It’s not uncommon for people disembarking from flights at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport to be greeted with hugs and flowers from loved ones. Those who arrived at 12:34 p.m. Saturday entered the lobby to the music of the award-winning Mariachi Aztlan and a fully stocked taco bar.

The VIP treatment was celebrating their arrival on the first-ever direct flight from Chicago O’Hare. The nonstop United Airlines route will run each Saturday through April 2019, departing Chicago at 9 a.m. and then departing Brownsville at 1:30 p.m.

Local municipal and airport leaders touted the direct flights as a new opportunity to bolster not only tourism but business, as well.

“ Today is a small step to what we’re about to be in the future,” Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said, adding that he has seen the city grow rapidly during his tenure. “(Residents) understand what success looks like, what success can mean for jobs and opportunity.”

The ease and improvement of flights between the Brownsville-South Padre Island area and Chicago is a plus for people already looking to travel the route and will encourage more people to do so, Martinez said.

“ It starts with an idea for leisure, but the business traveler is also an important component and hopefully will sustain (the route),” he said.

South Padre Island Mayor Pro-Tem Paul Munarriz echoed Martinez’s excitement. He touted the island’s reputation as a major tourist draw and noted it has been rated Southern Living Magazine’s top island getaway.

Nonstop service to Chicago will help grow South Texas tourism, Munarriz said, and he hopes that marketing efforts along with word-of-mouth will both keep flights fully booked and allow for the addition of more.

“ We’re ecstatic about taking another step to spread the word about Texas’ best beach,” he said.

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo Staff writer