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Northlanders: DLH wants you!

Commentary in the Duluth News Tribune:

Local View: Airport must think outside the box to reduce market leakage

28 Comments

Special K

about 5 years ago

Price is still too much of a factor.  I recently booked a flight for my wife and myself from MSP to STS in Sonoma at $495 a person.  While I'd prefer to fly out of Duluth, that same trip would be $900 a person.  Gas to the cities and parking at MSP is nowhere near the extra $800 for two people.

Tangentially, this is much of what leads to my skepticism of a Duluth - Twin Cities train service.  As much as I'd love it, if the ticket price for two people is more than the cost of gas for my car, I'll take my car every time.

BadCat!

about 5 years ago

I'd bet 100 percent of Duluth residents who don't fly out of DLH are concerned about the cost. Only once have I managed to find a competitive fare leaving DLH. The rest of the time, the cost savings out of MSP were worth the extra hassle to get there.

Advice to DLH:

1 - Cut costs. I know, not as easy as that, as each airline controls their ticket prices, but making them within $100 of MSP fares would make them competitive.

2 - Provide free long term parking. The Hibbing airport does this, and makes it very attractive just for that reason. You could use an off-site lot and shuttle system if there were concerns about current parking capacity.

I don't think highway access, more signage, local shuttles or anything else will do crap to entice travelers on a budget.

BadCat!

about 5 years ago

Also, to further promote the decline of DLH (sorry), here's a very handy service I use when flying out of MSP (cheaper than airport parking): MSP Ramp Ride Fly

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

Special K - Hard to argue against that if you are unconcerned about 161 miles and 3 hours of travel (on a fair weather day) separating you from your flight.  I have actually had the misfortune of missing an MSP flight.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

Bad Cat - Your remarks could very well reflect the prevailing attitude behind the  120k annual bookings that comprise the DLH market leakage.

Hit us with the stone cold truth, I say! 

Free parking might work in Hibbing but in bigger towns, cities it invites ditched cars, freeloaders. But that off-site thing might be an inducement worth looking into.

Are you in Duluth or the immediate environs?  I ask because shuttles, hwy access and signage isn't that important to Duluthians, in this case, is it?

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

I would be interested in hearing readers' thoughts on how a Lake Superior hub at DLH would work. Superior, for instance, is a long car journey from Madison, the state capital. Duluth-based Essentia Health has a network of hospitals, clinics and affiliates across northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho. Administrative and executive management need to get around to these sites. Duluth-based Maurices has stores in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario including Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Thunder Bay and extensively across North Dakota, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. Does it make sense for Maurices' management to fly downstate to MSP in order to visit their estate of stores across the U.S.-Canada boundary lands?  

Enbridge Energy has extensive infrastructure from the Prairie Provinces across the northern Great Plains to Superior and beyond. With the pipeline division based in the Twin Ports, surely Duluth-based engineers, etc. must need to survey pipelines in the territory and access would be enhanced if they had a way to catch a flight from DLH to Fargo, for example. Moreover, would Duluth gain more Enbridge work if there were easier connections between Calgary HQ and Duluth? Remember that the antecedent to Enbridge-Duluth was Lakehead Pipeline that was headquartered in Duluth until it was uprooted to Houston, Texas.  There is a very good reason that Enbridge is building up its professional workforce in the Twin Ports again.

brian

about 5 years ago

I think it's absolutely about cost. The airport is plenty convenient, easy to get in and out of, and it's a lovely building. But the price difference is too much to ignore. They can probably keep business or solo travelers, but if you're planning a trip with a family, the price difference adds up way too fast with multiple tickets. The times we've found reasonable tickets out of Duluth feels a little like winning the lottery, but it definitely makes for an easier trip.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

Thanks for highlighting that scenario, Brian.  I think that's why it is imperative that DLH hang on to Allegiant to capture the leisure market to popular destinations.  I'm told that Vegas is more family friendly and Orlando/Sanford obviously is ... not sure about Phoenix/Mesa unless that's visiting grandma and grandpa snowbird. Both Grand Forks and Fargo are retaining Allegiant. I reckon that's because although they have leakage to MSP, it'll be less (?) and GF probably gets a fair number of Winnipegers.

All the more reason to funnel flights into and out of DLH to capture regional traffic. When passenger volumes (emplanements, deplanements and through traffic) break the threshold, the network carriers will increase services (routes, frequency, aircraft, airlines) and theoretically, fares will come down.

Special K

about 5 years ago

Yeah.  The direct Allegiant flights to Vegas are a good deal, and far more convenient and cost effective than flying from MSP.  But that's one destination, and a popular one at that, though not enough apparently.

If DLH was  treated more as a "shuttle" itself, with the primary intention of getting people to larger airports in order to fill flights to profitable destinations, with service and cost reductions to reflect this, that'd be great.  But right now, it's just another $200+ flight to add onto your itinerary. 

For instance, If MSP and DLH got together and offered a deal to cut that cost in half, under the condition that you also book  a connecting flight from MSP, that'd bridge the cost/convenience gap.  

And there are savings that could be implemented on the flight to help the airlines.  I don't need snack/beverage service on a 30 minute flight.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

Special K, I'm not sure I understand your rationale when you say, "If DLH was treated more as a shuttle ... that'd be great." Really? How do you figure? 

In my opinion, as long as DLH remains a shuttle airport to MSP, things will only marginally improve and that is mainly because there is a Duluth business community that needs commercial, scheduled passenger air service and millions have been invested in a new terminal, parking garage and runway instrumentation.

The MSP-DLH relationship has not been a healthy one for Duluth. Why? MSP is a hub for Delta (and its antecedents Northwest and Republic) and as such Delta has a competitive advantage over other network carriers with more distant hubs. Duluth is just that much too close to Minneapolis and St. Paul making it feasible for many to drive to MSP.

Historically Northwest (and Republic) had a monopoly on DLH and market leakage to MSP was nigh impossible to stem. For decades Northwest was the single commercial carrier and its dominance was maintained because it had relatively close access to its hub at MSP so it could charge high fares from DLH and give poor service in the confidence that those who could would bypass DLH and embark from MSP.

Every new entrant to DLH was driven out by Northwest flexing its muscle. American Eagle, United Express and Midwest Express tried and failed. Why? Some of the reasons are that Northwest already had a captive market and loyal customers to its WorldPerks frequent flyer club. It upgraded its otherwise substandard service by introducing larger, more comfortable aircraft anytime a competitor entered the market. It also reduced its fares to levels that American and United could/would not compete with. Northwest also had priority landing rights at DLH and juggled its timetable accordingly to inconvenience/disrupt competitors.

United Express' first time at DLH was a flop. Puddle jumper to ORD via Rhinelander! I know, I was on it. Like the Marrakesh Express sans the live chickens and goats. Farthest landing gate at ORD that you could dream up.  

That was then. This is now. New terminal, enclosed car park, two network carriers with routes to three(?) hubs and a low-cost leisure carrier (for the moment). This is about as good as it's going to get unless Duluthians get behind DLH.

The only other alternative -- and by the way that still requires the patronage of Duluthians -- is to change the paradigm as explained in the article, i.e., transitioning DLH into a Lake Superior hub airport subsidiary to MSP, ORD, DTW but nevertheless with more passengers passing through DLH which begets more routes to more hubs like DEN, SEA, LGA, ATL, LAX and potentially a third network carrier, Air Canada(?), American(?).

The regional carrier, Bemidji Airlines, for instance, would either have to forge a codeshare with United or Delta or run an efficient, no frills, dependable service from Bemidji, Int'l Falls, Thunder Bay,  Houghton, etc. to DLH to mesh with departures/arrivals of United flights to/from ORD and Delta flights to/from MSP and DTW to allow transfers of passengers at DLH.

Special K

about 5 years ago

Exactly. "... there is a Duluth business community that needs commercial, scheduled passenger air service."

That is DLH's customer base and the occasional leisure fliers on Allegiant's flights. That's it. There is simply not enough of a market up here to justify it serving multiple airlines to multiple destinations.  

Yes there are plenty of people/potential customers within a good radius of the airport, but I would argue that for most of  them, air travel is a rare luxury.  

The fact that we have spent millions on a new terminal, but are losing flights tells me that we have unwisely spent money propping up a service that is not sustainable on its own, targeting the aging terminal as the cause of the problem (product of political back-patting for creating construction jobs), rather than stagnant demand for a service that can so easily be ignored simply by having a car or a bus ticket.

By recognizing this fact and utilizing MSP's muscle as a benefit to make a DLH to MSP (and thus, beyond) flight more affordable, regardless if it's anti-competitive, you could go after the real competition for DLH: a cheap and relatively short car trip.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

Special K - there is a population base within 30 miles of DLH sufficient to support more routes and schedules and the market leakage, i.e., 120,000 annual bookings lost to MSP is the proof.  So, I'm afraid that I disagree with your premise: "There is simply not enough of a market up here to justify it serving multiple airlines to multiple destinations."

Do you not think the business community would benefit from better air service?  The context in which you borrowed my quote in your opening statement leads me to infer that you don't.  Duluth and Superior are fortunate to be HQ to prospering businesses with national and international B2B customers, e.g., Amsoil, Cirrus, Ikonics, Maurices, Loll Designs - and I guarantee you that they won't attribute their successes to proximity to markets or accessibility by air but they would benefit from better local air services at DLH.

Whatever you may think, investment in public infrastructure stimulates private sector growth.  I'm not a throw-away type person but the old terminal was never a good design even in '74.  The capital improvements at DLH were not pork as you suggest.  They were necessary.

The Lk Sup hub proposed in the article is a way to loosen the grip MSP has on DLH, to lessen dependence on MSP,  to tie together the Lk Sup region by forging better airlinks across it, to funnel more passengers into DLH that in turn boosts passenger numbers which drives demand for more long haul routes, schedules and carriers at DLH.

The Northland will benefit whether that's the occasional leisure traveller, patients needing advanced med care at St Lukes or Essentia, Polaris holding an exhibition/conference at DECC for its int'l customers, Arcelor Mittal execs flying into DLH and catching a "Bemidji Airlines" flight to Hibbing or Wisconsin government delegations flying up from Madison for the day to visit Superior or Ashland.

MomAH

about 5 years ago

I know three unrelated Duluth area families who went to Arizona for vacation. None of them used DLH. We might go with the kids to visit a friend in Phoenix and have checked prices out of Duluth. It is likely we will drive to St. Cloud for the Allegiant/Mesa flight or try out of MSP. We are not all that interested in the amenities offered or not offered at DLH. It is an easy airport to get to and the parking is not really all that expensive as airport parking goes. The tickets are just too expensive. If we have just one in the family who is travelling, then DLH might be an option. But $200 or more difference on each of four tickets adds up. Also, sometimes you can't get four seats together on a flight out of Duluth and the connections sometimes are super crazy. Getting home from Florida to DLH earlier this year would have required us leaving at 4:30 a.m. to get to the airport in FL in time to make it home to Duluth that evening at 9 p.m. Yet we could leave the same place in FL at 6 a.m. and get into to MSP at 1 p.m., putting us home in Duluth in time to eat dinner at our own table. And the flight to MSP was a lot cheaper.

MK2

about 5 years ago

I live in Duluth and travel globally for work. I fly probably close to 80-100,000 miles/year and most of the time Duluth is cheaper (due to connecting flight discount) or similar to my costs of traveling to MSP ... and I never drive my own car to MSP, the parking costs and lost time are not worth it to me. My company (not based in Duluth) mandates that I take the lowest price flight +/-$150.  

I always check costs from DLH or from MSP or from MSP to destination and back to DLH (multi-destination). Internationally, I often save money by flying from Duluth, likely because of connecting flight discount. Nationally, it depends on the destination. And it certainly depends on which day you fly and how early you book. (Try going a day earlier or later if possible, and always book a minimum two weeks in advance; also prices can vary depending on the day you book; try Wednesdays). While I prefer Delta, United often gives me a lower rate. Previously, I lived in Madison, a larger population area and airport with a few more carriers. I often double-check costs from Madison to my destination just to compare and it's generally similar to Duluth costs. MSP is served by USAir and they tend to be much cheaper and I think that's the main cost difference. I generally don't find Delta or United make much difference from DLH or MSP, but again it seems to depend on the destination.

I understand that my situation is not applicable to families traveling on vacation, but I am very grateful for the DLH improvements and it is much easier for me to travel from DLH than to travel first to MSP. When my spouse and I fly on vacation we also find costs from DLH compared to MSP win out. Now if only Delta would restore the Detroit flights that would be another step in the right direction, but I suspect they won't do that unless we get more people flying from DLH.

I find the new terminal to be a lovely gateway to Duluth and surroundings, and am doing all I can to support it.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

MOMAH - Very wise to keep your options open. The airlines don't give the impression of being family-friendly. What was the destination on the $200 more expensive fare? Which airline quoted you that?

Yes, connections can be absurd sometimes. A cross-country journey from a spoke airport to another spoke airport can, in some cases, require three segments and two changes. Worst case scenario, Delta from Duluth to Sarasota, Fla.  

14:25 DLH on Delta 4771 to MSP 15:28
Layover at Minneapolis - St Paul 2h12min
17:40 MSP on Delta 1549 to ATL 21:10
Layover at Atlanta - Hartsfield 52min
22:02 ATL on Delta 776 to SRQ 23:35

8hrs10mins journey for $185

Is that value for money? I guess that depends if you like planespotting at busy airports. The 2+ hours layover at MSP is onerous especially since you would have only been airborne for 63 mins before touching down to while away twice that time at MSP.  

This scenario illustrates why it's important to ordinary family folk that the Duluth Airport Authority transition DLH into a small hub for the Lake Superior region. A Lake Superior hub at DLH would amalgamate regional air traffic from airfields in Int'l Falls, Thunder Bay, Bemidji, Brainerd, Iron Range, Ironwood, Houghton, Hayward, Rhinelander, etc.  and funnel those flights into DLH where regional travelers could board long-haul flights on Delta direct to not just MSP and DTW but Atlanta and NY-LaGuardia or NY-JFK and United not just to ORD but also San Francisco and Denver because the boost in passengers through DLH would support this.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

MK2 - That is music to my ears because I'm advocating for DLH (but not at any cost!).  And let's face it, $100 to $150 difference on a round-trip fare from DLH vs MSP to Tokyo or Sharm el Sheik is peanuts.

You referred to a "connecting flight discount," what is that?

I've stated repeatedly in accordance with the article that should DLH strictly remain a spoke ("shuttle" was used but that actually refers to aircraft and routes not airports) then we're not going to see significant improvements in air service.  

The way forward is to start up a regional airline or convince Bemidji Airlines to move its base to DLH and launch flights between DLH and all the airfields across the Lake Superior region including as far as Thief River Falls.

MK2

about 5 years ago

Kodiak: I may not be using the correct term for "connecting flight discount." What I mean is that my observation is that I often find cheaper rates when starting at a smaller airport such as Duluth or Madison or Asheville rather than MSP or Atlanta or Newark.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

MK2 - Thanks.  Are you saying the fares from DLH are lower than MSP?  Can you give an example?

MK2

about 5 years ago

Okay I don't have a lot of time to compare fictitious routes right now but as one example DLH to Raleigh-Duram via Delta on 3/25 returning 3/27 is $1046.62 and from MSP is $934.20. That $112 difference is not enough for me to spend $70 on the Skyline Shuttle plus my time (2.5 hr. each way on the shuttle plus the time waiting at MSP for the next shuttle) so I would fly from DLH. Now, US Air would be cheaper overall from MSP and depending on the situation I might choose to do that. So I think the cost savings from MSP is due more to low cost carriers, which DLH does not have (not counting Allegiant that doesn't fly to Raleigh).

MomAH

about 5 years ago

The Florida issue was for travel last November using Tallahassee. In that case the ticket difference was almost $200 a ticket (x4 people).

I have priced numerous times flights from DLH to see family in the ATL area. Tickets out of Minneapolis to ATL  are usually a LOT cheaper than out of DLH , for all times of year. I have seen flights out of MSP for about $288 RT and close to $500  out of DLH for the same dates. And again, trying to get 4 seats on a flight to get you to MSP is often hard. These are quotes from Delta.  I usually do not even look at United. I try looking for flights many ways, including on the Delta site and on sites like Expedia. When planning I start a few weeks out and check often.  I don't think I can remember any time recently looking for a flight out of Duluth and having it be cheaper on United. I believe that one person flying alone can be persuaded to travel out of DLH instead of driving to MSP. Before we had kids we used to even use DLH and pay the differential on 2 tickets. But when you are looking at 4, it stops making sense if you have any sort of budget to stay within.

And, I agree with someone above who said bringing back the DTW connections would be great. We have family in New England and the DTW connections always seemed easier and a bit more affordable than the MSP connections.

MomAH

about 5 years ago

Example from today with real fares:

DLH to ATL Tuesday, April 21, to Tuesday, April 28; cheapest fare $394 on Delta
DLH to ATL same dates on United is also $394.

MSP to ATL same dates; cheapest fare $239 on Delta (cheapest fare found on any airline on Expedia)
$155 x 4 tickets = worth driving

DLH to PHX same dates $383 on Delta (cheapest flight out of DLH)
MSP to PHX same dates $186 on Delta, US Airways, or American
$197 x 4 tickets = worth driving

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

MK2 - Thanks. You highlighted something that I hadn't factored in. The layover time from ground transfers. In other words, if you take the shuttle bus from Duluth to MSP, your shuttle might arrive three hours prior to your flight's departure.

How much time do U.S. airlines recommend passengers check-in or drop baggage before departures? Two hours?  

I therefore see where DLH has a big advantage over MSP because it's "easy in" and "easy out" as commentators have said on here.

That's an important consideration.  

The important thing here is that there are two types of layovers at MSP:
1) Connecting flight layover
2) Ground transfer layover

So, returning to my response to MOMAH yesterday re: Duluth to Sarasota, the two-hour and 12-minute layover at MSP might not be any longer than the recommended airline baggage drop (for checked baggage). I realize that most airlines have online check-in that can be done 24 hours before departure.  

Another thing -- but I don't want to steer the conversation toward MSP -- you said U.S. Airways is cheaper than Delta. Not surprising. Delta controls about 80 percent of air traffic at MSP and that is counter-competitive. The Met has been trying for decades (since Northwest Orient) to get Southwest Airlines and America West (now part of U.S. Airways) others to come to MSP to increase competition. So, MSP has its problems, too.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

MOMAH - It's a racket and the airlines use sophisticated I.T. to measure passenger load factors so fares are continuously changing.  Don't want to lecture anyone on the history of Web fares nor do I claim to be an authority.  I can only speak from personal experience.  When "everyone" got onto the Internet, the airlines made Web fares very attractive to get consumers to be DIYers (Do It Yourself) and at the same time drove the travel agents out of biz so they wouldn't have to pay them commissions anymore.  Travel agents had influence, inside knowledge, used SABRE and other airlines computer systems.  When Last Minute, Deck Chair, Expedia, etc hit the Web, they were great.  Good deals, ability to pick short or long layovers, etc.  Over 15 years they have consolidated and airline consortia have launched their own and it's all pretty much of a muchness now.  Now if you don't DIY, you pay more for calling the airline or using a travel agent!

I found a way to trick the ever-more-sophisticated software the airlines employ.  Don't search for the exact date(s) you wish to travel (as MK2 said above) AND don't choose the cheapest OUTBOUND fare from the calendar because, if the airline doesn't GET YOU $$$ on the outbound, it'll get you on the INBOUND.

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

I read today that Allegiant is pulling out of DLH leaving only United and Delta. It's important that United succeed or else DLH returns to being a one-horse town again and that will be a major setback. 

The trouble with this situation, as I see it, is that having two airlines with limited routes to choose from:

1) Delta to MSP or DTW (I don't think it's flying to Detroit anymore?)
2) United to ORD

just divides market share among the two existing carriers with no additional benefits to DLH or the travelling public.

I have to say that I'm biased toward United only because Delta (Northwest, Republic) has had a hold on DLH for so long that I am inclined to support the underdog. Delta doesn't stay in DLH because it has any loyalty to Duluth, it stays because it makes money -- even if that means Duluth-area travellers embark from MSP (leakage) because chances are, they will book a Delta flight from MSP which controls 80 percent of MSP traffic.

Moreover, if Delta upped sticks (and I doubt it would), it will have left a vacuum quickly filled by another network carrier who would do pretty much the same thing -- aim to monopolize the DLH market.

DLH needs to stem market leakage. But the formula that Duluth Airport Authority and its consultants are employing has been pretty much the same one used for decades and it hasn't yielded durable and substantive change.

I reiterate, it's time to change the paradigm. The Lake Superior hub.

MK2

about 5 years ago

Looking at flights to Portland, OR last week for March 30, DLH to Portland, cheapest was United $927.87. Cheapest from MSP was Delta, $991.10. Note that this was traveling outbound on a Monday and back on a Thursday. When I moved the days to Tues-Fri, it knocked $250 off both prices (roughly). So the day of the week you travel does make a big difference. I'm not sure why these were so insanely expensive but I suspect at least part of it was I was searching on a Friday. Just searched again for March 30 (Mon) to April 2 (Thurs) and DLH to Portland was $927 (United) and MSP to Portland was $991 (United and Delta mix). So DLH is cheaper to this destination.

MK2

about 5 years ago

Sorry, I looked at the wrong number. DLH to Portland for those dates today actually dropped from last Friday and is now $716 on Delta, cheaper than what United had for the lowest rate when I checked last. So DLH a big advantage currently for me to travel to Portland, OR.

jayinduluth

about 5 years ago

Here is a really good deal out of Duluth, especially to anywhere in Mexico with minimal stops/layovers.

3/31 - 4/7 - DLH-SJD (cabo) - $383 on United
3/31 - 4/7 - MSP-SJD - $503 on Sun Country

Kodiak

about 5 years ago

MK2 - Looks like having United at DLH keeps Delta on its toes.  Worth comparing timetables / schedules between United and Delta from DLH, too.  Orbitz guarantees a $489 fare on 11th May, for example on United (only one stop at ORD).

JAY - And I thought Sun Country had a reputation for cheaper fares!

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