My First Southwest International Flight to Cancun Could Have Gone Better (Trip Report)

You may know that I’m one of the . When the founder of that list, Wendy Perrin, left the magazine, she started a new website and created for an incredible group of destination specialists. Since I don’t specialize in a destination, I’m not actually on the list. But as a friend of the family, so to speak, I’m invited to attend the annual gathering. This year it was at the Grand Velas Rivera Maya near Cancun, a part of the world I’d never been before. (Disclosure: the hotel paid for my stay, but the flights were on me.) That meant I had my first opportunity to try an international Southwest flight. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I’m writing up the outbound today, and I’ll talk a bit about the hotel as well as the return flight in a special post tomorrow.

Why did I pick Southwest? Well, three reasons. One, I wanted to see how Southwest handled international flying. Two, it was cheap. And three, I have a companion pass and my wife could come along. I used 23,138 Rapid Rewards points $41.26 in taxes for me. I also bought EarlyBird for the return for $15 since I didn’t think I’d be able to check myself in. Unfortunately, the night before, my wife had to cancel. One kid had a high fever (which has since broken) and the other had lice. The joys of parenthood….

The morning of the flight, it was pouring rain. It took me twice as long as usual to get to LAX, though incredibly, the traffic inside the airport wasn’t all that bad. I had checked in the night before to get my B12 boarding number, but it said I had to go to a kiosk or see an agent to get the boarding pass. That was annoying since I had no checked luggage.

As I walked in the door, I saw an empty kiosk so I printed out my boarding pass and went to security. The Pre Check line was longer than the regular line, but I stuck with it. At the ID checker, I handed over my passport, and he asked if I had another ID. In a momentary flash of panic, I asked if there was a problem. Sure was. I had just renewed my passport, and I hadn’t signed the new one yet. Good thing I had my driver license with me. On the other side, I signed it.

I found a seat at the gate and was immediately blasted with PA after PA telling people that if they didn’t have a “DOCS OK” stamp, they had to come to the podium. I ignored it since the kiosk didn’t say there were any issues. But the woman next to me saw my boarding pass and told me to go up. Once there, I found two busy agents. The first seemed to be very new (at least at working international flights) and had to stop the other agent to ask a question every few seconds. Even though all they had to do was stamp my boarding pass, it took a couple minutes once it was my turn. They continued to page people until I boarded.

I had hoped to get a nice view outside, but Living Spaces has ruined that opportunity. They built this big display with comfy seating and have frosted over every window. This is an outrage. For shame, Living Spaces.

January 12, 2017
Southwest 340 Lv Los Angeles 840a Arr Cancun 405p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 12A, Runway 24L, Depart 11m Late
Cancun (CUN): Gate 19, Runway 12L, Arrive 20m Late
N7703A, Boeing 737-76N, Canyon Blue Colors, 90% Full
Seat 4F, Coach
Flight 4h6m

Even with B12, my now-favorite seat 4F was open so I took it and stared out into the gloom. I do have to say, that was one sweet old paint job they had parked on the side.

The flight attendant came on and announced that while there was wifi on this airplane, we should buy it at our risk. He said that the other day when he flew to Cancun, they were connected the whole way but coming back they had nothing. I appreciated the warning.

The captain came on to say we’d have some bumps on the way up and it wouldn’t smooth until we hit Phoenix. (Turns out he was wrong. It was mostly smooth all the way to Phoenix.) We pushed back 11 minutes late for no given reason, and then it took us 20 minutes to taxi to the runway which was only a few yards away.

We took off into the soup and pointed east. The flight attendants came through and despite the early hour, I ordered a Wild Turkey. After the last few days with sick kids and a variety of other issues, I decided I earned it no matter the hour. The woman next to me was even kind enough to hand me a drink coupon. (The ones the airline gave me when I did 9 Airports, 1 Day either expired last year or I gave them out to people at Dorkfest.)

I logged on, and while we were technically connected, it’s hard to say that it was in any way useful. I was able to tweet, on occasion could receive email, but I could almost never send email and certainly couldn’t do anything else.

The flight attendant announced he’d be coming through with “light snacks, with the emphasis on light.” I took peanuts, Ritz with cheese, Fritos, and Oreos. Not exactly a breakfast of champions.

About halfway through, the lav lines were getting long, and a different flight attendant made the announcement that due to “international law” you are not allowed to line up for either lav. I’d only heard that for the front lav before, but I suppose it could be a weird Mexican law. Anyone know?

My row waited in our seats for about 10 minutes. It was almost our turn before the captain came to use the lav. Then the first officer. I gave up and went to the back. The flight attendant again told me to sit down, but I talked to her for long enough that the person came out and I was able to go in. I told her she needs one of those “take a number” things and she, looking very annoyed at the number of people continuously lining up, actually started writing down numbers on napkins and handing them out.

All in all, it took me over half an hour to actually use the lav from when I first tried to get up. After I sat back down, the flight attendant came back on the PA and announced that she would be handing numbers out to anyone who wanted to use the back lav. She said to ring the call button if people needed to use it, and nearly 30 did. She started announcing numbers over the PA when the lav opened and that annoyingly continued through much of the rest of the flight.

Just before we headed over the coastline in Texas, I decided to try wifi again. This time it connected… but it wanted me to pay $8 again. The $8 is supposed to be good all day, so I was miffed, and I wasn’t about to lose another $8. (I also sent a note to request a refund specifically because of that, but I haven’t heard back yet.) Instead I stared out the window and saw this beautiful scene as we went “feet wet.”

I resigned myself to watching crappy daytime television, but even that failed me an hour before arrival when it just stopped working. (Now I’ll never know if that woman won her People’s Court case….)

Soon we were over the Yucatan Peninsula and I was amazed at just how green and dense the forest was. We came down through some scattered clouds and landed. After taxiing around the airport, we finally parked just about 20 minutes late. I loved the variety of airlines. Just look at this line-up.

After walking down into the immigration area, I was confronted with a teeming mass of people. It seems like every flight arrived at the same time and they had us all gather together.

It was a mess, it was hot, and the line wasn’t moving very fast. It took me a full hour before I got through immigration only to be confronted by a long customs line as well. This one took only 15 minutes, but then I lost the lottery and got the dreaded red light. (Mexico makes you push a button and it randomly gives you green or red.) Red meant I had to go to another line where someone would pull apart my bags and look at everything I owned.

I made it through the throngs of people selling taxi rides and found a person holding a sign with my name at the overly crowded curb.

I had to wait another 15 minutes before my ride could get into the terminal area. In the end, I didn’t get to the hotel until 7pm, more than 3 hours after I should have landed.

Stay tuned for the riveting conclusion tomorrow.

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