The first direct flights between St. Cloud and Chicago take off today, and officials urge the business community to take advantage of the route or risk losing it.
SkyWest Airlines is operating the route as a United Express partner, flying a 50-seat jet between St. Cloud Regional Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who represents the district, said she’ll be on the first flight from Chicago to St. Cloud, then will fly right back on the return flight to O’Hare.
And the St. Cloud Times is sending a reporter on the inaugural trip to Chicago to document the event.
City leaders have been seeking commercial service to a hub for four years, since Delta dropped it’s flights from St. Cloud to MSP.
But they say the service will have to be well-used, with at least 70 percent occupancy on the flights, in order to have the one-year contract renewed.
Al Kremers, who led the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp. initiative to get the flights, told the St. Cloud paper that area business people and residents have get out of the habit of flying from MSP, about 90 minutes south.
“Now comes the hard part. It’s an awesome challenge, but I think it’s doable,” Kremers said.
And St. Cloud Airport Manager Bill Towle told the paper that price is a factor:
“Our goal is for them to be within $100 of whatever the MSP fare is. You can’t drive down there and park for $100. But the bottom line is people need to use the service, regardless of the dollar amount, or it goes away. If you believe this air service is important to the economic vitality of St. Cloud, and the research shows it can have a $17 million impact on the Central Minnesota economy, you need to fly on it whether it’s $100 or $200 difference. The economic impact outweighs the $100 you’re going to save.”