Price of Duluth airfares droppingUnited Airlines’ entry into the Duluth market is profiting travelers, with the average round-trip ticket price down $78.50.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Ten months after it started, the air link between Duluth and Chicago is meeting expectations, local airport and airline officials say.
And it seems to be helping the pocketbooks of Duluth air travelers.
United Airlines has flown round trips twice a day between Duluth and Chicago since Dec. 17, 2009. The flights are operated by SkyWest, a regional carrier based in St. George, Utah.
“I see all the performance statistics,” said Don Monaco, a Chicago businessman who owns Monaco Air Duluth, the fixed-base operator for the airport. “They’ve provided excellent service, and they’re on time.”
Although Monaco owns a Cirrus, he has flown to and from Chicago via United a number of times since the flights began, he said. In the early days, other passengers seemed skeptical. “There was a lot of negativity in terms of initial reaction.”
But the community seems to have warmed to the United link, Monaco said. “It appears to me that the service is going to be around for a long, long time.”
Rahsaan Johnson, a spokesman for United Airlines, didn’t go that far. Whether United continues to fly out of Duluth “is a function of the community’s taking advantage of the service,” he said.
Johnson said the link started slowly, as expected; and picked up during the summer, as expected. “We’re anticipating bookings will fall in the fall and winter,” he said, but United wants to see improved numbers in the coming year.
Monaco and Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, credit United’s competition with Delta for a significant drop in local airfares since 2009.
The average fare for a round trip from Duluth dropped by $78.50 from the first quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of this year, according to Research and Innovative Technology Administration data.
Ryks said 207,560 passengers came through the airport through the end of August. If the $78.50 savings continued to hold — figures beyond the first quarter aren’t available yet — that would mean passengers saved more than $16 million this year. And that’s during a year when the average airfare nationwide climbed somewhat (see accompanying chart).
Ryks said the next step would be to add a third round-trip to Chicago, although no one could say whether or when that might happen. Denver, which is another United hub, is still on the wish list. The Colorado city is consistently one of the top 10 destinations for people flying out of Duluth, Ryks said.
Within the past decade, two other carriers — American Eagle and Midwest — have competed with Northwest (now Delta) for Duluth business, and both left. But Monaco said that was due in both cases to extenuating circumstances, not because the airlines weren’t making money.
One barrier to competition, Monaco said, is loyalty to Delta’s mileage program. But Duluth airport users should realize that there are all sorts of mileage programs available that don’t depend on using a single airline.
“What I’ve been on people to do is to take a look at all the (mileage) programs available out there, because there are so many,” Monaco said. “There’s a dizzying array. This community needs to grasp the reality of having multiple carriers.”