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American Airlines prepares to discontinue service to Duluth

Citing insufficient profits, the carrier will halt flights from Duluth to Chicago.

File: Duluth International Airport
Three people walk to the James L. Oberstar Terminal in July as a jet approaches Duluth International Airport.

American Airlines plans to exit the Duluth market later this spring.

Brian Metham, a spokesman for the carrier, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that American Airlines will cease flights between Duluth and Chicago O'Hare International Airport after April 27.

Metham offered a brief explanation of the decision in an email reply to questions posed by the News Tribune. The statement said: "We're constantly evaluating our network to meet customer demand. Unfortunately, the Chicago-Duluth route was not profitable and did not meet expectations."

He went on to say: "We thank the team members who served our customers over the last year and will work closely with them during this transition."

Although the carrier has made no public announcement yet, Natalie Peterson, director of communications and marketing for the Duluth Airport Authority, responded to the News Tribune's questions about American Airlines' much-rumored departure as follows: "We have been informally notified. But we have received no formal notification from the airline at this time. So, I have no detail for you at this point."

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American launched its current service to Duluth in May 2019 with twice-daily flights to and from Chicago. It has provided that service in conjunction with its regional airline affiliate, American Eagle.

This latest trial wasn't American's first foray into the Duluth market, however.

In December 2002, American Eagle pulled out of Duluth after a four-year effort to establish itself in the market.

It gave Duluth a second go in March 2004 with the help of a $1 million grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Small Community Air Service Development Program. But that experiment was even shorter-lived, ending in September of the same year.

Peterson noted that American Airlines' most recent return to the Duluth market was driven by market opportunities, not any external grant funds.

Duluth International Airport is currently served by two other major carriers, Delta and United, offering direct flights to the Twin Cities and Chicago.

RELATED: Delta Airlines to upsize aircraft serving Duluth A Boeing 717 will replace the smaller regional jets that had been flying to the Twin Cities on at least two routes.
Having three major carriers competing for passengers in Duluth has boosted traffic through the local airport and driven down fares, according to Thomas Werner, executive Director of the Duluth Airport Authority.

"It's been good for the market for sure. There's no doubt about that," Peterson said.

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In 2019, the number of travelers flying through Duluth grew 13.5% from the previous year, with more than 318,800 passengers using the local airport.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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