HARLINGEN — Passenger numbers at Valley International Airport dipped in January as is usually the case in what amounts to the off-season for tourism.
For the past several months, the airport has been pushing or exceeding the 40,000-passenger mark. Yet the most recent passenger enplanement numbers still were 18 percent above last year and the highest January total in a decade.
“In January, 32,3623 enplaned passengers, even with the issues Southwest had and with the weather issues we had throughout the United States,” Marv Esterly, director of aviation, told the airport board this week. “But if you look down that list you will not see, looking all the way back to 2014, you will not see another at 32,000.”
“The closest was in 2019 when we thought we did really, really good, and we were at 31,309 and of course this year 32,000,” he added. “Great numbers.”
Esterly was referring to Southwest Airlines’ well-documented “meltdown” last month, which saw the air carrier cancel thousands of flights, including a number of them to and from Harlingen.
Yet in January, Southwest, thanks to the seats it added to the market about a year ago, managed to enplane 54 percent more passengers than last year to lead all airlines flying to and from VIA.
“United Airlines was up 32 percent. And that’s great because we know they’ve been affected by pilot and crew (shortages), and they don’t have the seats in the market that they’ve had in the past,” Esterly said.
“American was down 20 percent, and they actually changed the pilot-crew issue. But they were down to two flights in January, as opposed to the three and four flights that we see through the summer time. … Sun Country was up 35.9 percent to 3,180 passengers, so definitely a good jump for them as well.”
The airport, and Valley travelers, received a boost last week when Delta Air Lines resumed service in and out of VIA. Delta flies seasonal routes to and from the Valley.
Airport officials say Delta flights began Friday and over the first few days most of the flights were fully booked.