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Mexico: All aboard the 'school-bus plane' to Texas

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Taylor Barnes/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Cross-border commuters wait at the terminal for Mexicana Airlines Flight 831.

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On a sleepy Monday morning, a young fashion photographer with a backpack, graphic T-shirt, and ripped, bleached jeans types away on his laptop while waiting for his ride. “The bus,” he calls it. But here in San Antonio, the “bus” isn’t a motor vehicle that belches diesel exhaust. It’s Mexicana Airlines Flight 831, which departs the largest Latino-majority city in the United States every Monday at 10 a.m. The “return bus” is Mexicana Flight 832, a two-hour flight that leaves Mexico on Friday at 5:30 p.m., bound for Texas.

Since many Mexicans here have business on both sides of the border, it’s common to have home and family on one side and to report to work for five days on the other. It’s not cheap: A round-trip airfare costs around $400.

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“It’s really a school bus, this plane,” says the Mexican photographer, who asked not to be named. He spends most of his time in San Antonio, but travels four to five times a year to Mexico City for a company he operates there.

Texas was part of Mexico until 1836, and few states have a more fluid border with the southern US neighbor. Mexican shoppers frequently take the “school-bus plane” for a weekend of outlet shopping in Texas. On this particular Monday the gate was accented with the colors of Aéropostale, Ann Taylor, Nike, Calvin Klein, and Victoria’s Secret shopping bags.

“This is all the same people,” says Victor Manuel, a businessman who jokes that the crowd at the gate arrives in San Antonio with empty bags and leaves with full ones. He himself has businesses on both sides of the border and takes the flight at least once a month.

The “wait in the airport is not bor[ing] for us, because there is always more than two or three groups you can join to chat and laugh,” says San Antonio-based consultant Luis Escobar. “As we already know each other, sometimes we call the one [who is coming] late, telling him if the flight is delayed or not.” The friends in transit each go their separate ways when they arrive in Mexico, he adds, joining again Friday afternoon for the “bus” back home.