Sun Country Airlines will add two non-stop flights in and out of Duluth in December.
Flights between the Duluth International Airport and Fort Myers, Florida, and Phoenix, Arizona, were among 18 new routes the Twin Cities-based budget airline announced in a news release Tuesday morning. Flights to both destinations start Dec. 17. One-way tickets begin at $79.
The flights to the Southwest Florida International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport are scheduled for Mondays and Fridays through mid-April. Sun Country will offer service using the Boeing 737-800, a 183-seat aircraft with in-seat power and in-flight entertainment options.
Erin Blanton, Sun Country communications manager, said the service is expected to operate out of Duluth on a seasonal basis, when warm-weather winter destinations are in greatest demand.
But Tom Werner, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, suggested Duluth could sustain the service on a year-round basis, if given the opportunity to do so.
“With more and more people excited to resume traveling, we’re thrilled to be able to offer them the opportunity to visit these incredible vacation destinations this winter,” Sun Country Airlines Chief Revenue Officer Grant Whitney said in a release.
Werner said the flights come after years of discussion between the airport and Sun Country.
"Our partnership with Sun Country is critical to expanding air service in this region. As a low-cost carrier that focuses on leisurely travel, we expect demand for local air service to grow considerably," Werner said. "Sun Country's price point makes flying for your next vacation more affordable than ever. This effectively expands our market, putting other routes in reach."
Werner said the Duluth Airport Authority has been working hard to get a low-cost leisure-focused carrier back in the market. He noted that Allegiant Air offered what had been a popular service out of Duluth until its departure in 2015.
"We saw a lot of success with Allegiant, in terms of expanding what the air travel market is in this region," he said.
While passenger traffic through Duluth has dropped considerably during the pandemic — as it has everywhere — Werner said he expects the added flights will help the airport's recovery. He noted that the Duluth International Airport was coming off one of its strongest years ever, when the pandemic struck. Werner pointed out that 2019 traffic through the airport was up 13.5% from 2018 and ranked as the terminal's third-busiest year ever.
"Although the pandemic has hit the air travel industry hard, we are confident that Sun Country's presence in our market will only expedite the recovery of air commerce at DLH," Werner said.
The airline has been indirectly servicing Duluth since 2019. Through a partnership with the Landline bus and shuttle company, Northland travelers have been able to take a bus or car from the Duluth International Airport to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where they can then board a flight to their final destination. The tickets for Landline's services are included when making a Sun Country reservation.
Blanton said Sun Country plans to increase frequency of Landline motorcoach service out of Duluth from two times to five times a day, beginning in May.
Two other commercial airlines already operate out of Duluth. Delta Air Lines currently offers daily flights to and from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and United Airlines offers non-stop flights between Duluth and Chicago.
Werner urged area residents to support all three carriers, saying: "It's extremely important to the long-term viability of these routes that we fill these aircraft. It's now in your backyard. It's more convenient than ever."
He contrasted the long lines travelers often encounter at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in larger airports with typical waiting times of less than 5 minutes in Duluth. To spread word of the advantages of flying out of Duluth, Werner said the local airport authority is laying plans for a marketing campaign.
This story was updated several times with additional information from a Sun Country news release and Duluth Airport Authority news conference. It was originally posted at 8:20 a.m. April 27.
This story originally incorrectly described the new Sun Country flights from Duluth. It was updated at 4:35 p.m. April 28. The flights from Duluth to Fort Myers and Phoenix are non stop. The News Tribune regrets the error.