High expectations, airport photos
The Mexican government may have overdone themselves. The expectations are pretty high in terms of attracting tourists after what is likely the most destructive center-punch hurricane in Baja’s history. Other Category 4 hurricanes may have slammed in the tip of Baja, but no one lived there or cared in the U.S. and the internet didn’t exist to bring back the images and tales of destruction.
The airport before and after
Let’s face it, Cabo and the East Cape are in hurricane country, and in the first days of Americans fishing the region, NO ONE from the U.S. went there, The “fishing rancheros as they were called in the 60’s and 70’s before they transformed into hotels and resorts, closed up for the summer. Too hot, too dangerous.
But, the region is now developed, there is an international airport with two terminals that deliver tourists and goods like a conveyor belt with full flights. There’s Home Depots, Costcos, and luxury oceanfront resorts like the Westin that sits high and straight to the south and had no geographical or design buffer. Just a helluva lot of windows. The workers of Mexico, coming to Cabo for wages, lived in houses that with a huff and a puff and they were losing roofs, windows, doors, walls, and mud from the hills and dirt roads would flow through them.
The storm ended, the looting started, the Mexican president saw his second biggest tourist destination and its approaching tourist season of cruise ships, time shares and big-game fishing tournaments going the way of New Orleans. The army arrived. The work was done so fast it seemed like the army of workers and soldiers and residents and hotel workers had worked miracles. They did.
But some areas were not hard hit. The East Cape lost power, but the road was opened quickly after repairs, power was resored and now there are expectations for the airlines to step up and get the tourists back down and quick cancelling flights.
Mark Rayor is well-known in the East Cape. He came down to retire, built a home on the beach, won one of the first East Cape Bisbee’s marlin events and built a pool where he certified divers, including this writer. He and his wife Jennnifer are the real deal. But he’s out of the dive business now and is successful in Jen Wren Sportfishing, and while Cabo and the East Cape have power and roads and cell service and full stores, the flights aren’t coming. Facebook is full of posts with pictures of oceanfront hotels and patios with tables and place settings, locals fishing and catching fish, using any means to get the word out.
“Hurricane Odile is old news now and thanks to the Mexican government and the hard-working people of Baja the best part of the mess it made has been cleaned up,” wrote Rayor in his regular blog. “Yes, there was impact that will take more time for some things to get back to normal but a huge percentage of the businesses that serve our tourist trade in Los Cabos are ready to rock and roll.
“What has impacted many of these businesses most is the closure of SJD airport. Yesterday (Oct. 3) the airport opened for domestic flights but won't open until the 8th for international. With SJD closed for more than two weeks La Paz airport is the only option to fly here. The problem with that is no direct flights are offered from the U.S., so travelers have to get to San Diego and make their way across the border to Tijuana or fly through Mexico City or Guadalajara to get to La Paz. Whichever route you choose, it is just not easy and then there is the two-hour taxi ride to Los Cabos. That is not to mention what an armpit the La Paz airport is.”
Rayor said the airlines posed as the good guys in the evacuation, but he has a different view.
“Alaska and Southwest made a huge deal and tooted their horn about the humanitarian flights they provided to evacuate stranded tourists out of Cabo. I say big whoop! They brought them in, and in my mind, had some duty to jump in and help get them out. Once the evacuation was over Alaska showed their true colors and suspended all flights to Los Cabos until November. Other airlines have jumped on the bandwagon canceling flights throughout October. Now Alaska has thrown Los Cabos a bone, offering one flight a day from Los Angeles, but San Diego and all other destinations are still cancelled.
MARK RAYOR: Going fishing. There's fish, power, food -- just need fishermen and airlines are slow to react after a quick airport turnaround, offering expensive milk runs, but the situation will ease by November.
Rayor is correct in saying the bulk of Los Cabos economy is tourist driven, and it’s true that everybody is choking, holding up their hands and saying, “Hey, it’s all good.” Fact is, flights were cancelled and plans were changed, first because of the storm itself, then the wave of flight cancellations by most of the airlines brought on by – get this – people calling to cancel. Enough did on each flight to cause the airlines to cancel. Alaska just wanted to cut and run, and didn’t see much work being done on the terminal it flies out of, so it cancelled all flights, but the airline was assured the airport would be ready. So, the one daily flight was added. Politics.
Larry Edwards of Cortez Yacht Charters said 190 employees of an Idaho firm treating their employees to a Cabo fishing vacation were told their late October flights were cancelled, no refunds. Book later, they were told. He said he wasn’t sure the group would be coming now with all the confusion. Tickets have been paid for but rebooking for many has been frustrating with flights looking like bus routes with several stops. My buddy Bill had his La Paz trip through SJDC cancelled. No refund, just rebook later. His friend bailed out and he wasn’t too excited about going alone to La Paz out of Tijuana. So he cancelled. He’ll just wait until he goes to the Cabo Tuna Jackpot the end of this month to compete again. Spirit hasn’t cancelled his Oct. 31st flight, and they cancel all the time, so that’s a good sign.
No one thought Cabo could come back so soon, especially the airlines. A friend’s 50-person birthday party for the 80-year-old patriarch in mid-October was cancelled by Alaska, so they rebooked to Puerta Vallarta to use the tickets. It’s sad, and it’s business. Light loads on flights lose money. Do airlines have an obligation to fly half-filled flights, or build slowly?
“If they can't fly full they are just canceling flights,” said Rayor. There is also the issue of higher ticket costs. “Few tourists are here so the first planes in will have to deadhead back empty. The airlines would rather just cancel flights and drop the good people of Los Cabos on their heads, cutting off their lifeblood until a fat profit can be made.”
The situation will slowly improve. Cruise ships are coming back, the road is clear and repaired, but few will drive it. Not in the numbers the East Cape and Cabo need to survive. Cruise ships are gold right now.
“For Christ sake, yesterday a cruise ship made port in Cabo and the airlines don't want to fly. I know in time this will become a distant memory but hope this writing will remind some how poorly the airlines treated us.”
It has been a difficult time. Tragic. But expectations are extremely high after the government brought the region back to life, but let’s face it, the real lifeline to Cabo is the airlines and it will take a while for the patient to fully recover.
Pat McDonell is editor of WON and directs the Nov. 5-8 Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot Tournament. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org