February 4, 2019

Adelie Bergstrom
Duluth News Tribune

American Airlines will begin service to Duluth International Airport in May, with two daily flights each way between Duluth and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

Airport Executive Director Tom Werner announced American’s entry to the Duluth market at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. The service comes after three years of discussions with American, Werner said.

Flights will begin May 23, with tickets going on sale Monday, Werner said.

“Air service growth certainly doesn’t happen overnight,” Werner said. “The airport acts as the community’s advocate when approaching airlines about starting service. But it’s the businesses and the residents of this region that have the real voice in the conversation with any airline. You speak through your choice to fly local.”

Werner said that market growth and support for Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, the two carriers currently serving Duluth, contributed to American’s decision to bring service here.

“They took notice of our recent passenger growth, in particular in 2018,” Werner said.

More flight options fuels the local economy, Werner said, while Duluth Mayor Emily Larson called the new service “one more way to connect us to the world.”

“This is a big deal for Duluth,” Larson said at the news conference. “What this really means to me as mayor is that people are really recognizing that Duluth truly is a city on the rise.”

Larson said that a growing aviation infrastructure helps attract federal funding and allows the city to establish the case for industry players to make an investment in Duluth. She cited Cirrus Aircraft, AAR Corp. and Monaco Air Duluth LLC as partners in attracting business here.

More service also makes a difference for passengers, too, Werner said.

“Each new carrier that joins the offerings at the Duluth International Airport has a significant impact on our region,“ he said. “It means more competition between carriers, which in turn means more options and lower fares for our customers.”

Werner said the airport regularly reaches out to current and potential airlines through visits, calls and updates on Duluth’s economy and traveler profiles.

“It’s really the building of a long-term relationship,” Werner said, adding that three years is a relatively short time for discussions on attracting a new airline.

Airport officials are hopeful that American’s entry into the market becomes the groundwork for expanded service down the line.

“Providing a foothold in Duluth is a first step,” Werner said. “We’re certainly hopeful that that service will grow.”

Currently, Delta offers five daily nonstop flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul, and United has three daily nonstop flights to Chicago. Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines will begin charter flights to Nashville, Tenn., in May.

When United added service to Duluth in 2009, they, too, offered two daily flights to Chicago, and service grew from there, Werner said. But he said that Duluth will retain a carrier only if there is sustainable demand.

“‘Flying local’ is more than a tag,” he said. “It absoluetly is essential to making sure that those choices stay here.”