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Navigating the Mexico City Airport

I recently received a reader request (yay!) for an overview on what happens when you get off the plane in the Mexico City Airport, so I thought I would share a few tips I’ve gathered thus far from my trips.

Airport Code: MEX
Possible Aliases: Benito Juarez International Airport, or AICM (Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México)
Website: http://www.aicm.com.mx/ or for English click http://www.aicm.com.mx/home_en.php
Location: Here’s a map from Streets and Trips showing where the Airport is located (blue circle) in comparison to some of the more popular neighborhoods (red circles). Also highlighted in purple squares are a couple of the main roads taxis use to get to/from the airport from the west side of the city (i.e. going to/from Polanco).

Location of Mexico City Airport

Location of Mexico City Airport (click image to enlarge)

Metro Stop: Terminal Aerea on the yellow line #5.

Map of Terminals: Check out this wild-though-slightly-confusing interactive map.

Terminals: There are two Terminals, 1 and 2.  Unfortunately it is not as simple as one is the domestic, one is the international terminal. International flights arrive into both terminals. You can see the full list by airline here on the AICM website, or here is a quick list of the big names:

  • Aeromexico: #2
  • American: #1
  • British Airways/Air Canada/Air France: #1
  • Continental: #2
  • Delta: #2
  • Mexicana/Mexicana Click: #1
  • Northwest: #2
  • United: #1
  • US Airways: #1

What happens when I arrive on an international flight into Mexico City? (I will answer this from the perspective of Terminal 1, since that is where I have flown into from the States. The process should be the same for Terminal 2, but I imagine the layout is slightly different.)

After you get off the plane, you’ll walk through the main area of the terminal & follow the signs downstairs towards customs/immigration. First you’ll go through Immigration, where you’ll turn in the immigration form that you likely received on the plane. Note: US citizens need a passport to travel to Mexico as of June 2009. Only note-to-self here is don’t be talking on your cell phone in the immigration area.

Next you’ll pick up any checked luggage you had at the baggage claim. IMPORTANT LUGGAGE NOTE FOR BOTH TERMINALS: MEX is the only airport I’ve been to that actually checks to see if your luggage claim ticket matches the luggage tags on your bag before you leave the baggage area. This is true for both domestic & international flights. So make it easy on yourself & be sure you save that little claim ticket that you received when checking-in your bag before your flight!!

To leave the baggage claim area, you’ll pass through Customs, where you’ll hand over your import declaration form & you’ll put all of your bags on a belt through another scanner. Then you press a button & either get a green light or red light, signifying whether you can continue on your way (green) or customs is going to search your bags (red).

Yay, now you’ve made it past all the checkpoints. Next step: getting a taxi. When you exit the secured area of Terminal 1 after customs, turn and walk to your right. Below is another map showing the path you’ll take.

The red line shows the path through Terminal 1 in the Mexico City airport from Immigration to Baggage Claim to Customs to taxis

The red line shows the path through Terminal 1 in the Mexico City airport from Immigration to Baggage Claim to Customs to taxis

Getting a taxi at the Mexico City airport:

Your next task is to find a taxi. You will be fine if you go to one of the stands inside the airport terminal. There are several authorized taxi companies (see list here) and the prices are set based on a system of which “zone” you are going to. Approach one of the stands and tell them the address to which you’re headed, including the colonia (or the name of the neighborhood). IMPORTANT NOTE FOR NOT WASTING MONEY ON A AIRPORT TAXI: Ask for a sedan taxi. Otherwise, they will charge you for an SUV (or ejecutivo) taxi, which is $300 pesos instead of <$200 pesos to go to most colonias. That said, if you are with a group of more than 2 people with large luggage, you may want to consider the SUV/ejecutivo taxis simply from a space/comfort perspective… The sedan taxis generally don’t have a ton of space in their trunk for crazy-big American-sized suitcases, and leg room can be limited if you are stuffing 4 passengers into one car.

I have never had a taxi stand try to screw with me on the price to get to my address once we got past the sedan vs. SUV topic. However, if you want to check what the price should be, this taxi company website lets you type in your colonia destination & tells you what the price should be for that zone. (Note: some colonias span 2 zones & that website won’t tell you which specific zone your address is in.)

For any future visitors of ours, our apartment building is in Zona 6 of Polanco, so I just ask the taxi stand for “un sedan a Polanco, zona seis”, which is $190 pesos.

If you have pesos, you can pay in cash; if not, most of the taxi stands take credit cards & I consider it safe to use one there. (Just make sure your credit card operator is aware of your trip to Mexico & is expecting to see purchases from Mexico, so your card doesn’t get denied.) The taxi stand will give you a receipt with two parts, and then you walk outside where the taxis lurk. At this point, a random dude will usually try to grab your luggage out of your hand to drag it the 100 feet to the taxi area. Feel free to resist this effort if you don’t want to give him a tip (and believe me, he WILL pressure you into giving him a tip of maybe $5-10 pesos).

There should be another gentleman standing outside who will look at your taxi receipt & point you in the direction of the taxis from the company you chose (again, multiple taxi companies operate here). You can usually figure this out as well by matching the colors/logo on your receipt with the colors/logo on the taxi.  When you get in the taxi, the driver will keep half of the receipt & you’ll get the other half. Now is when I tell the driver the specific address I am going to (the people at the stand indoors don’t really care, other than to make sure you’re paying the right price for the right zone). Once you arrive at your destination, you don’t need to tip the taxi driver since you’re in the spendier, safe sitio-type taxis (I never do). However, you can give him a few pesos if you feel like he was über-helpful with your luggage or tolerated you trying to chat with him in Spanglish for 30 minutes.

And that’s it! You’ve made it from airplane to the taxi without issue!

Other random Q&A:

I have family/friends flying into the Mexico City airport; should I pick them up or is it safe to have them use the airport taxis? As my parents and brother can now attest, I am a big advocate of visitors just getting one of the taxis at the airport. There is no negotiating required, they are safe, and they are fast. We initially tried sending a taxista to meet our visitors at the airport, but finding an obvious place to meet/ensuring said taxista arrived on time was not as easy as we hoped. As friend Emily can attest (who we decided to pick up because we thought Saturday afternoon would be “easy” to grab her from the airport & head directly to a neighborhood down south), our trip to the airport took at least an hour due to traffic/accident blocking a key lane of traffic, and then it took us about 2 hours to get to our destination because we didn’t realize the eastern half of the city is under construction. Alternatively, I estimate it would have taken her <30 minutes to get to our house via airport taxi.

What if I want to go on a fool’s mission to pick someone up at the airport? There is fairly cheap parking available outside of both terminals, and finding the parking garage entrance is even pretty well marked! Check out aforementioned map to suss out where the parking is.

How long does it take to check in for a flight at the Mexico City airport/what is security like? In our experience, the larger Mexican airlines are extremely efficient/quick getting people checked-in (i.e. Aeromexico & Mexicana). It should take you <30 minutes to get checked in & go through the loosest security checkpoint ever. When we have flown US airlines back to the US, however, it has taken about an hour to get checked in (due to minimal # of staff trying to check in 3 int’l flights at once), so plan accordingly.

The main security checkpoint at the airport is almost a non-issue and typically quite fast. I’ve had no issues with liquids, only with the nail file portion of a nail clippers I had, which the security woman simply broke off from the nail clippers (which had been through about a zillion other flights without issue, than you very much). On international flights to the US, you will have the “US-style” security check at your gate right before you board. That is where they will check to make sure you comply with the US liquids rules of <3oz. Also FYI, you can’t even bring unopened bottles of water onto the plane for flights to the US, even if you just bought it at the store right next to your gate.

Should I take the metro to get to the airport? I can’t really speak to this since I’ve never tried it. However, I can offer the commentary that I would probably not feel very comfortable taking the metro to the Mexico City airport if I was dragging any measurable amount of luggage. The metro can be pretty busy/packed depending upon the time/day you are on it, so it may make me a bit nervous to try & monitor a combination of backpack/purse/carry-on/big suitcase while surrounded by a crush of people. I would also factor in how many subway-line changes you have to make from your starting point to get to the airport. From our house, 3 different lines are required & I imagine it would take easily an hour+ door-to-door, plus getting fairly sweaty before you board a multi-hour international flight. That said, if you’ve tried it & it was super-easy, please advise!!

How do I transfer between terminals?

Conveniently, the airport has an AirTrain (aka AeroTren) that will zip you between the terminals. Rumor has it that it runs between 5AM and 10PM & the ride takes about 5 minutes. Just look for signs with a train-looking icon & follow those. Also, this website has a great summary of going from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 via the AirTrain.

UPDATE–> looks like the above link is dead (thanks for the alert, Kire!), but there is some commentary on this page regarding the Aerotren. The salient points are basically:

  • “To take the Aerotrén from T-1: take the moving staircase by Sala D (1st floor), turn left and walk to the middle of the bridge, from there you can take the trip to T-2.”
  • The Aerotrén leaves from T-2 on the first floor: access is to the left of the check-in desks, at the entrance to the ‘dedo sur – southern finger’ – of T-2.”   (info courtesy www.aeropuertosmexico.com)

Readers, please holler if you have any additional guidance that I’ve missed or further questions that I’ve overlooked!

UPDATE #2–>> Check out my new post to discover a good meeting point if you are meeting friends or family inside Terminal 1 at the Mexico City airport.  (There are two doors from which people arriving on international flights can leave the secured area, so it’s nice to have a meeting point just in case you aren’t clear which door they will be exiting.)

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