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United to end Rochester-to-Chicago nonstop flights

The final United Airlines Chicago flights will take off from the Rochester International Airport at the end of August with the service ending as of September 1, according to Wes Horrocks. Horrocks is a spokesman for Skywest, which operates the flights for United. United has offered the weekly nonstop flights to Chicago O'Hare Airport, since 2017.

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The Rochester International Airport Monday, April 26, 2021. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
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United Airlines is ending the nonstop flights to Chicago from the Rochester International Airport.

The final Chicago flights will take off at the end of August, with the service ending as of Sept. 1, according to Wes Horrocks. Horrocks is a spokesman for Skywest, which operates the flights for United.

United has offered the weekly nonstop flights to Chicago O'Hare Airport since 2017.

Horrocks said the flights were not attracting enough passengers to make them financially viable.

“The decision is based on looking at the forecast for demand for the flight. It just hasn't been performing.” he said.

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How does the pandemic-driven drop in air travel factor into this move?

“I think it's hard to differentiate," Horrocks said. "Obviously, the pandemic has had an impact across the industry. But there's a number of factors that we look at. We're looking at future bookings, how many people are taking advantage of the flight, and yield. We're looking at the operational network and how people are connecting. So there's a lot of different variable factors that are looked at. And for this one, we were looking ahead and looking at it beforehand — it just isn't meeting that expectation.”

In contrast, he said the Rochester flights to Denver introduced in October by United are doing well.

“We continue to have really strong support for the Denver flights,” he said.

United is receiving guaranteed income for the Denver flight from the airport via federal grant money.

In February 2020, the Rochester International 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."

United has not received any guaranteed income for the Chicago flights.

Airport officials believe demand for the United flights could return as overall passenger traffic returns.

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“The air service industry is still feeling the impacts of the pandemic. Most airports across the country have had service reduced as airlines have cut capacity to meet demand. While demand is currently being led by leisure travelers and those with essential needs, business travel and international travel have been and will continue to be slow to return,” said Airport Communications Manager Tiana O’Connor.

American Airlines still offers daily flights to Chicago from Rochester.

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

In 2018, Mayo Clinic reported $3.76 million in income from the airport company.

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