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Brainerd airport shares flights with Bemidji among airline staffing shortages

Certain flights will head to Bemidji after dropping off Brainerd passengers and stop back in Brainerd before flying to Minneapolis.

Delta plane taxis the runway.
A Delta flight taxis the runway early morning Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Those planning to fly out of Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport this fall and winter should buy their tickets as early as possible.

With a shortage of pilots and other airline crew, SkyWest Airlines — which operates daily Delta flights out of Brainerd’s municipal airport — combined services with Bemidji. This means two of Brainerd’s flights each day will also stop in Bemidji, Airport Director Steve Wright explained.

“So the flight will take off from Minneapolis, drop passengers off in Brainerd, then the flight will continue on into Bemidji,” he said. “And then the next morning, that flight will then load passengers up in Bemidji, stop by Brainerd, pick Brainerd passengers up and then fly to Minneapolis.”

While Brainerd passengers will not be impacted in terms of the times of their flights, airplane capacity could become a concern. Each flight carries 50 passengers, but those seats now need to be shared with the Bemidji market.

Historically, though, Wright said Brainerd’s flights only see about 50% capacity in the winter months, which is why SkyWest believes it will be able to handle both markets on one aircraft.

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“It doesn’t necessarily change too much for the Brainerd market itself, with the exception of we want to make sure that our market is able to purchase the tickets that it needs to,” Wright said. “And so far, I haven’t heard any negative reports that tickets are not available for the Brainerd to Minneapolis route.”

People wait to board a flight.
People take a Delta flight early morning Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd will still have an afternoon flight most days dedicated only to the Brainerd market.

While Wright said the change isn’t too concerning for the winter months when taking into account the typical capacity, business at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport continues to grow.

“We’ve been seeing very positive growth, and so obviously anytime that capacity is decreased is concerning,” he said.

August 2022, for example, was the airport’s best August on record, Wright said, even surpassing pre-COVID-19 pandemic numbers in terms of passengers boarding flights in Brainerd.

“It’s a great story that people are flying in and out of the Brainerd airport and making use of the services that are here,” Wright said. “And so, obviously any time capacity is cut or reduced in a period of growth, we need to take pause and think through, ‘Ok, how do we grow this market?’”

Another wrench in the airline industry, Wright said, is the rising cost of tickets with inflation and increasing fuel prices. Systemwide changes to airline scheduling software throughout the industry, he said, is an additional factor to take into account.

In some cases, Wright explained, passengers who search for a flight from Brainerd to Las Vegas, for example, might not see an available ticket at all if the flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas is full.

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“So we have gone in and done some research ourselves on just, ‘OK, let’s play this scenario out a little bit,’” he said.

By looking up separate tickets — one from Brainerd to Minneapolis and another from Brainerd to Las Vegas — Wright said there are typically seats available on the first leg, though passengers might have to look at other options to get to their final destination.

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“So if you’re on their reservation software or whatnot, and you’re coming with kind of a blank stare at the screen, or you’re not getting the result that you may want the first time, it may be worthwhile to split your trip out and try different ideas to see if you can get different tickets or different combinations to your final destination, because the system does have different parameters when you’re in there trying to do a flight straight from Brainerd to where your final destination is,” he said.

But even with the added snags, Brainerd’s market continues to grow, and Wright advised those who want to take advantage of the airport’s services later this year to plan their trips as early as possible to ensure a smooth process.

He suggests use of Delta’s mobile app to see different flight scenarios before booking or Google Flights to compare cost options and travel dates.

“Obviously, the more flexible on travel, you’ll get the better price right now, and because every day is a different day — that’s for sure — as far as travel goes and scheduling and whatnot for airlines,” he said. “... And if you do know that you’re going to travel, I’d say secure the ticket as early as possible because ticket prices right now and in the near future continue to increase.”

The flight sharing schedule will be examined after this winter as travel numbers pick up in the Brainerd lakes area, and Wright said airport staff is actively seeking more air service development opportunities to figure out how to accommodate the growing market.

“The Brainerd lakes market is telling a good story,” he said. “It’s telling a story of growth, a story of travel, a story of people that do move around the country and the world out of our little Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.”

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For Brainerd flight information, visit brainerdairport.com/flybrd .

People check in for boarding.
People take a Delta flight early morning Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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