Why Is Delta Flying To So Many Texas Border Towns? The Hidden Strategy Behind Seemingly Senseless Routes

Delta is adding another flight to Austin that seemingly makes no sense. They’re going to fly to Harlingen, Texas with a once-daily SkyWest regional jet.

  • Delta has introduced intra-Texas flying on regional jets from Austin to McAllen and Midland
  • These are very small markets and short flights, and the only places Delta flies from Austin are to its own hubs
  • They are mostly flights meant to squat on gates at the Austin airport. The airport is basically full, and its new concourse won’t open until the 2030s.

Delta Air Lines Gate Austin

These are low fare non-stop routes and they aren’t going to carry a ton of (low yield) connecting traffic. But they’re short and flown with outsourced regional jets so they’re fairly cheap.

Harlingen is even stranger since it is just a 45 minute drive from McAllen, Texas which they’re also serving.

Whenever I note that these are money-losers, but they aren’t big money losers local readers point out that those flights out of McAllen are actually pretty full. Enilria has the explanation and it also explains why Harlingen makes sense for limiting losses.

  • Delta’s flights out of McAllen are 69% full. Fares to Delta are as low as $26 one-way, but “still far fuller than we thought.”

  • What’s interesting is that they’re basically full departing McAllen, and empty return from Austin. In fact, according to Enilria, “Northbound out of MFE, our sources say Delta achieved a 91% load factor in May.”

This almost never happens. Roughly speaking the number of passengers out of an airport are going to be the same as the number of passengers flying to the airport. Holidays and weekends will shift this somewhat when they straddle months, but still overall there’s balance. Not so here, and it is likely because McAllen is a border city. So is Harlingen!

Up to 20% of passengers flying out of airports near the U.S.-Mexico border are migrants. Migrants are being flown out – but not back. That would explain why flights from McAllen to Austin are full, and Austin to McAllen much less full. We can expect the same thing from Harlingen.

Delta needs Harlingen to stay close to even at the airport, because they cut Midland (not near the border!) from 3 to 2 flights daily and also reduced Boston service. The volume of migrants crossing the border from Mexico seems to be subsidizing Delta’s gate squat in Austin.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. These are not migrants. They are illegal immigrants being flown at taxpayer expense somewhere else.

  2. so let’s get this right, Gary and your data-manipulating sidekick.

    He calls AUS a hub but Delta never used that term. If he embellishes words, how are the numbers supposed to be believable.

    And, you, Gary, have told us for months that DL’s flights were empty. Turns out 69% might be accurate. You do realize that Cranky published flown load factors for United and almost half of the cities on its TPAC network had a LF lower than 69% for at least a couple months in 2023-24?

    And a roundtrip flight cannot have a 69% LF if it is full in one direction but empty in the other. and he says the LF was 91% which means that the LF “going down” has to be even higher to still come up with a 69% LF?
    Can you and your word and data-manipulating brain trust tell us what LF DL would have on the southbound legs in order to have a 69% LF on the roundtrip?

    and you and he BOTH miss that the federal government – which means taxpayers from EVERY state are subsidizing transportation of these passengers or IOW, people in NYC, CHI, DEN and CA are subsidizing the importation of passengers that they then say are breaking their urban finances are telling us years ago that they wanted to receive w/ open arms.
    But let’s get the storyline straight.
    Greg Abbott started bussing people from Texas to NE cities, then we all found out the feds were doing the same, and now the feds are just putting them on commercial flights.

    The people of Texas and Florida don’t have to pay the full cost of relocating these people anymore.

    And how many passengers are AA, UA and WN carrying on their AZ and TX networks?
    And what is the average fare that these people via the feds are paying for their relocation flights?
    How much are average fares from AZ and TX being pushed up by increased demand, heavily at the last minute?
    How many federally financed taxpayer airport assets are subsidized by the carriage of subsidized illegals?

    Is is possible, Gary, that Delta has no designs on a hub in AUS at all but it sees a revenue opportunity no different from what AA, WN and UA get from TX and AZ?

    It is obvious that you and your fact manipulating sidekick play fast and furious with reality so you can generate page clicks. At least he had the balls to admit it was all about popcorn.

    Elections have consequences. november is coming

  3. I wish they’d fly Laredo to Austin. Laredo is a booming area with half a million people in the area.

  4. Wow, a two-for from Timmy Dunn: he gets to shill for Delta and proudly display his MAGA hat.

  5. I’ll be impressed when DL and AA expand their AUS-MEX-BOG-DAK routes to send them all packing

  6. Yeah, New York City needs more criminals illegal aliens. Thanks Brandon!

  7. Hopefully one of those Delta gates will soon have an AUS-CDG non-stop/code share with AF.

  8. Not quite accurate to say Delta only operates to its bubs from Austin as the airline also flies direct to Las Vegas, Orlando, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, and Cincinnati.

  9. The only thing I am shilling for is truth – and facts.

    The only people that are triggered are those that don’t want to hear that AA, WN and UA all carry massive amounts of illegal immigrants who are being put on commercial airlines instead of previous chartered busses and flights paid for by Texas as well as the federal government.

    DL saw demand in several Texas cities it did not serve, added flights, and carries a minuscule amount of government-subsidized traffic when actual capacity and load factor data is actually objectively reviewed.

    AA and UA fly massive amounts of capacity across the Atlantic and Pacific that loses money but there is no popcorn in talking about that.
    and AA underutilizes loads of slots in NYC and DCA while UA underutilized its slots at EWR which resulted in the FAA removing slot controls – leaving UA with the smallest federal slot portfolios among the big 4 -smaller than WN.

  10. It all makes sense now. Delta has strong support for Republican lawmakers who wouldn’t pass the border bill so the can sell flights to agencies who fly migrants that come in. Follow the money.

    I bet the fares out of these border towns are up there.

  11. I wish Delta would restart AUS-DFW flights. I am not sure if there is a reason this can’t be done, but I used to fly AUS-DFW on DL on a regular basis and would love that option once again. I would rather connect at DFW vs SLC, especially to get to LGA.

  12. If this were occurring why in the world would DL not push this traffic through ATL on mainline aircraft? If the government is picking up the bill it’s a no brainer.

  13. @Ed, because nobody from Texas wants to fly to Atlanta to head west. Easier to run them through AUS and connect to places like LAX, SEA, SLC.

  14. Airlines are probably pretty good at price discrimination on those last minute one way fares. Migrants probably aren’t using many advance purchase discounts.

  15. “wish Delta would restart AUS-DFW flights:” It’s a 40-minute flight, if the pilot takes their time, can be flown faster. Add 90 minutes at the airport to the drive out to DFW, another 45 at AUS and a cab into downtown … odds increase later in the day that the plane will be late v. a luxury bus service, wifi, Bus Attendant: more food/beverage than any airline would ever offer, first-class-kinda seats, gets you from near Love Field to downtown AUS/HOU/OKC faster, with much less anxiety, wear and tear. Or drive yourself, from my front door to the State Capitol was exactly 200 miles, exactly 3 hours. (SW has stopped DAL-OKC flights)

  16. …um, because AA and UA fly to all three South Texas airports: MFE, HRL, BRO. It’s just normal competition.

  17. No such thing as illegal immigrants, migrants, etc. All are expats who should be allowed to go, work, and live anywhere, provided they actually can work and house themselves. Our country has peerless prosperity, innovation, and freedom, precisely because of expats of all kinds keep coming here. And, please, don’t say glorified fake “countries” like Sweden, that have less population than large city metro areas, like LA and Shanghai in real countries, are our peers.

  18. Jake-1… have you seen US code 1325?

    8 U.S. Code § 1325 – Improper entry by alien
    U.S. Code
    prev | next
    (a)Improper time or place; avoidance of examination or inspection; misrepresentation and concealment of facts
    Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

    (b)Improper time or place; civil penalties
    Any alien who is apprehended while entering (or attempting to enter) the United States at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers shall be subject to a civil penalty of—
    (1)at least $50 and not more than $250 for each such entry (or attempted entry); or
    (2)twice the amount specified in paragraph (1) in the case of an alien who has been previously subject to a civil penalty under this subsection.
    Civil penalties under this subsection are in addition to, and not in lieu of, any criminal or other civil penalties that may be imposed.
    (c)Marriage fraud
    Any individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined not more than $250,000, or both.

    (d)Immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud
    Any individual who knowingly establishes a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, fined in accordance with title 18, or both.

  19. >”far fuller than we thought”

    Just another example of airlines not being able to accurately predict loads on their routes. For example, it never fails to amaze me how many international routes are flown out of BOS and IAD while PHL gets left behind despite having a significantly higher population. Another example is my group’s inability to find ski season flights into SUN; you would think airlines would ramp up in-season flights to (of all things) a ski resort! Airline executives seem just half a step above film studio execs on the IQ chart.

  20. Just establishing operations for the mass deportation flights that are going to be going back down that way. At taxpayer expense of course.

    Gary of course is okay with these routes until they begin to mess with his precious coffee machine in terminal.

  21. @Jack Mee… It appears possible that you are unfamiliar with the ancient distinction between wrongs that are malum in se (“wrong in and of themselves”) and ‘wrongs’ that are malum prohibitum (“wrong only because the sovereign declares them to be wrong”).

    In other words, I’m comfortable that Jake-1 realizes that there are laws in regard to immigration and is offering his belief that said laws would/should not exist in a free society.

  22. Because they’re flying illegals all over the country. I’ve seen it out of PHX, TUS, ELP… actually seen a woman with an anklet on.

    Turn them around and send them back.

  23. WN flies HRL-AUS nonstop so not that unusual to put pressure on a competitor

    But yeah the migrants give a little high yeld boost, saw some on a SAN flight with group 1 AA boarding

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