Grand Velas Riviera Maya and the Long Flight Home (Trip Report)

Yesterday I talked about my rough experience getting to Cancun. Fortunately that was the low point of the trip. My stay at the Grand Velas was outstanding. (Disclosure: I paid for flights, but the hotel room was comped, and while I was under no obligation to even mention the place in any way, I wanted to after staying there) The rooms are gigantic with none under 1,000 square feet. I mean, this bathroom is bigger than the entire apartment of pretty much any 20-something year old in New York.

My room was right on the water in the “Grand Class” section, and I had this view.

The high winds did put a damper on things a bit, but I wasn’t outside much anyway. I spent a lot of my time on the inside of a conference room which seems tragic. I was supposed to give a talk about air travel with Gary Leff from View from the Wing, but unfortunately he was sick, so I had to go it alone.

I did sneak out for some really good food and a “water journey” in the spa. I’m not a big fan of massages, but the water journey was amazing with a sauna, an ice room, a steam room, a clay room, a few pools, a whirlpool, and an icy plunge pool to round out the 80 minute experience.

My muscles felt surprisingly relaxed.

In all, it was fantastic to get to spend time with this group that I’ve enjoyed being a part of for 5 years now in one form or another. I can’t say enough about how good these people are at planning experiences, and I always love talking to them. Now, let’s get back to flights.

I had an 8:45am flight on Sunday, and the pickup was arranged for 5:30am. Ouch. The ride to the airport was just over half an hour in the dark, and when we pulled up, I was pleasantly surprised to see a very modern-looking Terminal 2. Southwest looks to be the lone US airline that flies from the clearly renovated Terminal 2 with the rest in the new Terminal 3. I went in and got my boarding pass (which, strangely, had Pre Check printed on it) from the ticket counter. Then I sailed through immigration/security and found myself with far too much time on my hands.

Cancun Airport, at least Terminal 2, looks like it was designed by the brains behind Heathrow. You want to go to the domestic gates? You have to walk through a very smelly perfume (and other stuff) boutique.

You want to go to the international gates? Go upstairs, walk through a giant duty free shop, and then you’ll get to the rotunda. The rotunda was nice with bright lighting, a ton of food options, and plenty of seating.

After flipping through my phone a bit, I paid MX$500 for a one hour wifi pass so I could do a little work. That helped pass the time, and after a quick bathroom stop, we were boarding early, just after 8am.

Southwest doesn’t have its usual boarding facilities in Cancun. When I walked up, all I could see was a sign saying A16-30. But there’s no way to line up in order, so it has some of the old Southwest-style scrum action going on. It’s not good, and people were hovering in the area to try to get a jump on others when the next group was called.


January 15, 2017
Southwest 321 Lv Cancun 845a Arr Los Angeles 1120a
Cancun (CUN): Gate A6, Runway 12R, Depart 48m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 24, Runway 25L, Arrive 35m Late
N7747C, Boeing 737-7BD, Canyon Blue Colors, ~99% Full
Seat 5F, Coach
Flight Time 4h57m

Since I had A27, I was on early and grabbed seat 5F. At departure time, the door was open and there was no sign of us moving. The captain came out into the cabin and announced that the flight plan had the wrong tail number on it. We couldn’t go until that was fixed. He hoped it would only be 10 to 15 minutes and we’d make it up in the air with weak headwinds. Uh huh.

It was over 45 minutes later that we finally pushed back. This is an airplane that spent the night in Cancun. How does this happen, Southwest?

Once we pushed back, we taxied by some long-parked airplanes. Aviacsa went under in 2010, but these two airplanes (the first former Piedmont, the second former Air New Zealand) have been parked since 2010. That Aeronaves TSM airplane is a mystery to me. It has 20 year anniversary titles, and that would have been in 2015. Could it still be flying?

Once airborne, we got above those low tropical clouds that make you know when you’re in paradise quickly. We headed straight west over the Yucatan and I drifted in and out of sleep. Around Merida, we turned north and headed toward Brownsville, TX. Then we followed the US border pretty much the entire way home.

We had a light chop for much of the flight, but kudos to the pilots for not turning on the seatbelt sign until it got rougher. Strangely, the pilots had the flight attendants sit down almost every time the sign went on. They were sitting down for probably an hour of the flight overall, and it never got all that bumpy.

I didn’t even bother trying with the internet. I did watch TV once we got over the US until we were just inside the California border when, as on the way out, it inexplicably stopped working. There wasn’t much on so I just watched a ton of NFL pregame coverage. (If only they didn’t have to move the KC-Pittsburgh game time due to bad weather…)

This time, there was no lav drama. I stood in line and nobody said a word. It was a much more pleasant flight (except for the chop), but I think Southwest has a real problem only having two lavs on its 737-700s. On long haul, it just doesn’t work well.

Having slept through the first drink service, I only had one cup of water and a bag of peanuts on the whole flight.

We surprisingly landed on the south runways at LAX and then had to taxi back to the north side. It was busy, and we had to stop multiple times to get traffic out of the way. It took 20 minutes to get to our gate.

Since this was an international flight, we had to park at Terminal 2. We were at the gate at 11:55am. Incredibly, I was off the plane, through immigration, and past customs standing on the curb at 12:03pm. Thank you, Global Entry. I love you so, so much. Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same for this Southwest experience.


If you missed it, here’s the trip report for my flight out to Cancun.

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27 Responses to Grand Velas Riviera Maya and the Long Flight Home (Trip Report)

  1. AJ says:

    7 minutes to get from the gate to the curb via immigration and customs? That has to be a record. I thought I was lucky when I arrived at LAX on a QF flight and it took me around 15-20 minutes. Man, LAX has stepped up their game….

    • Kilroy says:

      I am impressed at just being able to get from gate to curb in 8 minutes at an airport the size of LAX, even without Customs and Immigration. The best mid-sized or larger airport for that for me is TPA, which usually runs me about 12 minutes from wheels on the runway to feet on the curb.

  2. Kilroy says:

    US$23 for an hour of Wi-Fi? Ouch!

    • Chris says:

      I was thinking the same thing; imagine if the exchange rate was what was it was from 6 months ago. It’d be even worse.

    • CF says:

      Kilroy – Doh, typo. I believe it was MX$50. I checked my credit card statement and it’s not there yet, however, so… we’ll find out some day.

  3. Eric in ICT says:

    Thanks for another great trip report, Brett! These are still my favorite type of post to read. Is WN having widespread on-time performance problems that you know of? In my limited experience and observations recently, they seem to be having trouble leaving on time, even in good weather. I know you wrote something about their issues at LAX, but I had a similar experience a couple of weeks ago in Vegas and have seen the same here in ICT. Seems strange to me.

    • CF says:

      Eric – I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary. Southwest is still just running the same kind of mediocre performance it has been running for some time. It’s not great, but it’s not awful. Month to date, for example, it’s at 70.5% on time with 3.1% of flights canceled. That sounds bad for a normal month but there has been a lot of weather bringing everyone down. Delta, for example, is running only 77.8% on time with 1.9% of flights canceled. For Delta that’s bad.

  4. Buck Rowen says:

    Cranky,

    Great review and thank you for disclosing your comp… you deserve it.

    Trump Press Secretary mentioned allowing bloggers into White House press core. Maybe you’ll qualify for this access? :-)

  5. Jeremy says:

    Overall, it dosnt sound that bad? 45 minutes late sucks, but thats not unique to Soutwest. On UA ORD-DSM ispend 1:10 on the plane at the gate and :45 in the air.

  6. David Morrill says:

    Cancun’s Terminal 3 has the exact same layout where you have to walk through duty free to get to the gate area.

  7. Gaffigan says:

    Agree with you regarding two lavs on the -700s. It’s just not enough. One person needs to take a few minutes in there (it happens) and the line gets long fast.

  8. Tim Dunn says:

    Global Entry is the best.thing.ever for international arrivals.

    I am always out of the international arrivals area in less than 10 minutes unless I check luggage – which is rare.

    Since you are clearly a fan of window seats, can you start a campaign to require that anyone that sits at a window seat keep it open until at least 5 minutes after takeoff and raise it at least 15 minutes before landing or when cleared to land? I never cease to be amazed at the people who have no interest in seeing the earth from a perspective that humans never thought possible just a few generations ago.

    • CF says:

      Tim – Sadly, no. I get the window so I can keep it open the whole time.
      If the sun is really blinding, I may lower it a bit, but I won’t close it (unless I can just partially dim it like on the 787 which is awesome). But if I’m not in the window for some awful reason, then I want that window seat person to have full control of the window as well! Absolutely authority, otherwise people might start telling me to close mine.

      • Oliver says:

        What do you do when FAs or other pax tell you to close it because they want to watch the movie?

        • CF says:

          Oliver – Generally, I’ll try to lower the shade a bit to get the glare out of the way of the person’s movie, but I won’t close it completely.

      • Tim Dunn says:

        Thanks for your response.

        My request is not to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do or to be the person that leaves the window shade up when the sunlight is washing out other people’s video screens. My sadness, and I’m glad you captured that, is that people are so glued to their own personal video screens that they immediately pull the window shades down and think nothing of the fact that there is a world outside of the aircraft (or what is on their own screen) and that some people might want to look out.

        I don’t find it any more of an affront to ask someone to raise the window shade for a few minutes than I do in allowing someone sitting at the window to access the aisle. No one would get by with telling the person in the middle seat or window seats that, since they aren’t in the aisle seat, they can’t access it so I hardly find it rude to ask someone at the window to raise the shade at least for the few minutes of a flight when there is something that everyone can see… obviously at cruise altitude only the window person can likely see anything. I watch movies inflight or use personal electronic devices which are washed out by the light from the outside but an airline or another passenger shouldn’t expect you or anyone else not to be able to at least periodically raise the shade enough to be able to see out.

        And kudos to airlines including ANA which have external cameras on at least some of their aircraft that provide a glimpse of the world outside of the metal tube – even if that image is on the personal video screen.

        The issue is one of thinking in community – a rare sport in today’s individualistic, personal electronic device driven society. Window shades on airplanes are a small symptom of a mindset that manifests itself every place humans interact in modern society – including on the road, in stores and other public buildings, and in the exchange of ideas.

        so much for philosophizing but hopefully my plea resonates with a few people on here….

    • David M says:

      Some flight attendants will ask for window shades to be open for takeoff and landing. There’s a few safety reasons why they do this, including better visibility to what’s gong on outside the aircraft and so that passenger’s eyes are adjusted to the outside light levels. It’s definitely not always done; it might be just in some airline policies or required by some other countries aviation regulators. http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/airline-staff-reveal-why-window-shades-must-be-kept-open-during-takeoff-and-landing-a6899681.html

      • Tim Dunn says:

        Yes, and I love those airlines…. But I don’t think many US airlines do it outside of the regional carrier industry. And it is a sensitive enough topic that flight attendants shouldn’t be making up their own policies – as we found out about lav usage just a day or two ago.

  9. Alex Hill says:

    Why the surprise about precheck being printed on your boarding pass? It’s always been on my boarding passes for airlines that participate in pre check whether or not the flight originates in the US (or in an airport with Precheck).

    I much prefer that the err on the side of printing precheck when it does no good than not printing it when it might do good!

    • CF says:

      Alex – I guess I’ve never paid attention before. I just assumed it would only be on boarding passes where Pre Check was even possible.

      • Eric Morris says:

        I’m glad you mentioned it. It means those of us in flyover country who generally have no international non-stop options can minimize TSA frustration after experiencing Border Control frustration on our return to the Land of the Free.

      • ptahcha says:

        UA prints Pre Check on all eligible BP as well, regardless of origin.

        I think AC actually distinguishes US-origin flights and prints PRE on them, but not on Canada-origin flights.

  10. Wes says:

    Nice shot of those Aviacsa birds! I flew one of their 737 classics from Tijuana to Acapulco for Spring Break. The fare was dirt cheap, and it was a unique experience. It was a thrilling (scary?) approach to ACA. Too bad about the rapid decline of that entire area due to the gang wars. I doubt I’ll ever return. Another unique experience was the return leg. Upon landing and deplaning in TIJ, my friend and I were approached by a Mexican law enforcement official and asked to present our passports. It was not an international flight, and no one else from the aircraft was asked to produce any identification (suffice it to say we stuck out like sore thumbs versus the other passengers). We were not at any kind of checkpoint, but just approached in the middle walkway of the gate area as we were working our way toward exiting the airport. All went well, but it was a strange, memorable experience.

  11. Maria says:

    Hey I read your post and I’m trying to understand what exactly is it that you didn’t like from Southwest.

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