Valley International Airport last spring resembled a high school campus in June.
“Empty hallways” is how Jose Mulet, the airport’s director of air service and development described it in looking back to the start of what would be a difficult year for the U.S. aviation industry.
In McAllen, City Manager Roel Rodriguez said McAllen International Airport “went through the worst year it has ever seen, maybe, and will ever see, I hope.”
The story at those two airports is a completely different one a year later. The airports are adding new flights with major carriers. The same can also be said of the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. It is still basking in the glow of its new $43.8-million terminal opening in mid-January.
“It’s a major upgrade that was long overdue,” said Francisco Partida, the Brownsville/SPI airport’s special projects manager. “People are driving up to the new terminal and they’re excited, as are we, to have this new facility for our community and our market.”
Harlingen, McAllen Add New Flights
Excitement also recently rippled through the airport terminals in McAllen and Harlingen with announcements of new flights connecting those cities to Monterrey and Chicago, respectively.
Aeromar announced in late March that it is opening new Thursday and Sunday flights between McAllen and Monterrey. For McAllen, it signifies a boost for tourism from Mexico which took a major hit with restrictions limiting crossings at international bridges. The new flights provide an alternative to land crossings while the restrictions are in place.
“We’ve wanted this route for many, many years,” Rodriguez, the city manager, said of the Monterrey flights that began on April 22. “We looked for opportunities in the midst of the mess we were in and this is a big one.”
In Harlingen, American Airlines in March began a new weekly flight on Saturdays between that city and Chicago. The flight leaves Chicago at 9:05 a.m. on Saturdays and flies nonstop to Harlingen, arriving at 12:50 p.m. A flight leaves the same day from Harlingen at 2 p.m. and arrives in Chicago at 5:20 p.m. For now, the Chicago/Harlingen flight will be available through Sept. 30, with a possibility it may go beyond that date.
“I think it’s going to be a boom,” said Mulet, of the Harlingen airport, in forecasting surges in national air travel as 2021 progresses. “Major airlines are adding flights as destinations are opening up.”
American is also adding a fourth daily flight between its Dallas/Fort Worth hub and Harlingen, beginning on June 2. Southwest Airlines is adding a third Houston/Harlingen flight on May 8. Mulet is hoping Southwest will reinstate a Harlingen/Austin flight this year. It was a mainstay route for years at VIA before the last year’s business struggles.
Mulet recently led a tour through VIA’s seven-gate terminal. Passengers lined up in security lines during a busy spring break week. It was an indication of how quickly air travel is rebounding.
“We started to see things coming back with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and now with spring break and Easter, you can see how busy things are getting again,” Mulet said.
The same also goes for the McAllen airport, which had the best year in its history in 2019. The new connection to Monterrey was described as a breakthrough in adding those routes to existing Aeromar flights to Mexico City.
“It’s a natural connection for us,” said Elizabeth Suarez, the director of aviation for the McAllen International Airport, of the new flights to Monterrey. “It’s not just economic, it’s also a connection of family, culture and tradition. We share very close ties with the people of Monterrey.”