HARLINGEN, Texas – American Airlines is committed to forging even greater ties to Harlingen and Valley International Airport, a senior consultant said Saturday.

Dale Morris, who assists American Airlines’ governmental affairs department on special projects, was at VIA to welcome the inaugural direct flight from Chicago to Harlingen. A special ceremony drew dignitaries from Harlingen, San Benito and South Padre Island.

“This is a proud day for us in American Airlines to be able to start this new service to and from Chicago,” Morris said. 

Morris noted that he was at VIA a little over two years ago for American Airlines’ first Harlingen to Dallas flights. He said the partnership the airline has developed with VIA and its aviation director, Marv Esterly, has been second to none. 

“Our partnership has been wonderful, under Marv Esterly and his direction and his team. We could not have a better relationship,” Morris said. “That is what makes these kind of things happen. It makes it work for you.”

Dallas-based Morris was also full of praise for Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell.

“Mayor Boswell, is a super, super supporter. We are committed to you and we are going to continue to grow this service. We ask for your support. We ask you to keep flying and the sky is the limit.”

Morris concluded his remarks by giving another shout-out to VIA’s Esterly.

“Marv and I go back well over 20 years. Marv is just the greatest. He has the respect of the folks at American Airlines higher than me. They listen to Marv. He is a great person.”

American Airlines’ nonstop Saturday flights from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to VIA depart Chicago at 9:05 a.m. and arrive at Harlingen at 12:50 p.m. The return departs Harlingen at 2 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 5:20 p.m. The flights are operated by SkyWest Airlines using a 63-seat Bombardier CRJ700 regional jet with dual class service. 

The inaugural flight from Chicago to Harlingen was close to being full. 

In his remarks, Esterly paid thanked to his staff. “Hats off to them. Everything we had to do this year, during the pandemic, it is just unprecedented. They stuck their nose to the grindstone and got it done.”

Esterly said the new route will allow VIA to promote one stop connections to several other cities in the Northeast and Midwest. “It is huge that we will have access to those other cities,” he said, referencing destinations such as Green Bay, Providence, Manchester, Albany, Syracuse, Kalamazoo, and Lansing.

“I want to congratulate American Airlines. In just a few short years here at Valley International Airport they have grown Valley International Airport as their second largest airport in the Rio Grande Valley,” Esterly said to applause from the audience.

“From September they increased their passenger loads from the year before by 30 percent or more, which is just amazing and just astonishing. I will tell you what, it goes to show what happens when an airport and a community actually truly partners with an airline. This is evidence of that.”

Esterly added: “Valley International Airport would like to personally thank American Airlines and Dale for believing in us. We promise not to let you down, Dale. “

Mayor Boswell also thanked American Airlines for partnering with Harlingen.

“It is another great day in the city of Harlingen. We are so excited about this. It is going to be fabulous to have this service, not just for the city but the entire region,” Boswell said, noting that it takes “hard work and leadership and a dynamic team” to make such partnerships a reality.

Boswell said VIA’s leadership has been working hard to bring more American Airlines flights to the Valley. “This is a flight we have been working to get for a long, long time. To be able to say it is arriving today is truly an accomplishment,” Boswell said. He then had to pause after being interrupted by a flight announcement. “That is music to Marv’s ears,” Boswell joked.

Boswell said there are deep family and business connections between Harlingen and Chicago. “It is not unusual during football season to be riding around town and seeing Chicago Bears flags waving on cars. There is a great relationship,” he said.

Boswell said next time the City of Harlingen has a special event with American Airlines, it will proclaim the day ‘Dale Morris Day’ and give the veteran airline industry leader a key to the city. “You can count on that, Dale,” Boswell said.

Among the dignitaries present for the ceremony were Harlingen city commissioners Ruben de la Rosa, Michael Mezmar, and Victor Leal, San Benito city commissioner Pedro “Pete” Galvan, South Padre Island city council member Lydia Caballero, South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Edward “Ed” Caum, and VIA board member Vicki Moore. 

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