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.