ALPENA — For the second time this month, the flight schedule at the Alpena County Regional Airport has changed.
A freshly announced flight to Minneapolis has been removed and replaced with more Detroit options.
SkyWest Airlines, the company that services Alpena, still needs the US Department of Transportation to sign off on the changes.
Travelers will begin to book the new flights as soon as Monday, but it’s unknown what action the airline will take to accommodate customers who have already booked flights to Minnesota.
On Tuesday, the airport announced that its air service provider, SkyWest, amended its current route schedule, which had flights to Minnesota with a brief stop at Chippewa County International Airport in Sault Ste. Marie and a daily flight to Detroit late in the afternoon.
The latest proposed schedule has a dozen flights each week to and from Detroit. There will be two Detroit flights on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and one flight to and from Detroit per day on Tuesdays and Sundays.
The jet will depart Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport at 8:29 am and arrive in Alpena at approximately 9:36 am and then begin its return flight to Detroit at 10:20 am Passengers are expected to arrive at DTW at 11:30 am
The second flight will be later in the afternoon, with the plane arriving in Alpena at 5:01 pm and eventually landing in Detroit at 7:11 pm
When the Minneapolis and late Detroit flights were announced early this month, they were met with backlash, as some people disapproved of the late flight to Detroit and not having a morning option, which they claimed would make it difficult to book connecting flights to other destinations .
Others disapproved of having to stop at the Chippewa County International Airport while enroute to Minneapolis.
Alpena County Regional Airport Manager Steve Smigelski said there was anger from essential air service airports over a lack of direct flights like they had before and didn’t like that most flights would have a layover where other passengers would board the plane in a different town.
SkyWest decided to tweak its flight times for Alpena once more and ditched the Minneapolis flight and returned the Detroit scheduling many see as more convenient.
Earlier this month, SkyWest, which operates as a Delta connection, claimed a pilot and staffing shortage forced changes to its flight schedule at essential air service airports such as Alpena. For servicing Alpena, SkyWest received a new, two-year, $5.5 million contract .
Now, the DOT will have to sign-off on the newest schedule request, which Smigelski said shouldn’t be a big deal.
The federal government pays the airline to provide service because the airport is considered an essential air service airport.
“I don’t think the DOT will have a problem in our case because it is going to cost less money,” Smigelski said.
Some people in Northeast Michigan had hoped for a Minneapolis flight for several years because it would increase connecting flight options, but some were not thrilled with a stop in Sault Ste. Marie.
Smigelski said that flight route would have hurt Alpena because of the number of people that utilize air service in Sault Ste. Marie.
“At first, I was excited to see the Minneapolis flight, until I saw there was a stop in the Sault,” Smigelski said. “That area puts about 40,000 people on planes each year, which meant we were going to have trouble here in Alpena with reservations. Their passengers would fill the planes, because they get a lot of Canadian traffic.”
Dennis Lennox is a frequent flier on SkyWest and utilizes many airports in northern Michigan for his travel, particularly Alpena and Pellston. When the old schedule was released, he voiced concern about it and the impact it would have on small, rural airports like Alpena and the inconvenience it would cause travelers.
Lennox wrote letters to the Alpena County Board of Commissioners and the DOT, urging them to consider pushing for routes that were agreed to in essential air service contracts be fulfilled. He said the scheduling changes — including the ones in Alpena and Minneapolis — were a detriment to air-travel in the northern sections of the state.
He said he also recruited the help of government officials to help orchestrate action from the DOT in regards to the airline schedule changes. Lennox approved of the newest flight changes.
“If this change is reversed for all airports in northern and upper Michigan, it’s a huge win for everyone — residents, businesses, and tourists,” Lennox said in a statement.