Aer Lingus launched nonstop service between the Twin Cities and Dublin Monday, bringing more competition in transatlantic travel to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Aer Lingus flight 89 arrived just after 5 p.m. and was greeted with a water-cannon salute. The plane taxied to Terminal 1, where passengers were met by officials from the airport and airline.
“Minnesota’s business sectors align with ours — in med-tech, banking and other sectors,” Bill Byrne, vice president of North America for Aer Lingus, said in an interview. “For us to be relevant here, we have to offer nonstop. It was really about time we got here.”
Dublin is an important business market — Minnesota’s largest med-tech company, Medtronic, has its legal headquarters there. Boston Scientific and UnitedHealth Group also have sizable operations or business interests in both cities.
Aer Lingus executives also aim to make European travel cheaper for Minnesotans as an intermediate step to other destinations on the continent.
With its northern location and as a major hub for Delta Air Lines, MSP has a level of international connectivity that cities of comparable size don’t. But fare-conscious travelers often bemoan the higher prices that market leader Delta can charge without much pressure from competition on its international nonstops.
“Delta has a stranglehold on MSP flights going to Europe, so the hope is that the entry of Aer Lingus can really change that,” said Kyle Potter, editor of Minneapolis-based Thrifty Traveler, a travel and flight deals website.
MSP travelers currently access Europe on Delta nonstop flights to London, Paris and Amsterdam, on Delta and Icelandair to Reykjavik and Condor to Frankfurt. KLM and Air France also fly in and out of MSP under their code-share agreements with Delta.
Any new competition often puts downward pressure on airfares to an entire region, Potter said.
Advance bookings for the MSP-Dublin route on Aer Lingus are currently at or above projections, Byrne said. The airline is offering a stopover option in Ireland, similar to one Icelandair does in Iceland. Passengers can spend seven days in Ireland before or after flying to a continental destination without adding to their fare.
Aer Lingus flies to 23 airports throughout the United Kingdom and Europe from its home city. On Monday’s inaugural flight out of MSP, 39% of them are connecting beyond Dublin, with the highest number heading to London.
The crew for that trip, Aer Lingus flight 88 due with a 6:45 p.m. departure, had arrived in Minneapolis Sunday night via New York.
“We were able to give the city a look-about today, check out the shops. We think [the Irish] will really like it here,” said Hannah Downey, one of the flight attendants.
Her colleague Sharon Coffey said that she watched the bucolic, rural landscape during the descent into MSP. “It’s like where we are from,” she said.
About 10% of Minnesotans possess Irish ancestry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey one-year estimates. “This new flight is a big deal for us,” said Mary McFarland Brooks, president of Irish Network MN, a cultural promotion group.
“The Irish I know have a lot of fun and are better-looking than most people, and they are great about getting other people involved in their fun,” she added.
Aer Lingus is also pitching Europeans on Minnesota by focusing on its outdoor lifestyle — particularly its water sports — and shopping. The airline is partnering with Explore Minnesota on campaigns in Ireland, Northern Germany and Northern Great Britain.
“The Irish love to shop. They have shopping clubs over there,” said Paula Svadlena, Aer Lingus’ Midwest regional sales manager.
“They love brands and those brands are a lot cheaper here.”
She said many people in Ireland save 20 to 40 euros a month throughout the year to put toward a large November shopping trip for Christmas gifts.
Aer Lingus is the flag carrier of Ireland with its major hub operating at Dublin Airport. It’s a wholly owned subsidiary of International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways and Iberia, and has recently been expanding its transatlantic service with new nonstop U.S. markets.
MSP marks its 13th U.S. destination.
The flight from MSP to Dublin is less than eight hours and about an hour longer on the return.
Initially, the route will be flown on a 177-seat Boeing 757 operated by ASL Airlines. Aer Lingus contracts with ASL on four transatlantic routes, in a deal that has enabled Aer Lingus to expand its long haul network.
Byrne said Aer Lingus will replace the 757 in its fleet by 2020 with the new Airbus A321neo-LR.
However, that aircraft is not yet approved to fly the distance between Minneapolis and Dublin, so the MSP route will likely be flown on an Airbus A330.
Dublin Airport has a preclearance facility that lets passengers pass U.S. Immigration and Customs before boarding their flight, a feature that expedites arrival at MSP.
The year-round route will be flown six days a week for the first month before bumping up to daily for the remainder of the summer and fall months. It will fly four times a week through winter.
Dublin is the third new international destination introduced at MSP this year. Delta started direct service to Seoul in April and Mexico City in June.