Even when airports are served by multiple airlines, “when you drill down into the route level there may be only one choice,” said Mr. Samson, and offered the example of Flint. Allegiant Airlines, American and United all fly into the airport there, but American and United fly only between Flint and Chicago. Allegiant flies to 10 destinations, and while travelers can find other choices and lower fares at larger airports, “they may have to drive a few hours,” to do so, he said.
No flights at all
The exits have left a handful of airports, like the one in Dubuque, entirely or almost entirely without commercial passenger service. The federal government’s Essential Air Services Program subsidizes airlines to ensure service to about 100 communities, but Dubuque is not on that list.
Todd Dalsing, Dubuque Regional Airport’s director, said American Airlines had been varying the timing of its scheduled flights to Chicago, its single destination from Dubuque, over the past two years. On Sept. 7, the flights stopped completely. “We are working hard to restore sustainable commercial service,” said Mr. Dalsing. This month, Avelo Airlines, a new low-cost start-up, announced it would run two flights a week between Dubuque and Orlando, Fla., beginning in January.
In the meantime, the 100,000 people in Dubuque County need to drive 70 miles to the Cedar Rapids Airport or three hours to Chicago O’Hare International Airport to fly anywhere else.
There is some activity mitigating the cuts. Avelo and Breeze Airways, another low-cost start-up, for example, are expanding. The companies fly larger newer jets, so they can profitably serve some of the cities that regional carriers cannot, said Lukas Johnson, chief commercial officer of Breeze. The company has begun serving about 30 cities since launching in 2021. Avelo also flies to about 30 destinations. Frontier Airlines has added new routes to its roster this fall, too, some to smaller airports.
Local economies feel the effects of the reductions. Molly Grover, president of the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of air service “is of tremendous concern and a huge challenge,” because it makes it harder for companies to meet with business partners, to transport their staff and to attract investment and employees. “Companies need efficient, convenient, reliable commercial air service to succeed and grow,” she said. “A 21st-century company expects air service.”