Delta Air Lines has clipped the wings on daily service between Minot and Salt Lake City only four months after it began.
Andrew Solsvig, director of the Minot International Airport, issued a press release stating Delta will discontinue daily service to Salt Lake City Oct. 4. Solsvig said the reduction is due to lower-than-expected demand for the flights and the airline's desire to use its aircraft for more profitable routes during the winter months.
Delta's five daily flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul were not affected.
When reached for comment, Solsvig said he wasn't surprised there were flight reductions, but he was surprised that Salt Lake City was removed all together.
"September is our lowest travel month in the year, and although we're keeping a full schedule through September, it ends Oct. 4," Solsvig said. "We were anticipating some flight reductions come this fall and winter just because of the lower travel period."
Solsvig said Delta reviews its flight schedules anywhere from three to six months in advance before implementing any changes, and estimated since the route ends in October they were probably looking at making changes in July.
Considering the route to Salt Lake City only began May 4, that doesn't seem to leave much time to judge its viability. Solsvig said it's tough to know how much time Delta needed to judge whether the new route was a success or failure because it has access to a much broader base of information than he does.
"Their schedulers look at a whole lot of data based on historical and future bookings, so they have much more information than I am privy to," he said.
The loads Delta was averaging on the Salt Lake City flights, which are the percentage of passengers filling up the plane to maximum capacity, were in the mid-50s, according to Solsvig. In other words, on average a little more than half of each flight was full. He noted this especially troubled Delta because these low loads were during Minot's peak travel season, which stretches from May to July.
"They were worried about what would happen when traffic slowed down for the winter months," he said.
To keep the route to Salt Lake City sustainable, Solsvig said the loads would need to be in the mid-60s or higher. He mentioned that Delta has actually done this before in Bismarck, where the entire route to Salt Lake City was pulled due to low numbers this past fall before service was restored the following spring.
Solsvig said all Minot can do at this point is work hard to talk with Delta in hopes of bringing that route back next spring and summer for the peak travel season.
The press release stated Minot International Airport has reported a 30.1 percent increase in revenue enplanements for the month of July compared to 2009 and has a year-to-date increase of 10 percent. This has also been a record year in all categories at the airport statistically speaking. Solsvig said the news of Salt Lake City's cancellation is especially disheartening in light of how well the airport's doing.
"It's very frustrating. There's not a whole lot we can do other than keep meeting with Delta and providing them with information on activities going on in this community and region," he said. "Keeping them up to date with new businesses and economic activities is really key. They want to see what's going on in the community.
"Right now this market needs to mature, and mature meaning people just need to be more aware that the flights are out here, that people need to use them and this is a perfect example of why a community needs to support air service because airlines will use their aircraft for more profitable routes if they can do so."
Solsvig believes the oil industry in northwest North Dakota will also feel the impact of Delta's route cancellation. He said the business community definitely supports that route, especially considering it's a hub destination.
"We as a community have a good argument to support at a very minimum seasonal air service for this route," Solsvig said. "We hope to keep it for year-round if we can support it."
Although it certainly doesn't help, Solsvig doesn't believe this hurts Minot's ability to get new air service routes in the future. He notes Minot's great economy and the popularity of the other flights as proof of that.
"Compared to a lot of the rest of the nation, I think we have a good situation here and we can talk to airlines as we progress with growth and encourage them to add more routes or additional flights to those markets that we have," Solsvig said.
With the loss of Salt Lake City, Solsvig hopes the other routes from Minot International Airport, including Delta to Minneapolis, Allegiant to Las Vegas, and United Airlines to Denver, will pick up and increase through the winter months until Delta will hopefully return service to Salt Lake City in the spring.
After looking up the numbers, Trebor Banstetter, spokesman for Delta Airlines, said the Salt Lake City route was running a passenger load of around 45 percent, which was much lower than other routes in the region.
"In comparison most of our routes from Salt Lake to midwestern cities generally were close to 90 percent for the summer," Banstetter said. "So it was substantially lower than what we were seeing everywhere else."
Banstetter said when numbers are that low some hard decisions have to be made, and canceling the flights to Salt Lake City was the only choice they were left with.
He noted Delta's flights to Minneapolis still offer many connecting opportunities to fly around the country.
"If you're going to have service anywhere from Minot, that's probably a great hub to be flying into," he said.
The route cancellation isn't unique to Minot. Banstetter said Delta makes a new schedule every summer and fall, and this was simply part of that process. Flights and routes worldwide will be canceled this fall because of the traditional drop-off of passenger volume after the busy summer season.
Banstetter admitted the route was short-lived, but said at its current volume it was one Delta simply couldn't continue to fly.
"I do think the fact that we were willing to put it in demonstrates that we are definitely interested in the Minot market and will certainly continue to monitor it and look for opportunities in the future where we feel like there's a need," he said. "This was a case where we thought we saw some demand and maybe it was a route we could make work, but given the performance in the summer it just clearly wasn't one that we could continue."
As for the future, he said Delta always continues to reevaluate the market and will add routes if they believe a need is there.
"If we feel like a community is really interested in our service and are off flying, then we want to be able to do what our customers want and need," he said. "And if they need more service, then that's what we'll do."
Wendy Howe, executive director of the Minot Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she was disappointed to learn Minot would be losing service to Salt Lake City, but wasn't completely surprised by the move with what she's heard from other communities around the country.
"Knowing the position that the airlines are in nationally, I think that Minot has been very fortunate to add service when we visit with other communities across the country and we know that typically service is not being added anywhere. Service is typically going away from many airports," Howe said. "So I think Minot's been actually in a very fortunate position to get all the new service that we have had."
Like Solsvig, Howe hopes Delta will return the route in the spring.
As for losing a major route just before the always busy holiday season starts kicking into gear, Howe doesn't see it as having a huge impact on Minot as far as tourism goes. She points out United's service to Denver and Allegiant's service to Las Vegas as key routes that can help pick up the slack toward the west, while Delta's flights to Minneapolis have been strong to the east.
It's her hope that service to the remaining destinations will pick up in the wake of Salt Lake City's cancellation, providing plenty of passengers for the rest of the flights and convincing Delta to take another look at things next year.
"Hopefully Delta will see how busy things are and look at expanding that service (Salt Lake City) and bringing it back," Howe said.
Howe would have liked to see Delta give the service a bit more time to grow before giving up on it this year. She noted the marketing they have been doing for the airport has only been going on for the past three months or so.
"I do feel that given more time, I think we could have seen that service grow and I wish that they would have given it a little more time," she said. "However, I do feel that the service that we have westbound to Denver with United and eastbound to Minneapolis with Delta is very much supported by our community and in the area and I think we're going to see both of those connections be very busy through the end of the year."