Migrants on one-way flights out of McAllen help break airport’s travel record

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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Migrants purchasing one-way airline tickets from McAllen International Airport to cities elsewhere in the United States helped to give the airport a record year of travel in 2019, city leaders announced Thursday.

The airport saw a 20% increase in passengers in 2019 from 2018, and had the most enplanements in its history since it opened in 1993, McAllen International Airport Director of Aviation Elizabeth Suarez told Border Report.

Most of the surge in enplanements — which exclude flight crews and those who board at an earlier stop — occurred during the first half of 2019 and involved passengers departing from McAllen but not returning, Suarez said.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling speaks with Border Report in August about the high rate of one-way migrant fliers from McAllen International Airport. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling noted the trend to Border Report in August and attributed it to migrants who entered in South Texas and had been released from either U.S. Customs and Border Protection or U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement custody and allowed to join family or friends elsewhere in the country.

“We’re seeing one-way north so that results in our out boarding being greater numbers,” Darling said at the time.

All of the migrants are required to pay for their own travel, which typically had been done via buses. But for some reason, thousands in 2019 bought airline tickets emanating in McAllen, Darling said.

Read a Border Report story from August on a surge in 1-way air travel from McAllen.

In 2019, the McAllen Airport had a record 830,000 passengers, including 432,000 enplanements, Suarez said, noting that the 1-way enplanements dropped dramatically the second-half of the year.

That is exactly when the Trump administration ended the Obama-era policy of “catch and release,” and implemented in South Texas the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as “Remain in Mexico.” This has resulted in over 60,000 migrants on the Southwest border returned to Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, Department of Homeland Acting Commissioner Chad Wolf has said.

Passengers, including many who identified themselves as migrants, are seen boarding a 6 a.m. flight on July 30, 2019, at McAllen International Airport in McAllen, Texas. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“From January to early summer we had definitely been seeing some of the enplanements higher than deplanements, but it seems to have changed,” Suarez said.

Suarez said that a strong and growing number of business travelers in the Rio Grande Valley helped to maintain the airport’s record numbers through, even through the second half of the year. The airport’s legacy airlines especially saw tremendous growth with American Airlines reporting average load factors (the percentage of filled seats reported monthly by the Air Transport Association) of 86%; and United Airlines averaging 79%. The average is 65%, she said.

“Overall the entire Valley had tremendous growth and that’s reflective of the strong economy; there’s a lot going on in the Valley,” Suarez said. “I’m excited. It’s a fun time to be in this industry. It feels like we are building great things.”

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