Elite cancels plans for new Rochester flights

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Rochester International Airport officials’ hopes to add more flights hit some turbulence today as boutique airline Elite Airways canceled plans to fly to Arizona and Florida.

Elite Airways, a young airline headquartered in Portland, Maine, announced today that it’s pulling the plug on plans to offer weekly non-stop flights to Phoenix and St. Augustine, Fla., before any of its planes ever took off from Rochester.

Elite had originally planned to launch its Rochester service in July, but the airline postponed the start until October due to low ticket sales.

"We believe October will be a stronger climate for travel for leisure and business," Elite’s Rebecca Emery said in July.

However, bookings for the first scheduled flights in October were far below Elite’s expectations. The airline said it will refund any fares paid by passengers who did book tickets.


"It was about selling tickets. The bookings were just not maturing," Airport Executive Director John Reed said this morning. "This is not about gloom and doom, by any stretch of the imagination. Ticket sales this year were up 45 percent. It (Elite) is a different style of airline, maybe not as financially robust as Delta, American or United."

The airport saw Delta and United airlines add local flights in 2017 as more passengers chose to fly out of Rochester instead of other regional airports. One factor in that growth was Mayo Clinic’s policy change to require employees to fly out of Rochester.

Prior to that policy change, Mayo Clinic estimated that only one out of five of its employees flying for work chose to leave from Rochester. The other four traveled out of the Twin Cities.

Mayo Clinic founded Rochester’s first airport in 1928. While the city of Rochester owns the current airport, Mayo Clinic is contracted to manage it via its Rochester Airport Co. firm.

The Rochester International Airport currently serves about 290,000 passengers from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin each year.

Interim Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Harrington voiced her organization’s continued support for the airport this morning.

"It is certainly disappointing with Elite, but we’re very excited about the utilization of the flights with United, Delta and American. Today is disappointing, but it just strengthens our resolve to do all we can to increase our flight offerings," she said. It’s clearly important from an economic growth perspective to have strong aviation in a community, but this industry is incredibly volatile."

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