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Air service between St. Cloud and Chicago takes off

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United Airlines flight 5369 will take off from St. Cloud on Tuesday afternoon in its inaugural flight between the central Minnesota city and Chicago O'Hare International. The twice-daily flights will connect the area with daily air service to the out-of-state hub.

The St. Cloud Times reports city officials and business leaders spent years working to recruit the air service, which they believe will enhance the economy of the region.

In 2008, when Delta took over from Northwest Airlines, air service to St. Cloud ebbed away, even as the terminal underwent a $5 million expansion. Two years after Delta Air Lines dropped flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp designated attracting air service as its top priority.

Al Kremers, who led the initiative to obtain the service, said it's critical to get central Minnesota travelers to change their habit of going to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in order to support the new service and make it a success. He is making a plea to local business people who travel frequently to use the United service, stressing that St. Cloud's free parking and small terminal should give it an advantage over driving to MSP.

At the time the service was announced, the Star Tribune reported that SkyWest Airlines will provide the seven-day-a-week service to O’Hare on behalf of United. The 50-seat flights will utilize a Bombardier CRJ 200 aircraft.

The next pitch from the St. Cloud group is to establish regular charter air service with the Bakken oil field in North Dakota.

There's been renewed focus on regional air service to smaller cities. Thief River Falls, which lost service from Great Lakes Air in February, will see it resume next month. But Allegiant Air announced that it will cut its daily service to Rochester International Airport on May 14.

In the wake of the Great Recession, major U.S. airports lost nearly 9 percent of their flights, but the small ones’ losses were more than twice as much, the New York Times reported. “Declining local service often means that a traveler will drive for an hour or two to a larger airport for more choices and greater convenience,” the Times added.

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