Elite Airways jet

Elite Airways has postponed its service from Rochester International Airport until Oct. 4.

An airline coming to Rochester is delaying the launch of its new flights.

Elite Airways, a young boutique airline headquartered in Portland, Maine, announced in May that it was joining the Rochester International Airport to offer twice weekly non-stop flights to Phoenix and St. Augustine, Fla.

The flights were slated to begin this week.

However, Elite recently announced plans to delay the start of those Rochester flights until Oct. 4.

“The flights were postponed to early October to allow for stronger fall/winter demand,” said Rebecca Emery, public relations executive for Elite Airways. “We believe October will be a stronger climate for travel for leisure and business.”

The airline notified ticket holders earlier this month and refunded their money. However, the disruption did cause some complications.

For one local family the postponement of Elite’s work in Rochester meant scrambling to find a replacement flight for their daughter, who needs to fly back to Arizona on a Sunday night after a wedding.

The woman was scheduled to fly Elite out of Rochester in the evening of Aug. 5. Now she will fly out of Minneapolis much earlier in the day on a more expensive flight. Since the wedding is in Iowa, the change added hours to the drive to the airport.

Despite the delay, the Rochester airport is looking forward to adding these flights, particularly in regard to Mayo Clinic.

“Today’s exciting announcement is good news for Mayo Clinic patients, staff and the Rochester community as a whole,” Mayo Clinic’s Chief Planning Officer and president of the Rochester Airport Co. Board Steven McNeill said in a news release in May. “These nonstop flights will make air travel between Rochester and the clinic’s two other campuses in Arizona and Florida easier, quicker and more convenient,”

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

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

The addition of the new flights is the latest milestone at the RST airport, which has long struggled to compete with nearby Twin Cities International.

Community officials say Rochester needs the local airport for domestic and international patients flying into Mayo Clinic, particularly to support the predicted growth driven by the Destination Medical Center initiative.

After years of declining passenger numbers, RST passenger numbers started climbing last year. That spike coincided with Mayo Clinic’s policy change to require employees to fly out of Rochester.

The airport also saw Delta and United airlines add new local flights in 2017.

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Business Reporter

Jeff has worked at newspapers as a reporter, columnist, editor, photographer and copy editor since 1992. He started at the Post Bulletin in 1999. Kiger is the PB's business reporter and writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street."