The Travel Detective

How the Cross Border Express is Influencing Air Travel

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL Las Vegas, NV Mexico City, Mexico Phoenix, AZ San Diego, CA Seattle, WA

In the midst of continued talks about building a wall at the Mexico-United States border—where San Diego and Tijuana meet—they’ve built a bridge. Now people aren’t driving across the border to get to the airport, they are walking across it.

The Cross Border Express—also known as CBX—opened in December 2015. The $120 million bridge facility directly connects Southern California to the Tijuana International Airport and is only for ticketed air passengers. Officials say it’s also connecting and building communities. The bridge is unifying these countries, while giving Southern California easy access to a growing airport with international reach.

The glass-enclosed walkway has revolutionized air travel for those crossing the Mexico-United States border. When comparing passenger traffic at the Tijuana airport from December 2014, to just one year later with the opening of the Cross Border Express, numbers are up 30 percent. There is a small fee of $12 per person or $40 for a family of up to six people. But most passengers say it’s well worth it.

You’re not going to find the typical wait times that have become common at big U.S. airports. In less than ten minutes, you’re ready to cross the border. The boarding pass in your hands will be for an airline you’ve probably never heard of, but it’s one of the fastest growing in the world. In just a few short years, Volaris has grown into the largest airline in Mexico with 68 planes, 26 international destinations, 24 U.S. cities, and 300 daily departures with 42,000 passengers.

Launched in 2005, Enrique Beltranena, the company’s CEO says that part of Volaris’ recent growth has come from the Cross Border Express. “You do customs, immigration, everything there, and if you need to take a flight from Tijuana down to more than 40 cities in Mexico, you can do it from there without even getting out of the airport or getting out of the terminal with all the security and safety measures that we have implemented for that.”

Volaris is using Tijuana as a hub. In fact, it’s not only Tijuana, but also places like Mexico City and Guadalajara to reach domestic and international destinations. Surprisingly, Volaris is also using nearly two dozen U.S. cities, including Chicago, Phoenix, Seattle, New York, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C.

Beltranena agrees: “It is actually a hub. We can do a lot of connecting traffic in both cities and we have more than 40 connections down from Tijuana and down from Guadalajara to the rest of the country. But something that we have done that’s really important is development work, which is basically direct to a lot of points.”

There’s no first class here, but the prices are right—they aren’t matching airfares, they’re matching bus fares. “We have 2.7 billion passengers that are using buses in Mexico,” Enrique Beltranena explains. “It’s the second largest bus market in the world, and that explains why people were not flying in Mexico. So we started with a campaign of switching passengers from buses and making them fly. I love to say it and I feel proud to say that Volaris is a bus with wings. In the last ten years, the more we speak about this, the more we approach the passengers, the passengers are understanding it.”

Volaris has cut out all of the frills, leaving passengers only paying for what they need: a ride from point A to point B. Beltranena elaborates: “When we started we were absolutely convinced that we were going to do switching of buses. But then in the middle of the process we realized that our fares weren’t low enough, so we started bundling our fares and taking away everything that the passenger didn’t need. We allow the passenger to decide what they want.”

Volaris tapped into a market previously unserviced in Mexico. José Luis Suárez Durán, Chief Operating Officer of Volaris, explains why: “Our true competitors are not other airlines. We came to the Mexican market in order to get more people off the buses and into the planes, that is our core purpose. We’re providing you with great service, brand new planes, for less than the cost of a bus, with ten percent of the time you would’ve spent.”

The price is right, but what it really comes back to is building communities. “The average fare from all of our competitors that are publicly traded and that operate in central America is $240 per segment. Volaris’ segment in the last nine months, the price for the segment has been $58. That’s a humongous difference, which creates a reduction of price and at the same time creates a lot of volume and people flying, which is in reality what we need for the development of our communities,” José Luis Suárez Durán reveals.

In the U.S. market, Volaris’ secret is getting out. With or without a border wall to Mexico, the bridge to Tijuana’s airport has become an economically viable option.

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By the Peter Greenberg Worldwide team for