Airlines Cut Minnesota Routes

Needless to say, the airline industry worldwide has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of aircraft have been parked for months now, and it’ll be a long road back to some semblance of normalcy for the entire hospitality business, hotels and car rental companies included.

While passenger traffic bottomed out at next-to-nothing in April, a recovery of sorts, albeit what is expected to be a very slow and drawn out one, has hopefully begun. To assist U.S. airlines with their financial woes, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is allowing each airline to make permanent changes to their route systems. Specifically, each carrier can completely pull out of up to five markets, or 5% of their total markets served, whichever is greater.

Specific changes announced thus far include:

  • United Airlines – eliminating service between Rochester (RST) International Airport and Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  • Sun Country Airlines – eliminating service between the Twin Cities and Madison (MSN), Philadelphia (PHL), Portland, OR (PDX), Sacramento (SMF) and St. Louis (STL)
  • Delta Air LInes – eliminating service between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Williston, ND (XWA), Lincoln, NE (LNK), Ft. Smith, AR (FSM) and Aspen/Pitkin County, CO (ASE)

More changes are certain as the industry gets back on its feet, so be sure to check with your specific airline for current flight information. Do not be surprised to encounter some connecting services where you may be accustomed to previously non-stop flights.

Wear a Mask or Don’t Fly

United Airlines is getting totally serious about the safety of their customers and employees. Effective this coming Friday, June 18th, the carrier will place any uncooperative passenger who doesnt follow its mask policy on an internal travel restriction list. What does this mean? Specifically, unabiding customers will lose their travel privileges for an indefinite lengthy of time that will be determined after a close review of the incident in question. The minimum no-fly designation will be for no less than 60 days.

Passengers with a medical condition or disability that precludes them from wearing a mask will be excluded from the new rules. If a flight attendant has determined that a customer isn’t exempt and has advised them of the mandatory mask requirement, the airline will offer to provide one free-of-charge. If the passenger continues their non-compliance they will be provided with an information card about United’s policy and the consequences of not following the rules. As a last resort, the cabin crew will file a report of the incident upon arrival at the next destination.

United has been requiring face masks since May 4, but is taking this stricter stance to deal with the small number of passengers who remain obstinate about the mask stipulation.

MSP International Gets $125 Million Pandemic Help

For a major international airport the size of MSP it’s certainly just a band-aid, but a $125 million infusion is nothing to sneeze at. As part of the federal government’s CARES Act which is funneling more than $2.2 trillion to various areas of the U.S. economy, airports, much like most major U.S. airlines, are being provided financial assistance to basically keep the lights on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In total, the CARES Act that Congress passed last month will provide $10 billion to airports across the country. The CARES acronym stands for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. On behalf of the airport, MAC (Metropolitan Airports Commission) spokesman Patrick Hogan said, “We are very grateful for the federal aid, which will help us make debt payments and continue the safe operation of our airports for those who need to travel. Long-term, the aid will not be nearly enough to cover our losses, so we are also putting in place cost-saving measures to bring expenses down as much as possible.”

The MAC also operates the St. Paul Downtown Airport, Airlake Airport in Lakeville, Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Crystal Airport, Anoka County-Blaine Airport and Lake Elmo Airport.

MSP: The Airport

Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Twin Cities. Minnesota. Certainly not the center of the universe, but it is the largest and most dynamic region in the Upper Midwest of the United States. With a metropolitan area population of more than three million, it’s come as no surprise that the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is a vital facility that connects the region to airports and destinations not only around the U.S. and North America, but throughout the world.

MSP has a storied history of being home to many airlines, including Wisconsin Central which grew to become North Central. North Central merged with Hughes Airwest and Southern Airways and was re-named Republic Airlines. During a similar timeline, Northwest Airlines grew into Northwest Orient Airlines, one of the first American airlines to serve Asia from the U.S., with multiple stops along the way. Changing its name to Northwest Airlines to be more current with the world, the airline grew with the purchase of Republic to become one of the largest carriers in the country.

But of course, the U.S. airline industry continued to consolidate, and Northwest merged (was purchased by) Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines in 2008. Delta maintained, and has in-fact grown the MSP hub to become the second largest in its system in terms of passengers served; third in terms of flights operated. Delta currently offers more than 500 daily departures to more than 125 destinations from MSP.

While Delta is far and away the dominant airline serving MSP, there are many more air options to consider. All of the other mega carriers, American, United and Southwest offer frequent service, primarily to their respective hubs. Locally-based Sun Country Airlines, originally a charter carrier for winter vacationers, is in the midst of re-creating who they are, with less emphasis on MSP, though they are still a strong player in the vacation market from Minnesota. Other domestic carriers from MSP include Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines. Small regional airlines Air Choice One and Boutique Air also offer flights from MSP.

International service has grown by leaps and bounds over the years at MSP, While Delta, again, is the dominant carrier with daily non-stops to London, Amsterdam (three daily flights), Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City and Cancun year-round, with other options offered during the winter months. International airlines currently offering non-stops from MSP include Air Canada, Icelandair, Condor, Aer Lingus, KLM and Air France. The latter two are part of the Sky Team Alliance along with Delta.

As air travel has grown, so has MSP. While its original name dating back to 1920 was Speedway Field with a race track which ran completely around the airport, it became Wold-Chamberlain Field in 1923, re-named for two local heroes who died during World War One. At last count there are a total of 131 gates and two terminals. Terminal 1 (Lindbergh) is commonly known as the “main terminal” with 104 gates. It is home to all flights operated by Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, KLM, Air France, Aer Lingus, Air Choice One and Boutique Air. Terminal 2 (Hubert H. Humphrey) is located across the airfield, or one free light-rail stop away. It has been gradually expanded over the years and now offers 14 gates that are utilized by Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, Condor, Icelandair and Jet Blue.

While airline travel in 2020 and possibly beyond will be dramatically impacted by the coronavirus that has brought the industry to its knees, MSP will one day return to its strong growth pattern. In 2019, more than 39 million passengers passed through the airport, with about 60 percent being local originating travelers and the other 40 percent using the airport as a connecting point. Including Delta’s hub operation at MSP, the airport last year had more than 400,000 operations (takeoffs and landings), with non-stop service to 136 domestic points and 27 international destinations.

For the most complete information about the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, log onto http://www.mspairport.com.

MSP Concession Layoffs and Closures

It comes as no surprise that a large concessionaire at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport has announed the closure of some stores and restaurants, as well as a reduction of hours at others due to the coronavirus pandemic. With airline operations drastically reduced for an indefinite period of time including an announced 70 percent cutback in flights by MSP’s largest carrier, Delta Air Lines, OTG Management of New York today anounced it has laid off 156 employees. United, American, Southwest and other carriers have also reduced their schedules at MSP, across the country and around the world. While OTG expressed hope in its announcement that many workers could be re-hired in the future as air travel recovers from the pandemic, without an end date in sight to the virus emergency they are considering these layoffs at this time to be permanent.

An airport spokesman advised that OTG has temporarily closed five restaurants and two retail stores on the G Concourse, and that others that remain open have reduced hours to meet the much lower demand. As of early last week MSP’s passenger counts were down 60-70 percent compared to the same period last year, and a startling 86 percent year-over-year on Saturday, March 21st.