Local air service ready to take off
Our family budgets for a "flying" vacation to a warm-weather climate every other year and we're looking forward to our getaway this March. Of course, I love serving as the trip planner, which includes researching activities and attractions, reserving accommodations and booking flights.
Without a doubt, airfare is the deciding factor when choosing between flying from Duluth or Minneapolis, especially when booking tickets for a family. Visit Duluth does a fair amount of travel for trade shows and meetings, and the time saved out of the office and our commitment to supporting and strengthening local air service offsets added expense.
Flying local has been an integral part of my personal and professional mission to support the region's economy, long before the "buy local" movement emerged. Through serving on the Duluth Airport Authority's board of directors I've learned flying local generates the same positive impact shopping local has on our economy.
With that said, I'm the first to acknowledge it's not always possible. For our vacation, spring break fares were already high due to demand. Flying a low-cost carrier out of Minneapolis was half what we would have paid from Duluth. Sometimes that's the reality.
However, Duluth flights are not always more expensive, and if they are higher the range varies. On a recent business trip to Washington, D.C., my airfare out of Duluth was just under $450 with great connections. At Minneapolis, colleagues from the metro joined me on the connecting flight to D.C. and basically paid the same rate for one leg that I paid for two. Formulas used by airlines to set fares are exceptionally complicated, so it never hurts to check options.
Travel from Duluth is incredibly convenient thanks to the variety of flights offered by Delta (connecting in Minneapolis/St. Paul) and United (connecting Chicago O'Hare.) Average time to clear TSA is less than seven minutes, a far cry from significant wait times in the metro. Factoring in drive time to and from the Twin Cities, parking — and possibly a hotel — adds up quickly. Weighing options and comparing fares can pay off with savings of time and money.
Airlines closely monitor demand when deciding frequency of flights per day, aircraft size and amenities such as a first-class cabin. Increased passenger demand results in stronger competition between carriers and lower fares. Ironically, this won't happen until more people are flying from Duluth, proving we are a viable market for the airlines.
The James L. Oberstar terminal is a remarkable facility. Passenger pick-up or drop-off, parking, check-in and baggage claim are a breeze. However, the amenities offered outside the building factor in heavily when airlines consider a destination. Runway condition, fees for services such as fuel, catering, landing/takeoff and customs clearance for international flights put Duluth at a competitive edge financially, but without seats being filled the airlines choose other routes.
The Duluth International Airport staff is keenly aware of the hurdles it faces when trying to lure additional air service. Visit Duluth is actively engaged in a partnership with the airport to land new airlines and expand service with existing carriers. We're on a mission to make this a reality, and if each person booked one flight out of Duluth this year, it would demonstrate our community is committed to a buy local/fly local future.