Chicagoans headed to South Texas this winter will be strolling the beaches hours sooner. That’s because United Airlines launched a new nonstop route between O’Hare International Airport and Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport.
The inaugural flight took off Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. I was thrilled to be invited for the ride.
So was most of South Texas, apparently. My fellow travel writers and I got off the airplane to a welcoming water cannon salute, a phalanx of cameras, a balloon arch, an enthusiastic mariachi band and a complimentary taco buffet lunch.
The new nonstop greatly eases the commute to Brownsville, South Padre Island, Port Isabel and other far South Texas communities by eliminating one leg. Previously, Chicagoans and Midwesterners who connected through O’Hare had to change planes in Dallas or Houston.
United’s weekly direct flights between Chicago and Brownsville will run on Saturdays through Spring 2019. Additional flights will run throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and during spring break. After that, the airline will evaluate the numbers for possible continuation or even expansion.
“The sky’s the limit,” says Chris Earley, United Airlines senior regional manager. “This is a seasonal trip right now. We’re going to see what that looks like and see if we can expand into the business market as well as the leisure market. There is a lot of business travel that is here. If that works well, then, hopefully, we can extend into something permanent.”
United is flying a comfortable EMB -175 aircraft between Chicago and Brownsville. It’s a 76-seater with 12 First Class seats and a configuration of 2-2 with a center aisle. In economy class, the seat pitch is 31 inches and the seat width is 18 inches. The flight time is just over three hours.
“It is very roomy,” Earley says. “You don’t feel crunched, even if you’re in the last row of the airplane.” (Note: I agree.)
If you’ve never been to the Brownsville area–the southernmost tip of Texas, you should definitely make the trip. Here’s why: The sand is cushiony, and the waters are exquisite, and the sunsets are sensational. The shrimp, oysters and snapper are abundant and delicious. The locals are welcoming and easy-going, and the history is laden with settlements, shipwrecks, pirates and legends. The natural environment of beaches, dunes, flora and fauna is vast and largely protected.
“Brownsville has a rich future because of Space X,” the South Texas Launch Site spaceport under construction, Brownsville mayor Tony Martinez told us. “That’s where Elon Musk and company are going to come down and start launching. When we had the groundbreaking, he said, ‘Mayor, one day someone is going to go to Mars from Brownsville.’ So, write that down.”
I just did, Mr. Mayor.
(Many thanks to the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting my visit!)