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United to end Rochester flights to Denver after a year

The Denver flights started on Oct. 1, 2020, and will end on Oct. 31. “We share in the disappointment at the loss of this route," stated Airport Executive Director John Reed of the announcement.

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The first flight from Rochester to Denver receives a water cannon salute from the Airport Fire Department Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, at Rochester International Airport. RST celebrated the first departure to Denver as part of the first-ever nonstop flight from RST to Denver International Airport Thursday with a water cannon salute from the Airport Fire Department and a ribbon cutting at the gate. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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After just a year of offering nonstop flights from Rochester to Denver, United Airlines is grounding the flights for good as well as ending its relationship with the Rochester International Airport.

The Denver flights started on Oct. 1, 2020 , and they will end on Oct. 31.

This is a major setback for the Rochester airport, which had pursued direct flights to Denver for many years. It was 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, Colo., on United Airlines."

Without additional financial subsidies, United decided the flight was not sustainable. That is despite the airport’s claim that the Denver flight was the most popular of Rochester flights and a United spokesman’s claim in August that there was “really strong support” for the Denver flights.

“This is very difficult news for our community,” said airport executive director John Reed in an announcement. “We share in the disappointment at the loss of this route. The ongoing effects of the pandemic continue to impact the air travel industry and airlines are making decisions to terminate flights in communities across the country.”

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This comes on the heels of United’s announcement that it is ending its Rochester to Chicago flights this month. That means United will have no presence in Rochester.

United's departure leaves the airport served by just Delta and American Airlines. Sun Country Airlines are scheduled to start flights to Phoenix in February.

This withdrawal by United is a blow to the Destination Medical Center campaign to make Rochester International Airport into a bustling hub bringing in patients for Mayo Clinic.

In October, Lisa Clarke lauded the Denver 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,” exclaimed the then-executive director of the Destination Medical Center Economic Development Agency from behind a podium in the airport terminal.

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.

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

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