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In August, TPG Contributor Mitch Berman took his family round-trip from Cancún, Mexico (CUN) to Havana, Cuba (HAV) on Interjet, an airline he’d never heard of before, and had his first encounter with the Superjet 100 aircraft. Here’s his review of this all-economy flight experience.
Researching and Booking Interjet
When I recently got a flight deal to Cancún, Mexico (CUN), I found three airlines that flew from CUN to Havana, Cuba (HAV): Interjet, Aeromexico and Cubana. Aeromexico was expensive, so I ruled it out right away (they’ve since come down to very competitive prices).
But what’s an Interjet?
The first thing I do before I put my family on a brand-new airline is check the safety rating on airlineratings. Their scale goes to 7, with most of the international carriers getting the maximum grade. We’ll usually fly on a 5 or higher.
Interjet gets a perfect 7, while Cubana gets a 6 — too close to call. Luckily, airlineratings also offers product ratings and passenger reviews. Interjet beats Cubana handily in both.
That was enough to send me to Interjet to get a ticket. Not so charmingly, their website puts its preferences above yours, constantly reverting from English to its native Spanish. And when that happens, the “English – USA” button also disappears. So you either read Spanish, open the site in Chrome and suffer with Google’s ridiculous translations (“our attendants will be offered at no extra charge“), or just keep hitting the back button until you’ve returned to English. I chose the latter option.
Prices were good in dollars, but better in Mexican pesos. For example, the price of a November 24-30, 2015 round-trip would be $280 in dollars, but the equivalent of $253 if booked in pesos — a 10% savings. Heeding Nick Ewen’s advice to always refuse dynamic currency conversion into dollars, I opted for pesos on my own August booking, and managed to snag each of our round-trip tickets for the equivalent of $224 apiece.
I always like to travel while working on a new credit card bonus, but we had no new card this time, so I chose the American Express Premier Rewards Gold because it gives 3x rewards on airfare in flexibly transferable Membership Rewards points (worth 1.9 cents each in TPG’s latest monthly valuation).
When I encountered some trouble using this card on Interjet’s website, I called and got an efficient English-speaking representative. (Their chat rep also spoke English.) The foreign charge went through immediately, and I appreciated Amex for more than just its earnings – the foreign charge didn’t trigger a stop on my card, as is often the case with Chase’s overeager fraud department.
Boarding at Cancún International Airport (CUN)
The process of getting a Cuban visa at CUN is remarkably efficient. A Cuban immigration official seated at a desk at the mouth of the Interjet check-in queue asked if we had our visas. Because we didn’t, he sent us to the Cuban immigration booth, which happened to be just across the room. There, we waited about five minutes after filling out the tiny, half-page visa application — no photo required — and then plunked down $20 apiece for our visas. Done. (And to think, it used to be really difficult for Americans to get into Cuba!)
Since we’d allotted two hours for airport business, we relaxed at Guacamole Grill, where the xochitl (a Mayan soup with chicken, avocado, tomato and crisp tortilla strips) was tasty and the guacamole was a tableside show.
We approached Interjet’s new-to-us aircraft from the tarmac (so much nicer than a jet bridge), which afforded us a closer look. Upon boarding our 70-minute flight, we saw a spanking new, entirely unfamiliar interior.
Onboard the Superjet 100
This Interjet route employs a Sukhoi Superjet 100, manufactured by a subsidiary of UAC, the Russian civil aerospace company. At first, I wasn’t too happy about having taken my family up in a Russian-made craft (Aeroflot was long rated among the most dangerous airlines in the world, though it’s better now), but I was reassured by learning that the Superjet 100s are performing quite well for Interjet.
Interjet was the first western carrier to adopt the Superjet 100, buying most of theirs this past March. The rest — and majority — of Interjet’s fleet are Airbus A320s, a 179-seat aircraft that they configure spaciously with 150 seats.
On this flight route, Interjet has installed 93 economy seats in an aircraft that’s designed for 103, and all of its seats are upholstered in leather. This luxury isn’t unheard of — JetBlue’s seats and the new American 737 economy seats are leather, too, just to name two examples — but it is rare, and certainly welcome.
As a tall man, I was pleased to notice the generous legroom. Seatguru doesn’t even list Interjet among its 118 carriers, so it doesn’t have any data on the company. But Seatguru’s customers know all about Interjet — they give the airline a 100% satisfaction rating – so for now, it’s always the top carrier to any Interjet destination (which, in addition, to many cities in Mexico, includes Las Vegas; New York-JFK; Bogotá, Colombia; and San Jose, Costa Rica).
Airlineratings was more forthcoming: each of Interjet’s economy seats has a pitch of 34 inches, among the best you can find in any carrier’s economy class.
We didn’t expect much in the way of refreshments on such a short flight, but going both directions, Interjet managed to squeeze in a full snack and beverage service. Friendly and efficient, the bilingual cabin crew served jumbo bottles of soda (including local Fresca and Mirinda), Doritos and Sabritas potato chips — Mexico’s version of Lay’s, which are even better than the original.
Both on the arrival and the return trip, we had to wait quite a while for a gate to open at Havana’s José Martí International Airport (HAV), but that’s more the fault of a few gates serving many flights than it is of the airline itself.
My overall impression of Interjet was very favorable, from the customer service phone line to the smooth landing. And their prices are hard to beat.
Despite its price structure, Interjet is nothing like the low-cost carriers that charge for every extra. The airline offers several perks — 110 pounds of checked luggage, the ability to choose seats and have tickets printed out at the airport without charges, its frequent flyer program Club Interjet and “women designated restrooms” (a la ANA) — the only Mexican airline with that feature.
Just 10 years old, Interjet is expanding rapidly with 43 destinations. They codeshare with Iberia and American, which is the way you’ll most likely encounter the airline — unless you happen to go looking for it.
Which is exactly what I would do, based on these two flights. Excellent prices, polite people, brand-new equipment, no corners cut — Interjet has a great thing going, and I look forward to seeing how the airline develops in the future.
For more on Cuba, see:
- 10 Things We Learned On Our First Trip to Cuba
- 5 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent for Visiting Cuba
- How to Book a Flight to Cuba
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