Company and airport officials this week lauded Mexico City-based Interjet's recent announcement that it will begin offering nonstop daily service from John Wayne Airport to Guadalajara and Mexico City starting in October.
Interjet — which company Chief Executive Jose Luis Garza Alvarez said has taken business cues from U.S. low-fare carrier JetBlue — aims to bring convenience and affordability to international travel, especially for local residents who formerly braved the chaos of Los Angeles International Airport to visit family in Mexico.
"It's going to be faster and easier for Mexicans coming up and vice versa," Garza said Thursday.
JWA's lease agreement with Interjet was approved at the Orange County Board of Supervisors' meeting Sept. 11. The deal makes Interjet the second airline to provide JWA to Mexico service after AirTran Airways launched flights to Mexico City and Cabo San Lucas in June.
AirTran was the first airline to make use of JWA's new passport and customs checkpoint in Terminal C, meaning that the Southwest-owned carrier nabbed two out of three incentive packages from the county to "kick-start" international flights, according to Airport Director Alan Murphy.
Interjet took the third package for the new route to Guadalajara. Murphy said that means Interjet will theoretically be allotted one additional daily departure, as well as a $300,000 credit.
Although Garza said that the incentives were "very welcome," he also said that Orange County was an ideal market to further Interjet's rapid expansion in the United States.
"We want to be here because there is a very large mix of Anglo and Mexican population," he said. "It's attractive for business and leisure purposes, linking Guadalajara and Mexico City and Orange County. We are targeting the long run."
Garza said if things go well, Interjet hopes to add more flights out of JWA to more leisure-oriented destinations, like Puerto Vallarta or the Oaxaca Coast, which he said could become a big draw for SoCal's surf community. He said right now, Interjet's goal is to bring about 150,000 passengers through JWA through its first year. The company is also studying connecting flights to other destinations in Latin America, he said.
While both AirTran and Interjet bill themselves as low-fare carriers with cheapest round trips typically hovering around $300, Alejandra Garcia Williams, Orange County's Consul of Mexico, said there should be plenty of passengers to go around.
"Orange County has about 3 million people and almost 1 million who are Mexican or of Mexican origin, meaning you're going to be traveling," she said. "This is not new."
Garcia Williams added that, in terms of affordability, "It's healthy to have competition between the airlines," and that with each flying to at least one unique destination, "one way or another, they have their flights."
Garza said if Interjet's performance in its three other recently launched U.S. markets is any indication, its flights out of Orange County will be gangbusters. The company, which was founded in 2005, took advantage of airline Mexicana's suspension of operations in 2010, he said. And from 2010 to 2011, he said, "we basically doubled size." In the span of about a year, Interjet launched service out of Miami, San Antonio and New York. He said Interjet's service from New York, which launched in August, has "been a smash."
"I hope Orange County will be just about the same profile," he said.
Murphy said the deal with Interjet came together quickly and that the airport is looking at additional service in Mexico and exploring options for reestablishing Hawaii service, which was stopped in April as a result of the merger between United and Continental airlines.
In any case, he said, "We're very excited to see continued interest by Interjet in flying to Mexico."
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