SAN DIEGO (CN) - Last month's opening of a cross-border pedestrian sky bridge connecting San Diego to Tijuana International Airport means Southern California residents will finally have access to cheaper nonstop flights to a variety of destinations.
The Cross Border Xpress - known as the CBX - connects the south San Diego community of Otay Mesa to Tijuana's airport via a pedestrian bridge. Travelers who have purchased airline tickets park their cars on the U.S. side of the border, go through traditional security and immigration screenings and walk across the 390-foot passageway, over the U.S.-Mexico border and directly into the Tijuana airport.
Taking the CBX costs $12 each way. But thanks to cheaper fares on flights from Tijuana compared to San Diego, Orange County's John Wayne Airport and LAX - and a wider selection of direct flights - the cost of the short walk is worth it according to travelers.
"Using the CBX to get to Mexico opens up options for us," Orange County resident Jane Orgeron said. "We've usually traveled from LAX. While LAX is close, it can get very crowded and doesn't always offer a lot of international flight options."
Orgeron was traveling with her husband Steve, a retired mechanical engineer. The couple was returning from a trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil, which cost a bit over $2,000 round trip per person for middle class seats.
A nonstop flight from LAX in premium economy would have run the couple over $4,300 each.
"The bridge is pretty convenient and lets us choose new direct flights and different places to go," Orgeron said. "It's definitely a good option to have."
Paola Avila, the vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, said the walkway will bring travelers from across California looking not only for good deals on airfares but also direct flights to destinations that aren't offered from U.S. airports.
"You'll see people coming from not just San Diego, but Los Angeles, Orange County and Northern California to use the facility, because of the number of flights that Los Angeles International doesn't even offer," Avila said. "It's cheaper to fly in Mexico, and the whole process of using CBX is convenient in general. The savings could encourage more travel."
The savings isn't just for Mexican destinations, either: While the cheapest ticket from San Diego to Paris on American Airlines runs $1,300, Mexico's flag carrier Aeromexico offers service from Tijuana to the City of Lights for as little as $1,109.
Aeromexico flies to over 200 destinations worldwide, and tickets from Tijuana to most of them are cheaper than on U.S. carriers flying out of stateside airports.
Budget travelers have known the Tijuana secret for years, but have been discouraged from using the airport there because of increasingly longer waits at border-crossing checkpoints. And while travelers using the CBX still go through standard immigration controls, they're paying for a speedier process to the tune of $12 each way.
"Because you're paying an additional fee, [CBX officials] have to keep the wait time low," Avila said. "Otherwise there's no incentive for paying the fee."
The Cross Border Xpress took roughly 20 years to get sanctioned and approved, owing to the complex regulatory nature of the project. The bridge even required presidential approval before being developed by the bridge's owner, Otay Tijuana Venture.
"It required a lot of explanation and understanding to obtain the necessary federal, state and local permits on both sides of the border," Stephanie Saathoff, president of The Clay Company - a public relations firm hired to publicize the project - said.
Saathoff said waiting-time estimates will not be released. But she added that the CBX could serve about two million passengers annually.
"Initial passenger travel is in line with our projections, but we will not be releasing passenger-count information," Saathoff said.
The CBX is also expected to increase tourism to Mexico, which had been hit hard by safety concerns precipitated by a 2008 State Department travel alert and long delays at the border.
"I think travelers were scared to death of Tijuana in those years," Betsy Malloy, a California travel expert for About.com, said. "There's not enough publicity yet about the ways the city has changed. Most of my friends still look at me weird when I tell them I enjoyed my visit, but a few are willing to listen to me and consider it."
And while there are still some security concerns over traveling in Mexico - and in Tijuana in particular - the CBX is helping to change the region's image.
"Everyone else is talking about walls and stopping immigration," Avila said. "Here in San Diego you're talking about a lot of innovative projects and ideas for enhancing the border region and making it a destination."
Only travelers carrying valid boarding passes for a flight either departing Tijuana airport within 24 hours or having arrived within four hours may use the sky bridge. People not flying - including those hoping to escort relatives who are - may not use the CBX to enter either the United States or Mexico, the CBX website says.
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