of the other. Otherwise you’ll need to board a monorail that goes between them or if it’s late, you need to take a bus that isn’t so easy to find. (If you’re having trouble, ask for “Primera Plus” as it’s near where that bus line leaves for other cities.) If you’re taking a taxi to the airport from a Mexico City hotel, make sure you know which terminal you’re flying out of as they’re different drop-offs. It’s hard to generalize about who’s in what terminal, but most of the international flights are out of the newer T2 one.
You May Need an Immigration Stamp
If you’re flying out of this airport to another country, you have to show an immigration form and get it stamped unless they took your existing one (from your arrival that you had to keep) at check-in. There’s an unassuming, not-very-well-marked kiosk for this in T2 near the entrance of one of the two sets of gates, below the Amex Centurion lounge and a mezzanine restaurant. If you don’t go here before boarding, you can’t get on the plane. Where this gets tricky is if you fly from another spot in Mexico and they didn’t tell you about this. But if you didn’t get a form stamped where you flew out—and you probably didn’t—you need to do it here.
Gate Announcements are Really Late
Like Heathrow in the UK, this is one of those annoying airports where they don’t decide which gate you’re going out of until 15-20 minutes before you’re supposed to board. So there’s a lot of waiting around looking at a screen, then a scramble to the correct gate once it’s posted. To make it worse, the gates are not numbered in order as you go down the hall. Instead they go down the right side and then up the left side. So gate 72 is not across from 71 or 73—and 75 is nowhere near it.
Gate 75 is a Free-for-all Then a Bus
If you’re leaving out of Gate 75 for another spot in Mexico, you have to mill around a crowded hallway area until they tell you which of four lines to get into to get processed. People boarding flights to the Riviera Maya, Oaxaca, and Mazatlan are often crowded around the same gate area.
Then when your destination gets posted, you go downstairs and wait again to board a bus that will take you to your plane. If you’re on regional Aeromar, you’ll usually go from here, but many Aeromexico ones leave from this gate as well.
Where to Eat in MEX
If you arrive at T2 and have some time before your flight, above where you came in by car is a big food court with very reasonable prices. It’s by a little museum, across from the check-in areas. You’ll have a wide variety of choices, it’s fast, and prices are half what they’ll be after you pass security.
At T1, there’s a hotel in the center of the terminal and there is a cluster of good restaurants around that. They’re not cheap, but they’re better than what you’ll find on the first floor. Otherwise you can get Starbucks, doughnuts, or sandwiches at inflated airport prices. One MEX oddity: you can buy an overpriced beer from a convenience store and drink it anywhere in the terminal.
Changing Money in the Mexico City Airport
There are a few money changing places in T2 at so-so rates. You’ll get a much better rate on the first floor of T1, where it’s hyper-competitive because there are 20+ money changer booths. The best bet, of course, is to just use an ATM instead. You’ll find plenty of those around.
Getting a Taxi at the Mexico City Airport
Taxis operate on a pre-paid system and since the airport is not very far from the hotel zones, you’ll likely pay less than $20 to get where you’re going. If you’re going to the historic center, that’s well under $15. There are multiple booths though after baggage claim and some charge more for a slightly larger or nicer car. Unless you need a van, just look for the cheapest one. Uber operates here as well. Uber operates from here, but the drivers are constantly fighting with the taxi drivers and the pickup zone is not clear, so it’s easier to come here with them than it is to get picked up by them.
The subway connects to the terminal, but you’re not allowed on with luggage. You may not get stopped if you are traveling light, but in general it’s too crowded anyway if you’re lugging suitcases.
Heading Elsewhere by Bus
If you’re traveling to another city in Mexico overland, there are a few routes that leave out of the Mexico City Airport terminals themselves. Otherwise you’ll need to travel by taxi to the appropriate bus station. The northern bus terminal is close, for heading to Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, and others in that direction. The southern one (Oaxaca, Zihuatanejo, etc.) is much further away. Again though, taxi prices are set by zone, so tell them where you ‘re going at the ticket booth and pay in advance.
Some lines leave from the airport itself, including Primera Plus, Omnibus, and others. In T2 you get the bus at the far end of the ground floor. In T1 you catch one in the middle on the mezzanine level.
Mexico is one of the cheapest places to live or retire in the world and it’s easy to get there for a good price quickly from the USA. So it’s worth putting up with all this on your way to other places or to travel within the country. After a few times you’ll get the hang of it…
Photos are by the author and courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, linked to the photographer page. Yes, the architect of T2 had a thing for dots…