Tijuana locals fly to San Diego for shopping

With the land border still closed to non-essential travel, there are those opting for the air route to get to on the other side do your shopping or visit your loved ones.

“Let’s go shopping in San Diego on a private plane,” read an announcement shared on Facebook last week.

Abigail Ochoa, 27, a Tijuana resident, was one of those interested and arrived at Brown Field Municipal Airport in Otay Mesa from Ensenada, Baja California.

“I saw it on social media and it was a good opportunity for me to come like that,” said Ochoa, who made the trip to shop and spend the weekend with his family who live in Santa Ana, California.

Ángel Medina, a travel agent, said a private airline started offering the service after observing that there was a sector that was considering longer routes to reach the United States.

“A lot of people want to go to the United States, but they go through Guadalajara and from there they fly to Los Angeles, they saw this opportunity and now it’s easier,” he said.

Some of the reasons for those seeking this service include grocery shopping, going to do paperwork, getting a COVID shot, or visiting family.

This approximately half-hour flight is offered aboard 12-passenger Cessna Caravan aircraft, and are scheduled to be every Wednesday if there is interest. It has a cost of 269 dollars per person.

In comparison and depending on the stopovers, a trip from Tijuana to Los Angeles can sometimes take between 7 and 12 hours.

Medina said those wishing to spend the national holiday in Las Vegas have already approached to ask about this flight.

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the land border have been in place since March 2020, and we will have to wait at least another month to see if they will continue.

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated that these would continue until September 21, in order to reduce the spread of COVID.

Although crossing is limited by land, this is not the case for flights to the United States.

Abigail Ochoa, 27, arrived with other passengers by private plane at Brown Field Municipal Airport in Otay Mesa

(Alexandra Mendoza/UT)

Tijuana resident Rogelio Domínguez, 33, even considered flying to the United States despite not knowing when border restrictions would be extended.

A few months ago he had investigated the Tijuana-Mexico-Los Angeles route, but he gave up considering the price and that it was a trip that previously only took a few hours by car.

However, next week he will travel to Mexico City to attend a family event, so he took advantage of it and now the way back will be via Los Angeles.

“We haven’t shopped in over a year and a half, and that’s why we’re thinking about it,” Domínguez said.

Before the restrictions were imposed, he used to cross the border to buy clothes and supplies for his business.

Although during those months he found local vendors to buy things for his business that he had previously acquired in San Diego, that was not the case with clothing.

A survey conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) between late 2019 and early 2020 found that 52% of respondents described their main reason for crossing the border as shopping, followed by 31% for professional reasons, and 9%, to visit a friend or relative.

For this reason, Gustavo de la Fuente, director of the Smart Borders Coalition Don’t be surprised that people are considering these options.

“If these are situations that people are fine with, whether it’s price, comfort or quality, they’ll keep looking for a way to do it.”

In turn, he felt that these practices show how contradictory it is for restrictions to be maintained for people crossing by land, since it is allowed by air.

The economy of border towns that depend on consumers arriving from south of the border has also been affected by the restrictions.

From March 2020 to March 2021, businesses in San Ysidro lost about $644 million in sales and about 1,900 jobs, according to the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce. Added to this, around 200 businesses have closed.

For many citizens living in the border region, it was common to cross the border to shop.

These are habits that have been inherited, and during this year and a half of restrictions, many have searched for a way to perpetuate them.

Some have family or friends who can cross the border, such as U.S. citizens or legal residents, do the shopping for them, or others have chosen to use the services of those who shop at San Diego for the people of Tijuana.

The same is the case for those who are now considering flying to the United States.

“The pioneer who has the economic opportunity, who can do it because his pocket allows it, does it as an investment”, believes Jesús Ubaldo Reyes, international marketing expert and director of the Neón Marketing agency.

He considers that he is a consumer who aspires to return both to his consumption habits and to one of his forms of leisure.

“The border is closed, it’s as if the garden or the entertainment space were closed and we are looking for which window to get out,” he said. “If the option is presented to them, I can assure you that they don’t see it as an expense.”

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