My Last Delta Trip From Terminal 5 at LAX Takes Me to Mexico (Trip Report)

Delta, Trip Reports

A couple years ago, three friends and I decided to put together a guys’ trip to Cabo. Two years later, we decided to do it again. This time, we decided to head to Puerto Vallarta. My original plan to fly Southwest one way was derailed at the last minute, so it was a Delta roundtrip for me. I started getting nostalgic when I realized this was probably the last Delta trip I’d take from Terminal 5 at LAX, the same terminal Delta has been in since it bought Western 30 years ago. In just a couple of months, Delta will relocate to Terminals 2 and 3.

The original plan was to fly down on Friday on Southwest. I was looking forward to drinking a ton of water and testing the lav line rule. But some timing issues at work meant I needed to be available all day Friday. Plus, there was a major storm bearing down on Southern California, and I was concerned about getting out. I decided to buy a new Delta ticket down (only ~$250 two days before travel) and get out early. I used my Starpoints to stay at the Marriott CasaMagna knowing I’d have good wifi and a late check-out. Then by the time my friends arrived Friday, I’d be ready to go.

The change in plans meant my ride disappeared. So, I opted to take Metro. It was actually pretty efficient, about an hour door-to-door. I walked in and saw where American had taken over some ticket counter space as part of its move into Terminal 5.

Then I headed upstairs, wound my way around through the Pre Check line, and was on the other side about 45 minutes before departure.

I had the new Delta app downloaded and was looking forward to trying out the interactive map/wayfinding system. I found nothing. All I had was a static map that was pretty useless. Of course, I knew where my gate was, and I stopped briefly to catch a glimpse of the American Airlines Piedmont aircraft parked next door. I love this photo of my Delta 737 in an ocean of American.

I strolled through the terminal a bit, remembering trips from long ago. For some reason, I recalled sitting at one gate as a kid when my mom flew out to Albuquerque to visit my uncle. I also remembered flying to Hawai’i more than once. There’s just a lot of history in that terminal, the old Oasis, for me.

We began boarding a few minutes late, and for some reason, a family was just standing in front of the general boarding line blocking everyone. It was unclear what was going on, so people starting making their own lines around them and it got a little confusing.

February 16, 2017
Delta 741 Lv Los Angeles 1015a Arr Puerto Vallarta 314p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 51B, Runway 25R, Depart 6m Late
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B5, Runway 22, Arrive 7m Early
N3760C, Boeing 737-832, Standard Delta colors, ~99% Full
Seat 21A, coach
Flight Time 2h24m

I do like how Delta’s interiors look these days. The seat-coverings look sharp, though it was clear this airplane had been around awhile thanks to the small and old-looking monitors in the seat back. I took my seat over the wing and found a wrapped blanket waiting for me. I tried to play with the inflight entertainment, but they don’t start it until you’re in the air which is annoying.

The flight attendants were politely trying to get people seated quickly, but we still pushed a bit late. It was a short taxi and soon we were airborne, making a left-hand turn for Mexico once we got above the scattered low clouds.

The flight attendants announced they had to stay seated due to a bumpy climb, but it wasn’t bumpy… until right after the seatbelt sign went off. The management of the seatbelt sign was frustrating. We’d hit a couple bumps and the sign would go on. The bumps would subside almost immediately but the sign would stay on for awhile each time.

The flight attendants announced that this airplane was equipped with Gogo 2Ku fast wifi, and I had to try it out. I had forgotten that T-Mobile gives a free hour of surfing, so I was a happy camper. How was it? Amazing. Speeds were lightning-fast and the system hummed right along well into Mexico. I actually streamed Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and didn’t have any buffering issues. It’s a great product.

In the background I had some music and the map on, so I was happy. We sliced our way down the Sea of Cortez for the roughly 2.5 hour flight.

I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so when the food cart came around, I bought a Luvo fancy-pants super-healthy wrap for $10. I don’t remember what was in it, but I think there was some ancient grain, some edamame, and probably kale. (I still don’t understand kale.) The thing was really soggy, and I couldn’t even pick it up. I had to use a fork to eat it, and it was not satisfying at all. Is it too much to ask for a turkey sandwich?

I did have a glass of water and got some Biscoff (aka “Delta Cookies”) for the kids. I also hailed the return of the honey-roasted peanut. Those were tasty.

Once my wifi time ran out, I flipped on the TV and watched an episode of Chopped. By the end, we were descending. Aircraft were landing to the south, and that meant we had to cut through some bumpy terrain.

We bounced through some clouds over the mountains, but it got even bumpier once we were below them. I generally judge turbulence by the sounds in the cabin. When you can hear people making noise, it’s bouncy. And on this flight, there were at least a few audible gasps on some of our bigger drops. We were bouncing around right up until the end when the pilots planted that thing on the ground HARD.

We had to wait a few minutes for a gate, but that allowed me to enjoy seeing 2 Air Transat A310s on the ground at the same time (so many Canadians…).

Oh, and the Aviacsa 737 already being eaten by the jungle near the runway threshold was pretty entertaining too. (You can see that in the distance in the photo above.)

Delta inexplicably didn’t hand out immigration or customs forms onboard, so we all had to get off and get the immigration form, scattering along the ramp down to processing in order to fill them out. I had a pen and was ready, so I just filled as I walked. At the bottom they handed me a customs form only when I could prove I had filled out the immigration form. There was nobody in line for immigration, and I thought I was home-free until I saw the winding customs line. It took more than 15 minutes to get through that, but I was through and fending off hordes of timeshare people in no time. I was in my hotel room exactly an hour after we had touched down. Not too shabby.

The Marriott was decent, not great, though I had some fantastic lobster tacos. While the view was hard to beat, I was probably the only person who cursed not being able to see behind me when I heard an airplane taking off. Puerto Vallarta itself was amazing, and the weak peso makes it really affordable. I had only been there once before, but we stayed far south of town so didn’t really explore the area. This time we stayed near the Marina and went all over town. It’s incredibly scenic and it feels more like a city than Cabo. I really enjoyed it a lot, and would love to go back.

Our flight home left after 4 (one of my friends and I traveled home together), which is really late when you’ve checked out of your hotel. But we just parked it outside in the pool area and waited it out. I got an alert from our Cranky Concierge system that our flight was delayed a bit. Sure enough, Delta was late getting the airplane out of LA, so we’d be about 20 minutes late.

Strangely, after all this, I got an alert from the FlyDelta app saying my flight was on time. The Delta website showed it delayed, so I have no idea why there was this disconnect. We headed over to the airport a couple hours before departure, though we didn’t need that much. Despite the traffic-clogged roadway into the airport (they should have spent less money on fancy floors in the terminal and instead spent it on a functioning road system), we were there with plenty of time. We checked in with an agent, got our boarding passes, and then walked upstairs to be faced with a really long security line.

It took awhile to get through but we had the time so we weren’t really concerned. After being directed through two duty free shops, we finally made it over to the international concourse which was buzzing with traffic. We were clearly there in the late afternoon rush, and our gate was surrounded by both an Alaska and American flight heading to LA as well. We apparently picked wrong since those two were right on time.

They may have designed the terminal to look nice, but sound bounces off the walls and the noise was a little more than my slightly hungover brain could handle. I walked around but it wasn’t better anywhere, particularly not in the downstairs bullpen where several flights were waiting to bus people out to remote gates. I finally found sanctuary in a bathroom, of all places, but I certainly didn’t want to hang out there very long.

Our airplane pulled up around 4pm, and we knew we’d never get out of there by 4:34pm as posted. People were very slow getting off the airplane, and they clogged up the area waiting for immigration forms and then trying to fill them out, as I had done just a few days before. Once boarding did begin, there was the usual scrum at the gate. We made our way on and took our seats.

February 20, 2017
Delta 770 Lv Puerto Vallarta 415p Arr Los Angeles 535p
Puerto Vallarta (PVR): Gate B7, Runway 22, Depart 35m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 51A, Runway 24R, Arrive 34m Late
N3762Y, Boeing 737-832, Standard Delta colors, ~99% Full
Seat 20A, coach
Flight Time 2h45m

This airplane looked like the last one on the inside. Hooray for consistency. Boarding was slow to complete, and we didn’t push back until 4:50pm. Then something strange happened. The tug was gone, and the pilots started to throttle up and we started moving forward. Almost instantly, they throttled back down and slammed the brakes. We sat there for more than 10 minutes. At one point, I saw a ramper with headphones on his head standing to the side clearly trying to listen to something the pilots were yelling from the cockpit. He then held up the headphone jack and walked up to the airplane to plug in. I figured something was broken, but just a few minutes later we were again taxiing. I have no idea what happened there.

We followed an Alaska flight out on to the runway and climbed over Banderas Bay. It was actually a somewhat bumpy climb, and the flight attendants stayed seated. But at altitude it proved to be a nice ride most of the way. I had a great view of Cabo San Lucas as we headed back north through the Sea of Cortez. The movie selection wasn’t all that great, but I flipped on Florence Foster Jenkins and promptly, incredibly, fell asleep. I can’t sleep on airplanes but the lack of sleep combined with a hangover pushed me over the edge. I think I got about 45 minutes, which was remarkable for me, and it meant I missed the drink service.

Once we were back over California, this slow-wifi equipped aircraft started getting service again. I used my free hour thanks to T-Mobile to go through emails, and it worked fine. I didn’t try to do anything more than that.

Over San Diego, it was clear skies (well, except for the nasty grit covering my window), but as we reached LA, the clouds rolled in. We spent a fair bit of time on descent in between two layers, and it made for a beautiful sunset. As we wound our way into LA, we sat in the soup for a long time, breaking out fairly low as we landed (much more smoothly this time)… on the north runways.

Surprisingly, our tour of the airport didn’t take too long, and we blocked in with no delay. I was excited until I saw them redirect us to a bus. No customs in Terminal 5 today, we’d have to go to Bradley. Fortunately, they’ve now opened an entrance to Bradley right near Terminal 4, so it was a short ride. That’s a huge improvement over last time I took a bus when I had to go all the way to the far north side of the terminal and it took forever.

Thanks to Global Entry, I was through in just a couple minutes and walking on my favorite ramp in the world; the one that brings you back into the throngs of waiting family members at Bradley. A lot has changed at that terminal since it first opened, but that ramp is still the same one I first took as a child coming back from Europe. It’s also the same one where I’ve picked up many family members over the years. I love that the small piece of the old days still exists.

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43 comments on “My Last Delta Trip From Terminal 5 at LAX Takes Me to Mexico (Trip Report)

  1. Great trip report

    As a Winston-Salem NC native, I loved seeing the Piedmont livery on the ramp but I’m thinking that Tom Davis would be spinning in his grave seeing it on an AirBus. ?

    1. peter – Did Tom Davis have a hatred of Airbus? I mean, he never would have ordered an Airbus considering when he ran Piedmont, but would he have been fiercely against them?

      1. Don’t think he was involved long enough to have the full experience of Airbus as a true competitor to Boeing. Let’s face it, Airbus made great inroads because they could deliver quickly and very cost effectively. With Boeing, you had to get in line and have a healthy line of credit.

        Tom was a great, true America first guy (ok, he bought some YS-11’s) I don’t think he thought about anything other than Boeing, MD or Lockheed. Just my opinions

  2. Too funny. We stayed at the CasaMagna the same weekend as you. First time there for me as well – very dated property (looks exactly like what I’d expect a Marriott from the 80s to look like) but the warmth of the staff more than compensated. And to your point – the weak peso made it an incredibly affordable couples weekend. Some excellent restaurants around the marina and enjoyed being so close to the airport. Thank you, $3 cab ride back to the airport.

    1. Chris – Ha! I actually only spent that first night there, and yes, very dated. But it was fine. I had a Pacifico and a view. Once the rest of the guys came down, we moved to the Velas Vallarta just a couple doors down. But we rented a place via Airbnb, not through the hotel, so I didn’t think it fair to call that place out at all. This room could never been in hotel inventory because it was probably original from the 1980s. Of course, we didn’t care.

      1. That’s so funny. Glad you enjoyed your brief stay. I’m not a huge fan of Mexico (mainly because Cancun is “Florida South”) but was rather impressed by PVR and would definitely go back – that Marina area pleasantly surprised me.

  3. I can almost guarantee that the ground crew forgot to release the nosewheel steering bypass on your return.

    1. As a layperson, is that a pin that is inserted (or removed) when the tug connects to the nosewheel of the plane so that the tug can steer the plane without screwing up the plane? And then the motion has to be reversed so that the pilot can control the plane? Did I get that right?

      Would be nice to see some posts from Cranky explaining the roles, jobs, and duties of ramp workers, airline dispatchers, etc… Always love the “day in the life of…” series.

      1. Yes. In the 737 a lever is raised and pinned when the tow bar is attached. That basically allows the nosewheel to move freely in response to the tug. The pin must be removed and the lever returned to the lowered position to give the captain nosewheel steering control with the tiller in the cockpit. It’s immediately evident when that hasn’t happened as the aircraft steering tiller feels like it is frozen in place. It’s sometimes hard to communicate what exactly has happened and what needs to be done in locations where the ground crew may have limited English language skills.

    2. Evan – That would make sense. Thanks for that. I believe what it means, Kilroy, is that when it’s in, the ground crew can’t control the nosewheel steering. That’s a problem.

  4. My fond memories of T5 go back to the WA days as well — attending ATC Tariffs and Ticketing classes at the old Hyatt LAX (now again Hyatt LAX!), touring the WA rez center and getting a “behind the scenes” tour of T5. The year was 1978.

    On a unrelated issue: how is taking the Metro from LAX to Long Beach (not LGB)? Would have one Bagzilla and traveling on a Sunday. Thanx!

    1. GringoLoco – Well, it’s iffy. You have to get the shuttle to the green line station. Then you take the green line to the Rosa Parks station and transfer to the blue line. If you’re going downtown, it’ll drop you off right there. But they do track work on the weekend, and the blue line is already fairly unreliable (it’s the first line and not aging as well as it should be). So if you don’t mind it taking a bit of time, then it’ll get you there.

      1. Sad to hear the Blue Line isn’t aging well as I remember riding it when it first opened. My mom would take us on it to LA and we’d catch a DASH bus to Exposition Center and especially the aerospace museum. I still remember the United DC-8 and Unocal 76 DC-3 parked outside.

        1. David M – The good news is they’re putting a lot money into the Blue Line to get it up to speed again. It just sucks for now. By the way, that United DC-8 is still there. The DC-3, however, has relocated to the Flight Path museum at LAX.

  5. It’s been 30 years since Delta took over Western? Wow that means I’ve been waiting 30 years to have my Western miles changed over to Delta. I guess I’ll wait another 30 years….LOL

  6. Hi CF, I’m really sorry to hear about your experience with our food on your recent Delta flight, I would love to learn more and find away to make it up to you, feel free to reach out *Oli

  7. I’m hoping that the new DL terminals at LAX are nicer than T5. I thought T5 was a dump. Good riddance.

    1. I still think of T5 as one of the nicer newer ones, but that’s because I flew DL a lot when it was still fairly new and since then a lot of the other terminals have since been renovated. With TBIT redone I think everyone agrees T3 is the worst, but part of this move should see a major overhaul of T3 to bring it up to date.

  8. I’ll miss T5 too. Lots of time spent there in the late 90s, mostly in the Crown Room upstairs, drinking bourbon and waiting for the ATL redeye, usually on an L10 and being disappointed if it was “only” a 767!

  9. I was in Puerto Vallarta last May and LOVED it. A fantastic Mexican city that is WELL WORTH the visit. Next time you go head to the Malecon and the old town downtown.

    I should add: I used Delta as well and got to ride in and out on one of the redone A319s. Very contemporary interior and an excellent AVOD system.

  10. Sandwich, peanuts and Biscoffs and still unsatisfied on 3hr flight?

    Additionally, seems to me – and as I’ve written before – you require way too much information. For example: Captain, perhaps, initiated seat belt sign as PRECAUTION turbulence may occur – NOT that it will actually occur. Why the second guessing?

    So, your return flight was delayed. Nevertheless, instead of wondering about “disconnect” with various flight monitoring tools, I would expect seasoned traveller, as yourself, to instead caution readers to head to airport at scheduled time as traffic, check-in, security may be backlogged, or there may be aircraft swap – especially on international flights.

    Waaayyy tooo much energy, bro! But, very happy you got to spend quality time with friends.

    1. Hey – Tell me, do you think anyone would find it interesting if I just said “yep, flights were fine”? Of course these flights were mostly fine, but with my trip reports, I pay very close attention to detail so that I can make it worth reading. If not, then nothing would differentiate each write-up.

      That does mean I’m going to write up little things I like and little things I don’t. I paid $10 for a soggy, crumbling wrap because that was the only substantial food option. No, I didn’t like that. Did it ruin my trip? Of course not. But it happened and it’s worth writing up.

      The turbulence issues is a bigger one in my mind. US pilots in general tend to be more cautious, and I think it’s more harmful. Because when the seatbelt sign stays on during long periods of calm, travelers get complacent and get up anyway. There’s a higher chance that someone will get hurt.

      And on the return, why on earth would you think that they would find another airplane? Our system neatly spits out where the airplane is coming from. I could see when it left LA, and I knew they weren’t going to magically find another airplane in Puerto Vallarta. Had this been in a hub, sure. But this was a pretty certain delay.

      1. Management of the seat belt sign is an art forms at times. Every Captain has his/her own level of tolerance for turbulence with regard to allowing passengers to walk around, and in many cases the decision is made in conjunction with the cabin crew and their service schedule. Most are quite aware of the “Captain who cried wolf” threat. Technology is helping these decisions, refer back to your post about the turbulence app now available to flight crews.

      2. The management of the seatbelt sign is a constant battle. Of course if the pilots are going to make an error they want to make the air on the side of caution.

        Just last week I had a friend of mine suffer a mild concussion and a hurt shoulder because of turbulence. It was on descent the few had just finished their final to safety checks and she was just getting strapped into our jumpseat when some bad turbulence hit.

        I have been on flights were they seem to leave the seatbelt sign on for way too long. Having said that I have seen people get up when the aircraft is really a rocking and rolling. I think people have no idea how dangerous turbulence Can be.

  11. Hi Brett, I’d be really interested to hear more about your experience taking Metro to the airport. How is it with regard to transfering between lines and using the bus to get to the airport from the station? How does the door-to-door travel time compare to driving or taking a shuttle during different times of day? Maybe this could be the topic for a future post?

    1. Jim – I don’t know that it’s post-worthy here, but I’m happy to shed some more light. On the way to the airport, it’s fairly easy. Everyone has to buy a TAP card now to ride Metro, and you load it with stored value. $1.75 one way gets you on, and that includes transfers. Going from the blue line to the green line, you just tap the card again at the transfer point, and you’re set. Then when you get off the green line, you just go downstairs and the bus is waiting (or has been every time I’ve gone). The last part is the worst because you never know how bad traffic will be. But it’s never been too terrible.

      On the return, it’s been awhile since I’ve done it. But it doesn’t vary all that much. For me it too just under an hour. With no traffic, the drive is probably 30 minutes to the curb at the airport. But this was during rush hour, so it was probably pretty competitive on time.

          1. David M – Yes, but I believe the people mover won’t be open until early to mid 2020s, if I remember right. Frustrating.

  12. I flew home from HKG yesterday. We tried to buy alcohol at duty-free. Was told U.S. laws prohibited us from carrying alcohol o board the planes. Do you know when the rules changed.

    Flew home from Amsterdam in June and we could bring in 1 liter per person.


    1. Dganz – I think you just got a misinformed person. As far as I know, you can still bring duty free liquids in just fine.

      1. There were signs in the duty free store in HKG saying U.S. citizens cannot bring back duty free alcohol. I asked at three different locations. Also as boarding the plane, we could not bring water or coffee onto the plane.

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