Even more than usual in March, Minnesotans are desperate for a respite from relentless winter weather. They’re flocking to airline sites and travel agents with the same mission — to go anywhere warm.
A young boy snorkles off of Ranguana Caye, in March 2005, a small island off the coast of Placencia, Belize, a beach town in the southern part of the country. The tiny country of Belize, a little smaller than Massachusetts, has caught the collective eye of vacationing hordes for years.
The breaking point for Melanie DeLuca was when the windchill hit 26 degrees below zero. That’s when she and her husband looked up airfares, sick of towering snowbanks, icy roads and long stretches of subzero temps.
“We didn’t care where it was, as long as it was warm,” she said.
The Maple Plain couple flew to Florida last week, extending husband Mike’s two-day business trip to a weeklong sunny, 80-degree escape aboard a cruise ship to Cozumel.
Even more than usual in March, Minnesotans are desperate for a respite from relentless winter weather. They’re flocking to airline sites and travel agents with the same mission — to go anywhere warm. And with many school spring breaks at hand, a busy travel month is even busier.
Local travel agents say sales are up 30 to 50 percent so far this year. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport experienced a 6 percent jump in passengers in January compared to last year. Last week, for the first time ever, all six parking ramps at both terminals were full.
It’s as if Minnesotans are taking a collective spring break, fleeing to any place where the term “polar vortex” doesn’t exist.
“It’s been hopping. … I think everybody just needs a break,” said Jennifer Yokiel, president of Minnetonka Travel in Wayzata, which has had a 30 percent uptick in sales so far this year compared to last year. “Everything” is to warm places, she said. “I don’t think we could give away a ticket to Detroit.”
The Twin Cities has already had the fourth snowiest meteorological winter on record and the coldest winter in 36 years — all after last year’s winter, which ended with snow in May. Now, with more gray skies and snow possible this week, even the hardiest Minnesotans are bailing, trading shovels and scarves for sandals and sunscreen.
“This part of winter has been brutal,” said Kristen Bruner of Eden Prairie.
She doesn’t usually leave for the holidays, but sick of the cold, she booked a Christmas trip to Florida. Then, last month, feeling the winter blues, she took a quick trip to California. And now, a two-week trip to Orlando this week to golf, run and sit by a pool.
“I feel like I have to get out of here,” said Bruner, a longtime Minnesotan. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown just less patient” with the weather.
While some winter-weary friends can’t afford a trip, she said others are sticking it out until spring. In fact, Explore Minnesota Tourism says business at downhill ski resorts and other lodging is up this year thanks to the extra snow.
Not that it matters to Bruner.
“Everywhere you look, you just see white forever; it’s kind of depressing,” she said. “It’s hard to believe it will ever be green.”
Many others share her cabin fever.
The airport has had 134,000 more passengers compared to this time last year, according to the latest numbers in January. Spokesman Patrick Hogan said it’s because more Minnesotans are escaping to warm places, and low-fare carriers such as Sun Country and Spirit Airlines are expanding; Spirit more than doubled its number of passengers in December and January from this time last year.
That’s translated to a bigger boon at warm-destination airports such as Southwest Florida International in Fort Myers, which had a 3 percent increase in passengers in January from last year. Some states, such as Hawaii, are even targeting cities like Chicago with marketing campaigns featuring images of beaches and pools.