Keeping United in Duluth

It took five years and a lot of effort to get United Airlines to come to Duluth.

""Now it rests on the community’s shoulders to keep them there," says Mark Sixel, an airport consultant, based in Eugene. Ore., who helped convince United to come to Duluth.

"Use it or lose it" is the bottom line to our story this week on Delta Air Line’s competitive moves in response to United’s entry into the Duluth market.

So far, it’s reflected in Delta’s upcoming boost in flight capacity and added flights between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

We hear Delta (which merged with Northwest) is offering bonus frequent flyer miles for Duluth travelers, another common tactic to edge out the competition. So are fare cuts. But so far, fares are generally being matched among the two airlines, we’re told.

United’s start of Chicago service in December means, for the first time, Duluth has non-stop flights to five major cities – Orlando and Las Vegas and to hub airports in the Twin Cities, Chicago and Detroit where travelers can make flight connections.

"Getting United in here was one of the biggest economic impacts this community had in 2009," said Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority. "It’s like recruiting a business to town."

With the two major carriers, Duluth travelers see benefits from the competition in lower fares, more flights, better service and more people using the airport, Ryks and Sixel say.

If United pulls out, all those Delta perks, extra flights and lower fares and upgrades to first class that are so hard to resist, are gone, they say.

"They are absolutely temporary," Sixel says.

For United to survive, the first year is critical. It’s make-or-break time because the airline needs to establish a base for long-term survival.

So how can you help?

First and foremost, fly out of Duluth instead of the Twin Cities airport, Ryks says.

If you’re going to Chicago, you should fly United. You’ll save time and connections. Consider United for your other travel, too. But if your schedule and ultimate destination works best flying Delta, by all means, go with Delta, he says.

When Northwest (now Delta) started up in the 1930s, Duluth was one of its first markets. And it has served Duluth ever since.

 "We want them to be successful, but we think there’s room for United," Sixel says.


9 thoughts on “Keeping United in Duluth

  1. I understand needing to support our local travel option, but the way this (Duluth) market is priced by Delta is way out of line. My wife and I are going to Phoenix for a few weeks the end of April.

    I would certainly appreciate it if the Airport Directior, Mr Ryks, would comment on this and tell us why this is and what we can do to combat this. It’s crazy !

    After checking on air fares from Duluth to Phoenix for the past several weeks, I started wondering what it would cost to fly to Phoenix from a few other similar sized cities in our area of the country. I’ve also broken it down by the cost per air mile, including all legs of the flight appropraite to each city. Each City on this list flies to Minneapolis first and then on to Phoenix from there. I’ve used a web site that calculates the air miles between all US cities, including the leg of the flight through Minneapolis for this analysis.

    Duluth to Phoenix…$414.00 – .15/mile
    Grand Forks to Phoenix…240.00 – .08/mile
    Fargo to Phoenix…$220.00 – .08/mile
    Green Bay to Phoenix…$280.00 – .08/mile
    Bismark to Phoenix…$326.00 – .07/mile
    Sioux Falls to Phoenix…$322.00 – .08/mile
    Appleton to Phoenix…$311.00 – .08/mile

    These results are amazing at best and actually make me angry. Do we in Duluth have “stupid” or “sucker” stamped on our forehead ? Apparently so. It’s no wonder nobody wants to live here, it seems we get screwed no matter what we try to do. My family and I have generally flown out of Duluth several times a year for vacations etc…We’ve always paid the extra amount for “convenience” sake. However, after looking at these numbers I just feel we’re being and have been taken advantage of in a gross way for many years. Unless these fares come down a whole bunch and become competitive with the fares for every other market in our area as I’ve listed above….we’re done with DLH.

  2. Ted, great information you collected. I always check air fares when I go anywhere — if it’s $100 or more for me to fly out of MSP, I do. I hardly ever fly out of DLH, b/c of the costs involved, as well as the hassle of what happens if my flight is cancelled out of DLH. I often take the Skyline Shuttle down to MSP and fly out of there, it’s totally worth the 3 hour trip, as I get reading done while saving money. and when my family of 3 travels we 90% fly out of MSP after driving down there, and save hundreds of dollars that way. Air fares have got to come down in Duluth if the airlines want my business.

  3. It is attitudes like that of the previous posts that make a community fail, not just air service but the community.

    Does it cost more to fly out of Duluth than the communities that Ted listed, usually. Am I happy with that, no. But if you look at the air service in “Ted’s Model Communities” you’ll notice that all of those markets have at least four airlines serving them. A community does not attract and retain four airlines by “flying out of MSP”.

    Duluth airfare will not go down by flying out of Minneapolis. There is no incentive; you’re leaving Delta airlines in Duluth to drive 3.5 hours, get lost, stay over night in a motel,arrive 2 hours early the next day; park 2 miles from your terminal, Oops wrong terminal, Park 3 miles from the correct terminal; only to fly the same dang airline. Gentlemen break out your “Stupid Stamp”. On top of that you have to get back to Duluth on the return trip when your tired and the kids are cranky. My time is worth more to me than that headache.

    Airfare goes down by competition. I’ll be doing my part by flying United out of Duluth whenever I fly for at least the next couple years. I can’t be the only one who gets this!

    To keep things interesting lets talk low cost carriers. Most, if not all of the markets Ted listed are served by the ultimate low cost carrier, Allegiant Air; direct to Phoenix. Well Duluth is served by Allegiant too, but not to Phoenix. If you step back and look at the price per mile to Orlando or Las Vegas from Duluth, the prices are the same or better. So the real problem I see here is we don’t have Allegiant service to Phoenix. Because why would you fly to Phoenix for more than 300 dollars when you can drive it for that.

    So Mr. Airport Manager, will you please make
    Allegiant fly to Pheonix to help my buddy Ted out?

  4. Jack G….all good points. However help me out on a few further observations I’ll mention here that address some of what you pointed out. I researched all the cities I mentioned in my original post and found that even if you compare the number of airlines servicing these cities, you still can’t make a direction connection to the fares. As I noted in my original post, Duluth’s fares to Phoenix are basically twice the price of all the other markets. Yet only 3 of the airports actually have more airlines servicing them. See below:

    Green Bay-5
    Sioux Falls-3
    Grand Forks-2

    So that being said, I wondered if it could be the number of passenger boardings at each location that might make the difference…sadly not even that explaines the difference. Duluth is definately the smallest in terms of total boardings. See Below:

    Geen Bay – 844,360 (2008)
    Sioux Falls – 744,208 (2008)
    Fargo – 697,810 (2009)
    Appleton – 528,000 (2008)
    Duluth – 303,000 (2008)
    Bismarck – 179,700 (2008)
    Grand Forks – 96,491 (2009)

    So as you (Jack G) pointed out, maybe Delta and United are competitive when they go head to head with Allegiant on certain routes. So I checked that out too….sadly that didn’t seem to explain it either.

    Airfare from Duluth to Las Vegas using same dates in April for all three carriers that service Duluth shows the following fares:

    Delta – $454.00
    United – $454.00
    Allegiant – $270.00

    So, given all of the above, what am I missing here that would explain all this ? I’m not saying there is no explanation….but I’d sure appreciate it if someone would tell me what the reason is that we pay so much more than so many others in similar communities for our scheduled airline service.

    Anybody care to try ?

  5. My previous post should have read “Duluth is definately NOT the smallest in terms of total boardings”.

    Sorry for the error.

  6. Way to go Ted! It’s hard to argue facts and logic but unfortunately some will still try. Another interesting tid bit is Grand Forks and Fargo are only about an hour and a half drive from each other, yet both offer good air fares.
    I don’t know where Jack G gets his info from, but it’s never taken me more than 2 1/2 to get from Duluth to MSP airport. Jack if you have trouble driving or finding your way you should consider taking the Skyline Shuttle or purchasing a gps for your ride.
    It would be nice if someone would answer Ted’s questions. I wonder why the DNT doesn’t do a story on it???

  7. All the people saying about the cost of flying out of Duluth, how hard do you actually looked? What days are you looking at?

    Last year I planned a Euro trip for mid-August. Flying Wednesday/Wednesday:
    -DLH to Frankfurt: $500
    -DLH to Dublin: $600
    -DLH to Seattle: $240 and change

    Each time beat MSP by at least $100. And so far this year I’m finding DLH to: Frankfurt, Paris, Prague and many other locations on par or very close to MSP.

  8. So now we’re comparing international flights? I’m sure there are a lot more people flying out of Duluth to Prague than there are to US destinations. Peter, you still didn’t answer the question.

  9. Thanks “ML” for trying to get people to answer what I think are prefectly reasonable questions.

    I’ve done about all I can to look at this situation from several angles and try to objectively analyze things as well as I can. The two reponses we’ve gotten on this subject don’t really cut it in my opinion. One was just wrong as I pointed out in my second post….and the other is using year old data for overseas travel which has absolutely no bearing on whats 95 percent of people flying out of Duluth would be concerned about….mainly a routine flight to a domestic destination.

    By the way, regarding the post about flying to Frankfurt Germany for 500 bucks last year. I checked for mid August 2010 dates for a flight from Duluth to Frankfurt and it it’s now $1431.00 which bears no resemblence to the $500.00 which supposedly it was last year. So, I guess this year Peter won’t be going to Frankfurt for a budget summer vacation like last year.

    I really am interested in solving this issue (if possible)since it’s obviously in all our best interests to be able to competitively fly out of Duluth. I just don’t see that paying double the fare from Duluth to a domestic location of their choice is a viable option for most people.

    I might add that over the years there have been times we’ve had what I feel were reasonable fares out of Duluth to various domestic locations….it’s just that it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Last year I flew from Duluth to LA for $300.00 round trip. I thought that was good. However after booking that trip, for curiousity sake I kept searching for the same trip on the same dates and it spiked up to $406.00 (if memory serves me right) and never got below about $390.00….so I guess I got a good deal on that one.

    Again…can anybody figure out and explain the pricing strategy used by Delta and United for the Duluth market and why is is so vastly different than for other markets in our area of the country ? The silence so far is deafening.

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