Northeast Minnesota residents will soon have more options for getting to Chicago quickly.

American Airlines announced last week that it will enter the Duluth market with two daily direct flights from Duluth International Airport to Chicago O’Hare, and two coming from the Windy City.

It’s a big increase for the airport, which opened a new terminal in 2013 and now offers three nonstop daily flights to Chicago through United Airlines and five nonstop flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul through Delta Air Lines.

Duluth Airport Executive Director Tom Werner called the new service a “tremendous advancement” that will make flying more attractive to northeast Minnesota residents, with competition driving down fares.

Leaders hope more people moving through the airport will stimulate demand for increasing service, too, he said.

“Regional markets always struggle because of the lack of competition, to keep prices manageable,” Werner said. “Having three network carriers in Duluth now really changes the game for us.”

Mayor Emily Larson said the additional flights are another sign that Duluth is gaining traction on the national and international level. She praised the work of airport leaders, who she said made the case to American Airlines that Duluth was a worthy market on many levels, including its medical and higher education facilities, its economic forecast and its increased tourism.

“Duluth is not just a hub and connector … but we are a destination that people want to get to,” she said. “It is about how well the city’s doing.”

The new flights are welcome news to members of the Duluth martial arts school Kuroinukan. Head instructor Ward Melenich said he ends up in Chicago a few times a year because it is a center for similar schools in the Midwest.

Typically, he said, he drives. But he’s looking forward to seeing whether competition will make flying an option.

“We put four people in a car, it’s pretty cheap,” Melenich said. “It would be nice to have the option to fly.”

The new service will begin May 23, with reservations taken starting Monday. Passengers will board a 50-seat ER4 aircraft operated by American’s regional partner, American Eagle, Werner said. If demand is high enough, the company could switch to larger aircraft later.

 

@pamlouwagie