Nov. 15--HARLINGEN -- Delta Airlines announced Monday that it will expand service to the Rio Grande Valley with direct flights between McAllen and Atlanta starting Feb. 16, 2006.
The news delivered a disappointing blow to Valley International Airport officials who have striven to attract the major air carrier.
VIA director Michael Browning said he was disappointed to hear that Delta chose McAllen over Harlingen.
"We have been talking to Delta for a long while," he said Monday. "I am disappointed that Delta thought it would do better in McAllen. The airport here enjoys a better location to serve the area."
Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southwest Airlines will operate the new service, the company announced.
"Our new service to McAllen results from the city's close ties to the multitude of manufacturing centers in southern Texas and northern Mexico ...," Bob Cortelyou, Delta's vice president of Network Planning, said in a statement posted on Delta's Web site. "This fall and winter we are continuing our strategic growth plan to offer more service from Atlanta and our other hubs to the places where our customers do business."
The company will begin serving the region by offering one-way tickets from McAllen to Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla., for as low as $134, and tickets for $149 to locations such as Norfolk, Va., Columbia, S.C. and Richmond, Va.
Browning wouldn't say what kind of impact Delta's arrival would have on VIA, but said regional operations by Continental Airlines could possibly experience adverse consequences.
"Delta would impact Continental, but not Southwest Airlines," Browning said. "Continental is doing very well, so is Southwest."
News regarding Delta's expanded service came at a time when boardings at VIA decreased by 1.4 percent from January to September, airport records show.
During the same period, boardings at the McAllen airport rose by 16.5 percent, while boarding at the Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport rose by 11.2 percent, records show.
Free parking at McAllen-Miller International Airport is about to fly out the window as city officials seek proposals for how best to implement parking fees.
The St. Paul, Minn.-based airline will continue to fly its regular schedule, airline officials said.
The flights, which former Delta subsidiary Atlantic Southeast Airlines operates three times per day, are the Catawba Valley's only commercial flights.
The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics also said Atlanta Hartsfield remains the nation's busiest airport by a comfortable margin over No. 2 Chicago O'Hare.