I found this is the Orange County Register this morning and thought some of you might find this interesting.........Michael
As the Boeing 737 banked slowly over Old Towne Orange, I looked down and picked out my house amid the quadrants of the onetime farm town swallowed up by suburbia. The airliner leveled out and lined up with the southbound traffic on the 55 Freeway, descending over the afternoon rush-hour traffic to touch down on a runway flanked by a tarmac filled with rows of Cessnas and corporate jets. It's an arrival experience I've been through hundreds of times. Then seven short words made it something very new. "Welcome to the United States of America," a flight attendant said over the intercom.
Airport being prepared for it's first flight to Mexico City. AirTran flight 1646 is parked at gate 14 at John Wayne. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz)
I was aboard AirTran Flight 30, part of the newly inaugurated air service to Mexico that has brought John Wayne Airport into the international age. I'd flown to Cabo San Lucas on the inaugural flight. After five days by the Sea of Cortez, I was returning as part of the first week of international arrivals to Orange County.
The twin-engine airliner pulled up to a gate at Terminal C and the passengers grabbed their carry-ons and began the conga line down the aisle to the exit. But instead of popping out amid the newsstands, sports bars, Carl's Jr. and Starbucks surrounding the gates, our group of about 75 was directed down a flight of stairs to the lower level of the terminal. Five Customs and Border Protection agents waited there in glass-enclosed kiosks of the kind normally seen at places like LAX and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
At large airports in big cities, this is a source of much dread. After a long flight, there is one more gantlet to run: the slow shuffle-wait-shuffle-wait lines leading up to the passport checkpoints.
The combination of tension and tedium usually drains whatever relaxation was left after the long airplane ride. Most often, passengers from a number of arriving international flights are funneled together into a snaking line. You might be coming in from Cabo, but if you end up behind a 747 full of folks coming from Thailand or South America or the Middle East, be prepared to have the process slow to a crawl. At its worst, the lines can feel longer than the flight home.
But at John Wayne Airport, it was different. The group of arriving passengers was divided into types – foreign visitors, noncitizen residents, U.S. citizens and flight crew. When it was my turn to step up, I presented my blue-covered U.S. passport. "Was your trip for business or pleasure?"
That's always a tricky one since the honest answer is my business is pleasure travel.
"A little of both," I said. "Mostly business."
The agent glanced at some of the stamps in my passport – London, Paris, Tokyo – then handed it back. "Welcome home."
The luggage was already on the small carousel just beyond the checkpoint, but since I had kept my garb to a single carry-on rolling bag, I headed on to the customs desk, where I presented my form to the agent and was waved through. Down a dog-legged corridor and out to the bottom floor of John Wayne Airport. I stepped out into the warm, dry afternoon air and headed for the taxi stand.
Total time from exiting the airplane to exiting the airport terminal: About nine minutes.
For now, the passport and customs checkpoint at John Wayne Airport handles just two flights a day – one from Mexico City and another from Cabo San Lucas. Airport officials say there is room for one more international flight, but so far there are no takers, despite a $300,000 break on airport rent if an airline flies to a destination that's not already offered. Because of the short runway and the limited size of aircraft, that pretty much means another Mexico flight (Cancun? Loreto? Mazatlan?). Canada flights don't count – passengers of the WestJet flights from Vancouver and Calgary go through immigration formalities while still in Canada and disembark as if the flight were coming in from a U.S. destination.
The northbound Mexico traffic on AirTran has been somewhat light as the service ramps up, but flights likely will run full by the time school summer vacations roll around.
In contrast, Los Angeles International Airport last year handled a little more than 8 million passengers who had to travel through customs checkpoints. In December 2011, the number was 1.34 million. Divide that by 30 days and you are looking at 44,000 a day. Let's say John Wayne Airport has two flights a day from Mexico and they come in full – 137 passengers on each flight. Multiplied by 365 days a year and you have just over 100,000 passengers.
Those numbers mean that comparing LAX and JWA's foreign-arrivals experience is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. But for now, I'll take the orange any day.
(Gary A. Warner - Orange County Register / Travel Editor)