HARLINGEN, RGV – Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell says Valley International Airport is on its way to becoming the Rio Grande Valley’s airport of choice.

Boswell was bullish about the future of VIA following the launch of three-times daily American Airlines flights from Harlingen to Dallas-Fort Worth.

“It is just fantastic to have American Airlines here. I want to congratulate Marv for his great leadership. Also, the airport board, the City of Harlingen and the City of South Padre Island. They put together a program that would entice American to return service to Harlingen,” Boswell said, in a Facebook livestream show with the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We want to be everybody’s airport of choice. We believe Valley International Airport is the airport with the best service. It (American Airlines) is a great addition to what we have here.”

The “Marv” Boswell was refereeing to was Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA.

A ribbon-cutting was held at VIA to celebrate the return of American Airlines. The passenger carrier stopped running a service from Harlingen to DFW after 9/11. Now, the airline is offering return trips three times a day. 

“We are very excited to add American Airlines to our mix here. With three daily non-stop service flights to DFW. From that point you can go almost anywhere in the world. These exciting times for the airport,” Esterly said.

The return of American to Harlingen may help VIA regain top spot among Valley airports. In recent years, McAllen International Airport has been attracting a over half of all passenger bookings in the Valley. VIA has been just below 40 percent, and Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport at about ten percent.

However, in January, VIA got much closer to McAllen. McAllen had 56,454 passengers and VIA was at 54,143. Easterly puts the increase at VIA down to offering more services.

“We have Frontier, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and now American Airlines,” Esterly told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Esterly said the cool thing about having American is that it will bring in business travelers and leisure travelers.

“We like business travel and we like leisure travel. The leisure travel, that component that South Padre Island brings to it, the whole idea is to make sure we have people in seats,” Esterly said.

“This is a business and these airlines need to make money. To have both the business side and the leisure side sure helps. Airports mean business. That old adage is so true. Airports can attract businesses to an area. They want a great air service to get back to their headquarters. And, American, because it connects to one of the largest hubs in the world, it is a big box they can check.

Boswell agreed.

“The more opportunities you have to connect to other parts of the world and other parts of the United States, the easier it is to make an investment in our community. It gives us an opportunity to sell our community even more. Every time we can add connectivity to our air service to our community, it makes it easier to sell our community,” the mayor said.

Esterly said VIA is determined to provide the best in customer service. 

“We want the best customer experience as you come through the building. The best flights is No. 1, and the convenience of those flights is most important. But, we want to make sure a customer gets a great service the moment their feet touch the curb.”

With this in mind, VIA has been working on a lot of customer service projects, the aviation director said, including new flooring, new painting, new ceilings. “This will continue in the coming months. Our terminal building has been refurbished, it looks great, it adds to the experience.”

In his remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Boswell urged those in the audience to look around. 

“It looks like a different place and feels like a different place. It is a different place because we now have American Airlines. It is a great day,” Boswell said, thanking the City of South Padre Island for its partnership with Harlingen. SPI provides a shuttle bus service from the island to VIA.

Boswell predicted the return of American Airlines to VIA would help recruit more business and industry to Harlingen. “To have this kind of connectivity, it opens up a lot of new destinations for someone who wants to fly out of the best airport in South Texas. We are proud to have American Airlines.”

SPI Mayor Dennis Stahl said he is looking forward to more leisure travelers coming to the island from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He said the deal to bring American Airlines to Harlingen took a lot of work.

“This flight is a celebration in the growing interest in Texas tourism. Valley International Airlines and South Padre Island have had a long standing partnership. We are ecstatic to make this step forward,” Stahl said, claiming SPI had the best beach in Texas.

“We are eager to welcome more leisure and business travelers from Dallas to the Texas Gulf Coast; to get to our pristine beaches and tropical waters. And, this allows Rio Grande Valley residents a one stop service to the world with American Airlines. With DFW daily flights you can get to 900 destinations.”

Stahl said his hope is that the City of South Padre Island’s “targeted marketing efforts” and word of mouth will help to keep flights fully booked, “so we can expand the number of non-stop flights to Harlingen and South Padre Island.”

Dale Morris, senior consultant for governmental affairs at American Airlines, said airline passengers should get ready for bigger and better things. “This has been a long journey. It started back in 2015,” Morris said, referring to his company’s negotiations with VIA. 

Morris and Esterly have known each other for many years. He was full of praise for Esterly, saying the aviation director had “kept us at it.”

Morris said Esterly kept pushing to have American Airlines at VIA. “I have worked with him in other airports. He is fiscally responsible, the way he runs an airport, his fairness.”

Morris added: “Mayor Boswell, this is amazing. We are so proud to be part of this community. Dallas-Fort Worth is our fastest growing hub. You are going to connect to over 200 flights to 30 countries, just one stop. That is tightly amazing power. London, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, Dusseldorf. One stop away.”

In his comments at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Esterly thanked American Airlines for believing in VIA.

“Air service development is probably one of the hardest things we have to do here at Valley International Airport. It takes professional staff to orchestrate an aircraft coming in. It takes great partners. Their vision has helped us move forward. They do an unbelievable job. We are so happy to have them on our side.”