Reaching the newest international airport in the United States is easy. All you have to do is get to San Diego, hop the city’s efficient rail transit system to the San Ysidro stop and hail a taxi or a Lyft or an Uber. Your destination? A remote field, way up in the hills, right along the Mexican border. (Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.) A small sign along the 905 freeway, by this time mostly busy with trucks heading for the commercial crossing at Otay Mesa, will direct you or your driver to exit at Britannia Road: Cross Border Xpress, it reads. A couple of poorly-marked turns into what looks like a blank industrial park and there it is, suddenly, at the end of the road—something that looks like a new convention center or a high-end hotel, somewhere in Mexico. Except you haven’t crossed the border—not just yet. That happens inside what is actually the newest expansion of Tijuana’s busy international airport.
Wait—you said getting here was easy.
That was a joke. We like to have fun here.
Oh. Sooo, explain—how did an airport in Mexico expand into the United States?
Easy. Tijuana built their airport right along the border, so all that was needed to take advantage of the giant chunk of open land just sitting there on the American side was a simple pedestrian bridge over the wall. Local governments loved the idea and a private, transnational partnership got the project finished in almost no time at all.
And why exactly did this need to happen?
A surprising number of Southern Californians have been using the Tijuana airport for a long time now—the reliably cheap domestic fares on airlines such as Interjet and Volaris were simply too good to pass up. So good, in fact, that many people had no problem figuring in the extra time for the tricky land crossing and taxi ride to the airport, a sometimes-problematic bit of logistical maneuvering that kept many interested travelers from using the airport at all.
Where can you fly from here—and how great are the savings, really?
Very great, in fact. Book in advance and you can pay as little as $120 round-trip to Mexico City or Cabo and about $200 round-trip to Puerta Vallarta, sometimes less. Cancun can be pricey, but it can also be very good value, considering how far away it is from here. Yes, you can find decent sale fares to these same places from Southern California airports, but the fares out of Tijuana are less prone to insane fluctuations. Then there are the routes that are nearly always going to be significantly more expensive—Los Angeles to Mexico City will typically run you nearly $100 more each way than if you’d flown from Tijuana. Considering how many Southern Californians live equidistant from LAX and the border, it’s almost a no-brainer for some.
How does it work?
You get dropped off and proceed to ticketing as you would in any normal airport—here, however, you also pay a $16 fee ($30 round-trip) to cross the border. This helps pay for the cost of the project, just like at those new rental car centers popping up like weeds around the United States. (Here, at least, they don’t sneak the fee on to your bill.) Once over the bridge and through Mexican customs, you’re now in the main terminal of Tijuana’s efficient, modern airport. When you return, just look for the entrance to the sky bridge at baggage claim, pay your $16 and come home.
Is it really worth paying for?
Yes. First off, the cost is lower than Mexico’s mandatory departure tax, built into the cost of returning international flights. (You’ll pay about $45 to get back into the United States, these days.) Also, because the Cross Border Express is integrated directly into Tijuana’s airport, the facility is only accessible to ticketed passengers, meaning there’s rarely a wait. With lengthy delays now more often than not a thing in both directions these days at the traditional land crossings at San Ysidro and Otay, anyone who’s done the wait knows that an express pass over the border is all but priceless. It makes the great fares available to a broad selection of Mexican destinations almost irresistible for anyone living in Southern California and wanting to get back and forth on a budget.
What’s the best way to get here?
If you can help it, don’t drive—the massive parking field on the American side can get pretty jammed up at times, believe it or not. They’ve even raised the parking fees to $18 a day, a not-insignificant uptick from when the terminal first opened. From downtown San Diego—easily accessible via rail from most coastal communities in Southern California, the reliable (and used by thousands of commuters from both sides of the border daily) trolley is just $2.50 to the busy San Ysidro stop, where you can hail a taxi, Lyft or Uber for the short ride up the hill, typically for less than $10 each way. Good news, as of Spring 2017: A shuttle ($5 to the trolley, $10 to the rail station in downtown San Diego with airport drop-offs on demand) is now being offered.
By the way, the design of the airport looks awfully familiar.
Good one! Anyone with a passing familiarity with modern Mexican architecture will recognize the CBX terminal as the handiwork of late architect Ricardo Legorreta, known for iconic projects like the Camino Real hotel in Mexico City, or Pershing Square in Los Angeles. Not bad for a field outside of San Diego.