Rochester airport: If businesses commit to flying local, service should improve

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Rochester International Airport officials are hoping area businesses will adopt travel policies that encourage employees to fly out of the regional airport, instead of driving to the Twin Cities for a flight.

Currently, the airport (often shorthanded to RST) has nonstop service to and from three cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis.

But the hope is that if businesses commit to flying out of southeastern Minnesota through the airport's Fly Local initiative, it will help grow air usage in the area, in turn improving service and making it more reliable.

The draft of the travel policy asks businesses to require their employees to compare flights out of Rochester with those out of other airports. Then, if a flight out of Rochester is within $300 of the lowest fare available anywhere, and doesn't extend travel beyond an extra four hours, the employee must book the Rochester flight instead of one at another airport.

Airport officials found that some flights out of RST can be cheaper, especially when the cost of driving to another airport and the time employees spend getting there are factored in.

"I think we'll show you for the most part, eight out of 10 of your flights are going to be cheaper and better for you as a company going out of Rochester than out of the Cities," airport director John Reed told the Rochester Post-Bulletin.

The paper published an editorial Monday on the Fly Local initiative, encouraging businesses to adopt the policy, saying, "Looking at the options could save businesses money, while failing to look fails to save anything." (The editorial board notes that the newspaper is considering the policy, but hasn't signed on yet.)

At least 11 companies in the area have adopted the policy, according to RST's website, including the City of Rochester. The airport hopes more will do the same.

Where people are flying from

Despite the fact that smaller regional airports can save travelers money and hassle, according to LifeHacker, many passengers are choosing to travel to larger metropolitan airports for flights, the New York Times reported earlier this year.

That's the case in Rochester too. The airport's "True Market/Leakage Study" found there's a lot of potential to increase the number of passengers who fly through RST. The "true market" size for the airport is 1.75 million air passengers, the study found, but only 12 percent of that number are actualluy traveling through Rochester.

Airport officials note that if RST can capture 40 percent of the market, it will be able to increase frequency and improve reliability of service, as well as potentially double the number of nonstop cities served through Rochester, the draft travel policy notes.

Declining passenger numbers at some small airports across the country have resulted in carriers ending service at them. This happened at RST back in 2014, when Allegiant Air cut its service in Rochester.

Continued consolidation within the airline industry, coupled with rising fuel costs, have also affected service in smaller markets, the Consumerist reported.

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