There are two ways to view the announcement that United Airlines will begin serving Rochester International Airport in June.
One is that the three daily round trips to Chicago will merely duplicate service offered by American Airlines, which already has 3-4 daily flights from Rochester to Chicago. What the city really needs is an airline willing to connect Rochester more directly with a western hub such as Denver or Dallas-Fort Worth. The airport is also served by Delta Air Lines, with direct flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta.
The second, and more optimistic, view is that these United flights to Chicago could be merely the beginning. If, and it’s a fairly large “if” based on previous such ventures, people use the additional flights, it’s possible that United would expand its service. It could be that in the future, United will be able to provide direct service to other hubs, perhaps even to the west.
Regardless, with an additional 150 seats to fill each day, it’s imperative that the airport, which is owned by the city but managed by a subsidiary of Mayo Clinic, continue and improve upon its “Fly RST” promotion. The program encourages local businesses and organizations to agree to check and compare fares from Rochester — as opposed to MSP — when booking flights.
Typically, Rochester International serves about 240,000 passengers annually. Fly RST, coupled with the United flights, is a way to increase those numbers. More passengers should eventually equate to more flights. There is hope, also, that two airlines serving the same route might result in competitive fares.
Once at Chicago O’Hare, travelers have a long list of national and international flights from which to choose, and of course experienced travelers are well aware that Minneapolis-St. Paul, with its direct flights to major domestic and international hubs, offers much the same, with perhaps more convenience than Chicago.
Therein lies a major challenge for Rochester International: Local travelers frequently show a preference, for whatever reason, for flying directly from MSP, rather than connecting from Rochester. We’re hopeful that the new service by United Airlines, along with the airport’s Fly RST program, can begin to change those habits.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN