Commercial air travel in and out of Rochester is getting a significant boost, with Delta Air Lines announcing Monday that it will soon add daily round-trip service to Atlanta and Detroit.
The service to the two major hubs begins Sept. 14, with tickets and their fares available starting Saturday.
“This new service will significantly enhance our customers’ options … by providing one-stop connections around the world from Delta’s three largest domestic hubs,” said Jeff Davidman, Delta’s director for government affairs.
Currently, Rochester has American Airlines going to and from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and Delta flying back and forth to the Twin Cities. The Rochester-Atlanta service is a first, while Rochester is reviving its Detroit connections that were dropped in November 2011.
Dr. John T. Wald, medical director of public affairs at Mayo Clinic, said in a statement that the new service would make travel to and from Rochester more convenient for Mayo patients and visitors.
Said Marty Lenss, the Rochester airport’s executive director: “Combined with continued service to Minneapolis, these three hubs will now provide [Rochester] customers with one-stop connections to significant international destinations.”
Both of the new Delta routes will have one departure and arrival per day, Lenss said.
Twin Cities’ travelers looking for a bargain to Detroit and Atlanta won’t necessarily find lower fares for Rochester departures, said George Hobica, of Airfarewatchdog.com, although travelers in the southern metro may find leaving from Rochester more convenient. Still, consumers may want to check both prices.
After five consecutive years of Rochester passenger declines — a nearly 33 percent drop-off between 2007 to 2012 — the number of total passengers inched up 4 percent last year.
While 2,400 southern Minnesotans a day take a flight, a recent study revealed that only 12 percent use Rochester’s airport instead of driving more than an hour up to the Twin Cities. Delta currently offers four to five flights daily from MSP to Rochester on a 50-seat aircraft. Delta has not indicated that the new service will affect those flights.
“Rochester has never been a serious airport,” said Terry Trippler of ThePlaneRules.com. Ideally, he said, consumers should look for two flights per day to destinations so they don’t get stranded or have to drive back to MSP to catch a flight. But he added that Delta cancels very few flights.
Last month, Allegiant Air announced it was pulling out of the Mayo Clinic-operated Rochester airport, making its final flights Wednesday to and from the Phoenix-Mesa area.
“Smaller airports have been losing a lot of traffic nationwide,” said Hobica. “With this announcement there must be dancing on the jetways.”