HARLINGEN — Want to fly to Chicago?

Valley International Airport has just the flight for you, thanks to American Airlines, which launched its inaugural non-stop Harlingen to Chicago flight Saturday.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA.

“We’ve been working closely with American over the last two years because they’ve been growing here steadily,” Esterly said. “Even during the pandemic and this fall they’ve been up over 30 percent over the last year.”

The new flight means people flying from Harlingen to Chicago won’t have to stop in Dallas/Fort Worth on the way. Furthermore, it means only one stop — in Chicago — for such destinations as Lansing, Michigan, or Providence, Rhode Island.

Numerous local dignitaries gathered to welcome the first flight in from Chicago at about 12:30 p.m., including City Commissioners Mike Mezmar, Victor Leal and Ruben De La Rosa. South Padre Island City Council Member Lydia Caballero also welcomed the new flight, as did red-coated ambassadors from the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a great day for Harlingen and for the whole Valley,” said Mayor Chris Boswell. “We’re very excited to have this service to Chicago.”

Boswell said the city and American Airlines both saw a great market for a Chicago-to-Harlingen connection.

“There are so many people and so many families that have connections to Chicago, family connections,” Boswell said. “They left Harlingen and the Rio Grande Valley to find employment in the Chicago area decades ago, and those family and business connections are still there. So it’s such a perfect fit to be able to have this direct flight from Harlingen to Chicago because there’s a demand for it.”

American Airlines hailed the new connection.

Valley International Airport held a ceremony welcoming the first nonstop American Airlines flight from Chicago. Shortly after the announcement of the new nons-top flight, the first airplane arrived at the terminal. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

“It’s fabulous, it really is, to have another hub in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Dale Morris, senior consultant of government affairs for American Airlines.

“To have it here in Harlingen is very special,” Morris said. “We saw the traffic, we saw the numbers, and the team here under the direction of the mayor, it’s just been fantastic. We’ve made a good decision.”

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