On Nov. 3, United Airlines will begin providing nonstop service from Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
United is already taking reservations for the once-a-week flights, which will last through March. Airport Director Bryan Walker said the carrier is targeting the leisure traveler, though he thinks Brownsville-Chicago service will also appeal to business flyers connected with Mexico’s auto manufacturing industry, and believes reservations will reflect that.
Walker said the airport will market the seasonal route aggressively to fill seats and show United how much demand there is. He said the South Padre Island mayor’s office and SPI Convention and Visitors Bureau have also pledged marketing dollars.
“The airline sees that as a big incentive because they don’t have to put their money toward that,” Walker said.
He said the carrier has already talked about adding extra flights around high-travel dates, while emphasizing that the new service is a trial run. The current flights are scheduled for Saturdays.
“If it does well, then it definitely would be back next year,” Walker said. “If it does amazingly well, we’ll have year-round (service) or increased frequency.”
He said airport officials had been talking with United about the new route since October, and visited the company’s Chicago headquarters in January to discuss details and address questions. A number of conference calls followed that visit, Walker said.
The airport relied on consultant Air Service Development for the data used to convince United that the route was worth a try, he said. Credit card information shows the story of where ticket buyers reside, their destinations and other factors that can point to viable new markets, Walker said.
He admitted there was some skepticism that Brownsville would be able to land even a trail route to Chicago.
“I was told that we couldn’t do that, but we set it up and made our meetings,” Walker said. “It’s been a long time in planning but we managed to pull it off.”
A nonstop air route between Chicago and Brownsville helps simplify traveling north to south during the winter, meanwhile, when bad weather often snarls the best laid travel plans, he said.
“If you can get on the plane, get it de-iced and in the air, you’ll arrive at an island retreat,” Walker said.
By STEVE CLARK STAFF WRITER