I flew from New York to San Diego through Mexico using an obscure border loophole — here’s what it was like

Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Tijuana International Airport directly connects with the US through a private border crossing called Cross Border Xpress.
  • The cross-border terminal allows travelers to access Tijuana International and its cheap fares to cities inside Mexico without having to enter Tijuana and deal with busy border crossings. 
  • I put Cross Border Xpress to the test by flying from New York to Tijuana and immediately crossing back into the US. 

Conventional wisdom dictates that the fastest way to fly between New York and San Diego, California isn’t through Mexico. Such a routing on a single ticket isn’t even legal thanks to federal cabotage laws.
San diego
But that’s where Tijuana International Airport’s new cross-border terminal comes in. Travelers can book flights to the airport and walk right into San Diego, without ever having to step foot in Tijuana itself.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Cross Border Xpress, as the private border crossing is known, is solely available to passengers flying in and out of Tijuana International, drastically reducing border crossing times for air travelers and taking the hassle out of flying out of Mexico’s northwesternmost city.
Cross Border Xpress — US-Mexico border
The Cross Border Xpress bridge over the US-Mexico border fence. BILL WECHTER/AFP/Getty
The terminal wasn’t built as an alternative to San Diego International Airport so that Americans could fly between two US cities. Rather, it’s meant to give travelers more options when flying to Mexico’s interior including access to Mexico’s ultra-low-cost airlines, and ultimately save them the international air travel taxes that drive up airfares.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But I wanted to test CBX to the extreme so I booked a ticket from New York to Tijuana through Mexico City just to use the crossing. Here’s how it went.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
My journey was simple: New York to Mexico City on Delta and Mexico City to Tijuana on Aeromexico. If I played my cards right, I wouldn’t have to take one step inside Mexico beyond the two airports.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
There are no direct flights from New York to Tijuana and a stop in Mexico City was about the most direct routing I could get with the fewest connections. The total journey time was scheduled to be just shy of 12 hours.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Taking a non-stop flight to San Diego is only around six and a half hours. But this was arguably the more interesting, and fun, option.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Although San Diego was my final destination, I still needed my passport as I’d have to legally enter Mexico. To the airport staff, I was just any old traveler flying to Tijuana.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Though, it’s hard to believe that New York-Tijuana is a common routing because it’s probably cheaper to fly direct to San Diego and cross the border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
San Ysidro Port of Entry — US-Mexico border
The San Ysidro Port of Entry on the US-Mexico border. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Mexico doesn’t require a negative COVID-19 test to enter and neither does the US when crossing by land. Checking in for the flight was just a matter of checking my passport.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Taking us down to Mexico City was a Boeing 767-300ER, Delta’s workhorse wide-body aircraft. It was a small upgrade from the narrow-body Boeing 757 aircraft flying on the New York-San Diego route.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I even scored an upgrade to Delta’s Comfort+ cabin, which is becoming increasingly hard to come by when traveling domestically.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But even though this was an international flight, Delta wasn’t serving up any hot meals or special snacks. We might as well have been flying to San Diego.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Flight attendants came around just after takeoff with a small snack basket, Options for Comfort+ passengers included chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, Kind bars, Biscoff cookies, and more.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Passengers in regular economy class were just given the standard options including almonds and Biscoff cookies.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The flight itself was largely uneventful as we crossed the Gulf of Mexico bound for Mexico City. I used the time to get some work done and watch a movie.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Flight attendants came around one more time around an hour before landing for the final drink service.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Mexico came into view shortly there after and we were greeted with some of the best views I’ve ever had as a traveler.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The rolling hills of Mexico City showed a side of Mexico that I had never seen before. This detour was worth it for the views alone.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Touchdown in Mexico City marked the halfway point of the journey. The only things left to conquer now were a two-hour layover and a flight to Tijuana.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But until I could do that, I’d have to go through Mexican customs. Even though I was technically traveling between US cities, I’d still be entering Mexico when I touched down in Mexico City and there was no way around going through passport control.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
That was when I realized that it might sound odd if I had to explain why I was only going to be in Mexico for a few hours. But luckily, the border guard didn’t ask too many questions.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
And with the stamp of my passport, it was welcome to Mexico.
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City — Delta Air Lines Mexico City Boeing 767-300ER Flight 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines from New York to Mexico City, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Connecting at Mexico City International Airport was quite straightforward and required going through one more security screening and filling out a health declaration required for all domestic flights.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
My flight to Tijuana was on Aeromexico, Mexico’s flag carrier, with a flying time of around three and a half hours.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Boarding required taking a bus to a remote gate away from the main terminal. It’s arguably one of the worst ways to board a flight and almost always results in a delay.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
And the flight to Tijuana was nearly fully loaded, meaning it would be a tight squeeze for the next few hours. All this I was willing to overlook, however, as it was my first flight on Aeromexico.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Masks were required onboard, just like in the US, and numerous announcements reminded passengers to be mindful of their hygiene and well-being.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The Boeing 737-800 taking us north had a tired and old interior. It had seen better days, for sure.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I wasn’t as lucky with getting an upgrade as I was on my previous flight, so back to row 25 I went.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The one upside to this old plane was that there were seat-back televisions at every seat.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
We ended up departing late, as expected, due to the extra time it took to board the plane via buses.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But soon enough, we were airborne out of Mexico City bound for the furthest reach of Mexico.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Mexico City once again surprised and delighted with stunning views on takeoff.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
We soon ascended above the clouds and flight attendants began the first of two beverage services. A standard offering of drinks, including alcohol, was served.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I opted for my drink of choice when flying, a club soda.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Small snack bags with mixed nuts were also on offer; though, that was about it for the entire flight.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The rest of the flight was spent watching movies and getting some work done. In-flight WiFi was also available through Gogo In-flight Internet.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The dirty airplane window and direct sunlight made it hard to sightsee on this flight but there were some good views of the Gulf of California and the Pacific Ocean to be had. It wasn’t before long that we started to descend into a cloudy Tijuana.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Tijuana soon appeared from below the clouds and it couldn’t have felt any more different from San Diego, just a few miles to the north. Whereas the approach into San Diego is lined with skyscrapers, the approach into Tijuana was mostly warehouses and shacks.
Amazon fulfillment center Tijuana, Mexico
Visiting the community of Nueva Esperanza in Tijuana, Mexico next to Amazon’s new fulfillment center. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The flight had come to its end but my cross-border journey was just about to begin. We were just about in the US as Tijuana International is right on the borderline.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I could literally see the border wall from my seat on the plane. Before CBX, getting to the other side would’ve meant journeying by taxi or bus to one of the nearby border crossings.
Aeromexico Flight from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico — Aeromexico Flight 2021
Flying Aeromexico from Mexico City to Tijuana, Mexico. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Once in the terminal, I was practically taken by the hand and led to CBX thanks to the never-ending branding and signage guiding me to the entrance.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Tijuana International has clearly embraced CBX as part of its identity, to the benefit of travelers.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
And I couldn’t have been more impressed by the airport itself. It was very much a place that I wanted to spend more time in.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
America, however, beckoned and CBX signage guided the way to baggage claim, with no shortage of ticket kiosks and advertisements along the way.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I had bought my ticket through the CBX mobile application at a cost of $US16 ($AU23) one-way. But getting a ticket was probably the easy part as even airlines sell tickets on their websites.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Only air travelers arriving into Tijuana can use CBX and keeping the entrance behind security helps prevent unauthorized users from making the crossing.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
There was a very short line to use the crossing and staff checked boarding passes and travel documents.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
An automated gate was the final hurdle before beginning the long walk back to the US.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Sign after sign said the same thing “US/Mexico border” with an arrow pointing straight, as if there was any other direction in which to walk.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The last stop in Mexico was a small duty free shop, just like in the international departures section of an airport.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
After endless winding and turning, the border bridge appeared and the US was in sight.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
There’s even a plaque at the actual borderline to demarcate the boundary. It was undeniably a long way to go just to end up back in the same country.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But I knew I was home free when I saw the line for Global Entry had only one person in it.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Just like that, I was back in the US. The US Customs and Border Protection agent only asked if I was bringing anything back from Mexico, and I was free to go after that.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I got in my rental car and drove off towards San Diego, just 20 minutes away.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider
It was a long day but I would absolutely do it again if the price was right. These types of flying adventures make travel fun and now I can say that I’ve flown between New York and San Diego through Mexico.
Tijuana International Airport Cross Border Xpress
Using Cross Border Xpress at Tijuana International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Insider