HARLINGEN, TEXAS – In the eight years he has been aviation director of Valley International Airport, Marv Esterly has never seen as many passengers flying in and out of Harlingen.

In October 2022, VIA recorded a 24 percent increase. In November 2022 the passenger count was up 26 percent.

Esterly puts it down to the Rio Grande Valley becoming better known across the country as a tourist destination.

Marv Esterly

“It’s amazing. In the course of my short time here, eight years, I’ve never seen numbers like this before. You really have to go back to the early 2000s or beyond that to even get close to it, when Southwest was really blowing and going here,” Esterly said. 

“We were up roughly 24 percent and 26 percent, respectively, for October and November 2022, as compared to the same months the year before, which was also a good year. So to see nearly 40,000 emplanements here in an October and November when we have never even seen, at best, 35,000 enplanements for a spring break in March on a really good year, it is amazing.”

Esterly said for VIA to beat a spring break month like March by 4,000 or 5,000 passengers in a month like October is “unheard of.”

Asked what he puts it down to, Esterly said: 

“There’s a whole lot of things in play. Of course, part of it is down to the increase in seats in the market that we’ve seen. But, it is just a multitude of things. We work so well with the carriers, we partner with the carriers, we have ground handling team in order to induce those additional seats into the market. Delta Air Lines coming back, our ground handling team will be taking care of them as well.”

Esterly said the Valley must be becoming better known.

“Airlines, after the pandemic, are looking at leisure markets and finally our message is getting out there, that this is the leisure market. With South Padre Island down here you can get out of the cold of the the Midwest, the Upper Midwest, on a nonstop flight. That is huge.”

Esterly made his comments in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service following a VIA board of directors meeting. During the meeting, Esterly said 72 percent of the tourists coming to South Padre by air fly in and out of Harlingen. 

Asked if the new passenger numbers are an indication that more people are learning about the Rio Grande Valley, Esterly said:

“I believe so. And that’s our goal, working with our partners at the CVB on South Padre Island, we want to make sure we get that message out so people can start looking at this place. Just like they look at Destin, Florida.”

CVB stands for Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

Also, during the board meeting, Esterly spoke about the recent decision of Delta Air Lines to bring back direct flights from Minneapolis to Harlingen. Minneapolis is a hub for Delta with more than a dozen smaller markets in the Upper Midwest connecting to the city. Esterly said Delta’s executives must have seen the strong numbers Sun Country is posting for its flights between Minneapolis and Harlingen.

In his interview with the Guardian, Esterly said VIA is working closely with South Padre Island to make sure they do not duplicate their marketing efforts in the Upper Midwest. He said between 13 and 20 Upper Midwest cities that have flights to Minneapolis are seeing marketing material, including online advertising, from VIA or SPI.

“The Upper Midwest is extremely important for the whole Rio Grande Valley. We are going to see an increase in Winter Texans in the whole Rio Grande Valley with Delta Air Lines coming back in with a larger mainline aircraft. Delta will allow for more connected cities in the Upper Midwest and even into Canada to access Valley International Airport and the Rio Grande Valley with one stop in Minneapolis and then one hop to Harlingen,” Esterly said.

“Again, it will be huge to be able to connect a lot of cities in the Upper Midwest to the great weather down here in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Esterly added that all the airlines that fly into the Valley carry Winter Texans. 

“You have nonstop to Chicago coming up with American Airlines. Southwest, of course, carries a lot of that Midwest traffic as well. But, yes, the nonstop with Sun Country and now the nonstop with Delta coming back from Minneapolis, it is great for the Valley. Remember, it is cold up there. It is almost like they could turn off their electricity up there and with the money they save, they could be enjoying themselves in the warmth of the Rio Grande Valley for the winter. So, yes, we have a great working relationship, a great partnership with South Padre Island CVB in order to promote that traffic to the Rio Grande Valley and South Padre Island.”


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