MIAMI — Have you ever heard of Interjet? Odds are that if you have, you still know very little about them, and probably know even less about their in-flight experience. So where did Interjet come from, what stands out about them, and what is it like flying their Airbus A320?
Interjet began operations in late 2005 and has grown dramatically since then, now operating more than 40 domestic destinations as well as several international cities. At a quick glance, Interjet appears to have a very similar start-up to JetBlue. Both began service out of their countries largest cities (Mexico City vs New York City) with the Airbus A320 on domestic routes, later expanding to international routes, followed by the introduction of a new and unproven regional fleet type (Embraer E190 vs Superjet 100).
Initially, Interjet served Mexico City only through the regions secondary airport in Toluca, which is not a short drive from the city center. With no practical public transportation from Mexico City to Toluca and at least an hour’s drive in hectic Mexico City traffic, Interjet needed to move in order to gain preference with passengers. In 2008, with the shuttering of Aero California, Interjet did just that. They took over the then vacant slots in Mexico City, and established dual bases of operation. The demise of other Mexican airlines would later play a key role in the expansion of Interjet.
As Interjet increased operations, they placed several orders for additional Airbus A320s, including the A320neo, and introduced international flights. Initiating flights to the United States, Interjet challenged mainline competitor AeroMexico on flights to Miami, San Antonio, and later New York City and Orange County in 2012. Flights to additional US cities such as Chicago and Houston are being planned.
As Interjet disrupted the market, fares within Mexico dropped, and traditional carriers attempted to respond. Mexicana introduced Click Mexicana, later renamed MexicanaClick, to no avail. Interjet offered a superior product (A320 compared to the Fokker 100 and Boeing 717), and MexicanaClick, along with parent airline Mexicana, ceased operations in August of 2010. Mexicana signage, equipment, and influence can still be seen throughout Mexico City, although they folded over three years ago.
Last month, Interjet took delivery of their first two Sukhoi Superjet 100’s, making them the first customer in the western hemisphere. Much like JetBlue and the Embraer E190, the introduction of a new, efficient regional jet would help them open new markets, but maintain the same level of passenger experience. The SSJ100 retains all features from the larger Airbus A320, and even expands on them a bit. The SSJ100 will allow Interjet to open routes that may only currently be served by AeroMexico Connect or other smaller airlines, reducing fares dramatically.
Interjet also has a few interesting and unique traits. Instead of using a standard points based frequent flyer program, $20 gets you into “Club Interjet,” which actually gives cash back to members. When members book a flight, 10% of the fare is credited back into the passengers account. That credit can be used to purchase tickets and other services, and comes with no restrictions. Senior citizens also receive a 20% discount off the fare. Need to transfer your ticket to someone else? Most airlines won’t even entertain the thought of that. Interjet charges just $25 to do so.
Travel from the United States to Mexico frequently? On top of the frequent flyer program, Interjet also offers what they call a “jet book.” Offered in packs of 5, 10, or 15, passengers can purchase blocks of roundtrips which can be used on any day for one full year. For instance, Interjet offers a “jet book” of 5 round trips from Mexico City to New York City for $2,745, less 10% for those in the “Club Interjet” program.
So, what is it actually like to fly Interjet? I found out last week, as I flew their Airbus A320 from New York City to Mexico City, which happens to be their longest route. (Interjet covered the cost of these flights)
Interjet operates out of Terminal 1 at JFK, which is absolutely empty at the departure time of 7:45am on weekdays. Thankfully, Interjet departs several hours later on weekends. The only other flights departing the terminal at that hour on weekdays are operated by AeroMexico, which is a bit ironic. Check-in took only a few moments, and security was a breeze. Before boarding, make sure you grab the Mexico customs papers, you will need them when you arrive. One of the forms is only in Spanish, but the gate agent had no issues translating for me.
Boarding is broken down into four groups, and I was group one, seated in row one. Surprisingly, the first group called to board was four, followed by three, two, and finally one, which I did not see this coming. They board from the rear of the aircraft to the forward, so I was one of the last to board.
Once on board, it was striking to see how similar the Interjet A320 was to the JetBlue A320: plush grey leather seats, ample leg room (34 inch pitch), cheery crew, and a generally spotless cabin. The flight was about 75% full, and the middle seat next to me remained empty. As we pushed back from the gate, IFE screens dropped down from the ceiling, and all safety and welcome messages were presented in both Spanish and English.
Interjet does not have personal IFE screens, but only overhead monitors. After the safety announcements, a flight attendant looked at the blank screen with a look of disappointment. Sadly, the awesome forward looking video camera would not display on the screens, which was something I really looked forward to. After a short period, the monitors switched over to a live map, which is a feature passengers have grown to love and expect.
About 45 minutes into the flight, the in-flight programming started, which consisted of a random assortment of Spanish language programming, ranging from a BBC engineering show with Richard Hammond from Top Gear, to the Pink Panther, as well as about a dozen audio channels. Because this was Interjets longest flight, the programming started late, and ended some time before the flight landed. Those passengers who only speak English will want to bring their own entertainment, or simply take a nap.
Unlike most low cost carriers, Interjet provides a free beverage and snack service on every one of their flights. I was only expecting a bottle of water and a bag of peanuts, but was pleasantly surprised but what I was offered. In addition to the usual assortment of soft drinks, Interjet offers a range of liquors (tequila!), beers, and snacks on board. Flights to and from New York only also offer a “cold meal,” which turned out to be a basic turkey sandwich. It wasn’t the best in-flight meal ever, but I was more than happy to have it. There is no nickel-and-diming on board Interjet, and I seriously appreciated that.
At the front of the cabin, the flight attendants were extra-vigilant about keeping the curtain at the forward galley closed, as to not let light bleed through. Little touches like that by the crew did not go unnoticed, and you might not see that on most carriers these days. What you also probably won’t see is at the very rear of the cabin, where one of the lavatories is reserved only for women.
Upon touching down at Mexico City, the jet bridge was attached to the aircraft very quickly, and customs was a breeze. Remember that customs form I mentioned earlier? If you ever fly into Mexico, you need to hold onto this form for your return flight, or you will run into some issues with Mexican authorities. A word about this from Interjet would not have gone unthanked.
VIDEO >> Landing in Mexico City
On the return flight, I was happy to see that check-in for international Interjet flights did not have a long line. Interjet shares a check-in hall with TAM, and the ghost of Mexicana, competition of the past. Mexico City’s airport is huge, with one of the longest concourses in the world, and getting to the gate is quite a walk. While there are a few moving sidewalks, there are no trams within the terminal. Passengers snake through a duty free shopping area to the gate area, which are pretty roomy.
I arrived at the airport for my return flight many hours in advance due to some local issues creating traffic, so I spent most of my time at the Admirals Club. Down in the general gate areas, there are plenty of places to eat and shop. If you enjoy plane spotting during your time before the flight, forget it. Most areas have a sterile hallway between the gate area and the windows, which are dirty and have sun blocking slats. You might want to spend your time on Twitter using Wifi, but unless you are a customer of the local phone company, you will only get approximately 15 minutes for free after forking over lots of personal information (just fake it).
Boarding on this end of the trip was a little more chaotic, as there was a last minute gate change, and announcements were only made in Spanish. I was able to figure out what was going on, but some English announcements would have been nice. This time around, I was seated in an exit row, which again provided more legroom than I knew what to do with. Once we pushed back from the gate, I was overly excited to see that the video camera on this aircraft was working! It is such a cool feature that, in my opinion, every aircraft should have. Passenger’s eyes were glued to the screens as we soared into the skies over Mexico City.
Once in flight, the entertainment system kicked in once again, first with the live map, and then the Spanish language programming. The same meal service was provided, but this time with a salami sandwich instead of turkey. Again, not the best meal in the skies, but adequate.
Interjet flights arrive at JFK at a bit of an unfortunate time. We arrived just after a fully loaded Korean Air Airbus A380 emptied out, meaning customs was an absolute mess. Terminal 1 was such a mess that the customs line not only backed up into the corridors, but onto the plane itself. This is not such much a failure of Interjet, but of the over capacity terminal 1 and low staffing by customs and border protection. Thankfully, I am a member of Global Entry, and made it from plane side to curb side in under five minutes. Without Global Entry, I estimate the customs line would have taken nearly two hours. Not a great welcome to the United States.
Overall, Interjet is a fantastic airline, and they should be proud of what they have accomplished so far. Being compared to JetBlue, in my opinion, is a great honor. They bring a premium product, innovative ideas, and a forward thinking attitude to a market which desperately needed it. How the public accepts their new fleet of Russian made superjets, however, has yet to be seen. It is clear, however, that Interjet has spared no expense in keeping their passengers pleased.