WDAY: The News Leader

Published July 17, 2011, 09:37 PM

Residents feel the effect of decreasing Delta Air Lines flights

Thief River Falls, Minn. (WDAZ TV) - Delta plans to pull its service from two-dozen small Midwestern communities, including Thief River Falls, Bemidji, Devils Lake and Jamestown. This will leave big gaps across the area without commercial flights.

By: David Schwab, WDAZ

Mark Leblanc from Greenbush is an engineer who uses the Delta's air service out of Thief River Falls twice a month. He just found out today that the carrier plans on ending the service here.

Mark LeBlanc: "Terrible, ouch, we need this airport."

Delta Air Lines says it wants to drop money-losing flights in two-dozen small Midwest cities like Thief River Falls. Mayor Steve Nordhagen says it's disappointing news, but not surprising. However, he is staying positive.

Mayor Steve Nordhagen: "This is only the beginning. We will try and work on some options and hopefully we will convince a carrier to serve our area."

Of the 24 cities where Delta says it will end service Thief River Falls had the lowest occupancy rates on flights with just 12 percent. Nordenhagen is confident that number would increase if flight times were more business traveler friendly.

Nordhagen: "If you were to look at any other community up in this region, I would guarantee you would have more international travelers then any other regional airport."

The terminal here just received nearly half a million dollars in renovations, and that was an effort to attract more people to use the air service here.

Mayor Nordhagen still considers that money well spent.

Nordhagen: "There has always have been the threat that we may lose air service it's nothing new. But we are very confident that we will be able to keep it."

Thief River Falls, Devils Lake and Jamestown are considered Essential Air Service hubs. Delta receives federal dollars to help with costs. The airline says if that funding is increased they may stay. Federal legislators say an increase is not likely. So for those who do use the service like LeBlanc, expect travel plans change.

Mark LeBlanc: "Two and a half hour drive to the Grand Forks airport from where I'm from. Not good."

Delta has to continue service for 90 days so the Department of Transportation can find a replacement.