Mexico is a very popular destination for charter customers, especially for those flying out of the San Diego area. While the flight time from San Diego to most destinations in Mexico is relatively short, commercial flights require you to arrive at the airport 2 hours prior to your flight, followed by waiting in long customs lines upon arrival. The good news is that when you fly charter, much of that stress is alleviated.
Here are the basics of flying privately to Mexico:
Prior to your flight
The more information we have up front, the more seamless your flight experience will be. First, your charter operator will need all passengers’ international information:
- Full name
- Date of birth
- Passport number and expiration date
- Permanent address in the U.S.
If you’re flying with someone who’s not a United States citizen, the operator will need to know the country that issued his passport and visa information.
All of this information is used to clear outbound United States customs in advance of your departure. It’s also passed on to the customs authorities at the Mexico airport so that they have all of your information in advance. The paperwork you’d normally fill out upon arrival will already be done, saving you time and letting you reach your final destination more quickly.
The Customs Process
Most of our customers agree that the greatest advantage of flying charter to Mexico is ease of the customs process.
Your operator will need two forms of clearance before you depart the U.S. and land in Mexico – outbound clearance from our customs office in the United States authorizing the aircraft to leave the country and inbound arrival clearance in Mexico. This involves working closely with officials from both countries as well as international handlers.
In addition to the outbound clearance, twenty-four hours before your flight, your operator will submit everything to the U.S. government via eAPIS, a website run by Customs & Border Patrol in conjunction with the TSA. APIS will screen and clear all names pre-flight.
Mexico has a similar system for passenger clearance, and your operator will send your information to them as well through a 3rd party handler that has been authorized by the Mexican government.
Last minute changes to your passenger group? Make sure to let you operator know so she can file the eAPIS again. APIS rules require all information be submitted at least an hour in advance of airplane doors closing before departure. Any passenger changes made less than an hour prior to departure could result in delays.
The operator will also need to obtain a new outbound clearance from U.S. Customs which can also cause delays. A good charter operator will communicate this upfront with passengers, as many people assume that because it’s a private flight they can arrive with less/more/different passengers than previously communicated.
The greatest advantage of flying charter to Mexico is clearing customs privately, either at the plane or in a private customs area. An operator that uses a handler on the ground may cost a bit more, but this will aid in time-savings and is generally considered an expense worth paying.
The customs process upon arrival back to the United States will be equally easy. Passenger information will be provided in advance and you’ll be cleared privately again. The entire process typically takes 15 minutes or less.
Behind the Scenes – When Going the Extra Mile Pays Off
While the goal is to make the passengers’ flight experience as easy and seamless as possible, there is a lot going on behind the scenes to make it so. I would like to share a short anecdote of an experience with international charter that nearly went awry, but that was thankfully salvaged because we went to great lengths make the customer’s trip go smoothly.
Several years ago when I was working for another operator in a different part of the country, we had a customer traveling internationally that forgot her passport. This wasn’t discovered until the flight was almost outside of the United States. It was a private owner flight with fewer restrictions than a charter operator, and the pilots admittedly didn’t do their job of checking all passengers passports before departing the country.
The pilot contacted us to let us know what happened just before the plane left U.S. airspace and communication was cut off. We contacted the customs handler in Guatemala, where the flight was heading, offering to send a scanned version of her passport in advance of the arrival, hoping they would make an exception. The Guatemalan representative said that a copy would not suffice. The passenger would be taken into custody upon landing and she would not be released until her passport arrived. Clearly, this was not an acceptable solution.
After lots of back and forth, we worked out a plan with the Guatemalans – the passenger would be able to land and have an officer of the state serve as her escort until her passport arrived in country. Obviously, this was preferred over spending the night in Guatemalan custody!
At the same time, we were closely working the passenger’s friend in the U.S. and had the passport sent within 24 hours of her arrival, allowing her to enjoy the rest of her humanitarian trip free of the escort. All of this was happening while the passengers happily flew on their way (believing a copy of a passport would be good enough) with no idea how hard we were working to smooth things over.
While this scenario is certainly not typical, it shows the lengths a good operator will go to find a way to create the best travel experience possible.