Delta Flys Into Fargo From Salt Lake City

March 7, 2006
Delta hopes to draw more Grand Forks-area passengers away from Grand Forks International Airport.

Delta Airlines plans to add two daily round trips in June between Fargo and its Salt Lake City hub and that could draw more Grand Forks-area passengers away from Grand Forks International Airport.

But it also could encourage Northwest Airlines to ramp up service to Grand Forks International Airport, city and airport authority officials said.

Delta, which is based in Atlanta, does not currently serve North Dakota. Fargo and Sioux Falls, S.D., are among a group of seven cities that Delta said will be getting new nonstop service to Salt Lake City.

"I'm very concerned, but I also see a potential opportunity for us," said Hal Gershman, Grand Forks City Council president.

Rich Becker, vice chairman of the Regional Airport Authority, agrees. The competition could motivate Northwest to improve its service to Grand Forks, he said.

Grand Forks is too important a market for Northwest to abandon altogether, Becker said. Building its shrinking boardings back up will require competitive prices.

Gershman said he e-mailed Northwest Airlines on Monday, asking the company to pay more attention to the Grand Forks market. He said 56 percent of the Grand Forks airport's "leakage" comes from Grand Forks passengers driving to Fargo to catch sometimes less-expensive flights on United Airlines.

"With Delta coming in, they will find a greater percentage of leakage going to other airlines other than Northwest from the Grand Forks market," Gershman said. "This will only exacerbate the problem for Northwest and, consequently, for us."

Gershman said that it would be a smart move for Northwest to rebuild the Grand Forks market by offering competitive prices and more flights to retain those customers on Northwest.

Northwest recently reduced the number of daily flights from eight to five. Becker said Grand Forks could recover at least one of those flights in the next six months. The added service would bridge the no-flight gap from Minneapolis to Grand Forks between 3:30 and 9 p.m.

Northwest recently began providing less expensive fares to selected destinations, Gershman said.

"It's not an avalanche of lower prices, but it's better than it has been," Gershman said.

Typically, people think they save money by driving to Fargo, but that is not always the case, Becker said.

A random online price comparison made by the Herald showed that flying to San Antonio cost $60 to $120 less when flying from Grand Forks rather than from Fargo, whether on Northwest or United.

Delta said it will offer a one-way introductory fare of $129 between Fargo and Salt Lake City. Delta flights will begin June 8, using 50-passenger jets operated by affiliated carriers SkyWest and Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

Once Delta starts in Fargo, the city's airport will be served by four airlines. Northwest Airlines, United Express and Allegiant Air serve Fargo now.

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