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Rochester-to-Denver flights to start in October

On Oct. 1, nonstop United Airlines flights will start traveling between Rochester and the western transportation hub of Denver.

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On Oct. 1, nonstop United Airlines flights will start traveling between Rochester and the western transportation hub of Denver.

Officials announced the new, long-sought flights on Monday afternoon at the Rochester International Airport.

Lisa Clarke, executive director of the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency, lauded the new flights as an example of an airline “doubling down” on Rochester.

“This will send a message to the market, send a message to the state of Minnesota, send a message to the nation and the world, that we are still in this game and we continue to move forward as the world's premier destination medical center,” she exclaimed from behind a podium in the airport terminal.

These new flights come as the airport works to find its place during the pandemic, which has hit the travel industry hard. During the same press conference, Airport Director John Reed also announced that United Airlines will resume the flights to Chicago on Oct. 1.

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As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, United Airlines was given the option to temporarily suspend service to 5% of its airports. Rochester was one of 11 chosen.

United Airlines halted the Chicago flights on July 6.

Connecting to the important Denver International Airport has long been a goal for Rochester as it opens up more direct access for passengers traveling to the Med City, primarily for treatment at Mayo Clinic.

In February, the airport was awarded a $750,000 Small Community Air Service Development Program grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for a "revenue guarantee and marketing program to attract new service to Denver, Co., on United Airlines."

Steven McNeill, Mayo Clinic’s chief planning officer and chairman of the Rochester Airport Co. Board, said the new flights are key to the future success of Mayo Clinic and the City of Rochester.

“At Mayo Clinic, this is really important to our patients, really important to our staff, really important to our commitment to being the premier destination medical center in a premier destination medical community,” he said. “And we will continue to invest in this market to make sure these routes are sustainable.”

Mayo Clinic founded Rochester’s first airport in 1928. While the City of Rochester owns the airport, Mayo Clinic is contracted to manage it via its Rochester Airport Co. firm. In 2018, Mayo Clinic reported $3.76 million in income from the airport company.

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After Mayo Clinic required its employees to use the local airport for work travel, it tallied a record 371,615 passengers in 2018.

Passenger numbers for 2019 were then "essentially even.” Officials are hopeful that once travelers once again take to the skies, that those passenger numbers will climb.

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