Delta to discontinue service to St. Cloud

Delta Air Lines says it will discontinue flights between St. Cloud and Minneapolis by the end of this year due to weak customer demand.

Delta's Kristin Baur said the airline will work directly with customers who booked flights after that to arrange alternative transportation and offer refunds.

"While Delta would prefer to provide customers with the convenience of scheduled service between St. Cloud and Minneapolis, load factors on those flights have averaged approximately 33 percent during the last twelve months," Baur said. "That low level of demand has made it unfeasible for us to achieve sustained profitability on those flights."

The St. Cloud Regional Airport expanded this spring. The airport director and St. Cloud mayor say they are disappointed in Delta's decision, which they say will hurt the area's economic development.

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St. Cloud regional airport director Bill Towle says Delta's surprise decision will hurt the region's economic development, since most airline passengers are business travelers.

Delta cited weak customer demand for its decision, but Towle blames Delta's flight and fare schedules.

"In fact, 92 percent of [travelers] from central Minnesota -- when they fly, they fly out of Minneapolis because they can't get on the airline here in central Minnesota or the schedule doesn't meet their needs," said Towle. "The other piece of that is fare structures. The fares typically are a lot higher than they are in Minneapolis."

Mayor Dave Kleis said he believes Delta never intended to stay in the St. Cloud market when it merged with Northwest Airlines.

"Their press release said they're pulling out because of lack of service, but they caused that unfortunately [by] going from six flights a day with reliable service to three flights a day with an unreliable service and an unstable pricing system has really caused the lack of people's utilization of it," Kleis said. "Now there's certainly a market here."

Kleis said the top three final destinations from St. Cloud are Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. He hopes the airport's latest expansion will attract new carriers to fly to cities other than Minneapolis.